“What do you love about me?” a girlfriend used to ask.
This was a challenging question. I loved the woman very deeply, but I couldn’t answer the question. Nothing adequately conveyed my love for her, just as a mother can’t say she loves her daughter because her daughter is a good pianist and makes amazing tapas. A mother doesn’t love her daughter because of a specific quality. She loves her daughter because she loves the person.
Loving a specific aspect of a person misses the boat. That isn’t love, it is appreciation for a fleeting quality that may or may not change over time. People don’t fall out of love, they think they fall out of love because they never actually loved in the first place!
Really loving someone is finding and connecting with that person’s essence. It is connecting with that sparkle in the person’s eyes, with the ineffable “them”ness that was there when they were born, was there when they were 10, is there today, and will be there 15 years from now. Find that in a person and you will find love, because you can’t connect with qualities. You can enjoy and share qualities, but you can only connect with the essence of a person.
This is why most of us love children even if we don’t know how to deal with children. That is because it is easy to find the essence of a child. Adults frequently hide their true feelings and heap layers of refinement and man-made systems upon their lives. It can be hard to find the essence of an adult with all that other stuff covering things up! With children, though, their essence often is right there on the surface. So we like children, and only later do we start to dislike them. We dislike them because they become adults and start obscuring their wonderful humanness, and we dislike them because we meet them when they are adults and never saw the vulnerable, sweet child they once were.
But we could. Every adult once was a child. Every adult is a child who has grown up. So a really easy way to love someone, to find their essence, is to find that child squirreled away inside. Peel back the hurt, the posturing, the man-made systems he or she has adopted, and you’ll always find the child. And once you’ve found the child, you will quickly find a love for the person. It is hard not to love someone when you really find them. That’s why we feel so good when we have a long conversation with someone and feel like we’ve connected deeply with them. We’ve gotten past the man-made stuff and gone back to the essence of the person—or gotten closer to it.
That also is why a mother’s love is so strong. It isn’t based on qualities. It is based on the essence of the person, which is why mothers love no matter what. It isn’t about the actions. It is about the unchangeable essence of the person.
My girlfriend didn’t like that I lacked reasons to love her. She wanted quantifiable qualities, so I reluctantly made up a few. My actual love for her didn’t come from her having a strong moral character and being good with money, however. It came from looking on the wall at a photo of her when she was 11. It came from listening to her when she cried. From these I found the child inside her, and only then did I begin loving the other stuff that doesn’t matter.
For help putting this technique into practice, contact us for individual relationship coaching.
Peter is founder of Kowalke Coaching. He also is founding director of the Philia Mission, a small charitable organization. Contact Peter.