Love Illustration
Illustration: Aude Van Ryn
Much has been learned about the difficulties that can arise between two people who are in love—and how to address them. We now know how to get our own needs met. We know how to establish boundaries. We know how to use "I" statements. We know that making a relationship a success involves a huge amount of effort. How many times have you heard a therapist, or a friend, or a friend who thinks he or she is a therapist say that a relationship is hard work? It is a constant refrain—"a relationship is hard work." I have heard this so many times that when anyone says the word relationship, I now see an image of sweating slaves in loincloths pulling huge stones up the side of a pyramid.

Doubtlessly, all these insights are very valuable. But I sometimes wonder whether, while we are toiling away at our long checklist of relationship tasks, we have forgotten to do something that arguably is as important: actually loving the person we love.

If only it were that easy, you might say. How can we actually love the person we love when we are burdened by resentment and fear and insecurity and anger and narcissism and hostility and self-loathing and bouts of total irrationality—as when, for example, we become furious with the person we love whenever she does something like call us at the office while we are staying late to meet a hugely important deadline to ask again how to work the new DVD player so she can watch Something's Gotta Give for the 10,000th time?

Well, it might help at least to keep the goal in sight. These days "relationships" seem all travel—canceled flights, lost luggage, rude clerks—and no actual arrival. The point, though, is to enjoy Paris, not to trudge endlessly between concourses at the Charlotte airport. Moreover, there are times when we do love without working so damn hard—when we love a child or a friend or an aunt or a dog or a painting or a tree or the stars—and we can draw on those experiences, I think, to love someone, or fall back in love, before both parties achieve perfect and mutual sanity. Our feelings for our beloved will always be deeper than our feelings for an aunt or a tree (although not necessarily for a dog), and they will always be more complicated, but by recalling what simple, pure, joyous love is actually like, it may be possible to reproduce it under more challenging circumstances.

Love was once associated with joy, fun, and happiness, and it would be nice if it were so again.

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