Love vs. need

"Give or take," Louise Bourgeois, 2002

Louise Bourgeois, “Give or take” (2002)

She is crying over a breakup. 

“I love him so much,” she sobs.

I try to look sympathetic.

Inside I’m thinking No, you don’t.

Why?

Because (a) she’s the one who ended the relationship.

And (b) she did so because he kept frustrating and disappointing her.

And (c) she has a long history of frustrating and disappointing relationships. 

And (d) I’ve known many people like her, people who confuse love with need.

It’s a common confusion.

Love and need are both intense emotional experiences that can overwhelm and consume.

Both feel like a matter of life or death.

Both reveal something essential about you.

But there are important differences too:

~ One feels like fullness, the other like emptiness.

~ One creates calm, the other anxiety.

~ One tolerates boundaries, the other keeps crossing them.

~ One expresses itself by giving, the other by demanding.

~ One expands a person’s perspective, the other shrinks it to that of a hungry child.

How does this confusion get started?  The three most common ways are:

~ You are raised by parents who don’t know the difference themselves.  “I love you,” they tell you, but the message behind it is Meet my expectations.  Make me happy.

~ You grow up in a family that can’t tolerate separateness or integrity.  Be what we need you to be, is the message, or we’ll reject you.

~ You are so emotionally hungry that anyone who feeds you emotionally feels like a sort of savior.

All of which Erich Fromm was probably thinking when he said,

Immature loves says, “I love you because I need you.”  Mature love says, “I need you because I love you.”

 

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