Friday, October 29, 2010

Selfless love

I'm going to quote below two emails that I wrote to a friend who was just entering a new romantic relationship. I believe that the advice I gave is generally applicable and extendable to nearly any type of relationship or situation.

Email the first:

I just want to leave you with one thought which is to ask yourself what is the greatest and most important (to him) sacrifice he has ever made on your behalf. To me, this is one of the most important metrics of love because sacrifice defines investment. If he hasn't sacrificed, he would not be invested in your life for your sake. Conversely, if he has sacrificed then he will care about you for your sake, and not for what you give him (emotionally or otherwise). I can say, as a guy, that you really have a lot to offer as a person and it would be really easy for guys to (even unconsciously) want to date you because of what you give them, and not because of what they can give you.
Email the second (after a response, not quoted here):

Well, the truth is I didn't really ask that question because I wanted to know the answer, I asked it because I wanted you to know the answer. :) Or more properly, I asked it because I wanted you to ask it of yourself.

Also, I was thinking about the list of small sacrifices that he has made and in my mind most of these do not qualify as a real sacrifice. You see, in nearly everything that you list he could be primarily motivated by a desire to see you because of how you make him feel. You see how in that arithmetic that somebody could be completely selfish and still come to a decision to visit you, because the self-worth outweighs the trouble of driving there? If that's his motivation (hypothetically), then if the costs in the first part ever start to outweigh the personal benefit in the second part, then the relationship will die off per force. Or in the words of George Macdonald,

"I knew now, that it is by loving, and not by being loved, that one can come nearest the soul of another; yea, that, where two love, it is the loving of each other, and not the being loved by each other, that originates and perfects and assures their blessedness."

You see, it *has* to be genuine self-less concern for the other that originates one's actions. That way your internal calculus is, "if I do such and such, how much will it bless this other person?", and in that case, you will never allow personal cost or hardship to end your relationship. It's neigh interminable.

Or in my own words, "Love that demands something in return is not love freely given, but merely a business transaction, much like any other purchase or marketplace affair."

As a more concrete example (after all that philosophy), here's what I think of sacrifice. Suppose you need to have ACL surgery, and you're doing rehab. For rehab, you need to do stretches for an hour each morning and a partner would help make it easier. Also suppose that your friend is a night person and doesn't naturally get up early in the morning. Then suppose that for 1, or 2 or 3 or however many months it takes, he shows up every morning at 7 a.m. to help you do stretches to aid in rehab. That would be a sacrifice, because a) it was not naturally easy for him = you know it had a personal cost to him, b) there is minimal reward for him, *unless he values you*, c) he proves consistency by acting not in a single day, but over the course of months. It's possible to "fake" sacrifice and affection over the short term if you expect a long-term payoff. It's nearly impossible to "fake" sacrifice over the long term because most people simply don't have the self-discipline to do that for something they do not truly care about.

Once a person's mental calculus says, "it costs me X to do this, but it benefits my friend as Y, that sounds like a good deal": that is when sacrifice starts to happen, and that's when you know that somebody is starting to walk into love. Or to make this biblical, John 15:13 says "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." I've just been giving specific examples and elucidation of that one, simple verse. It is talking about sacrifice (laying down your life/interests/personhood) in the context of friendship (for your friends). Sacrifice and friendship defines love; sacrifice and friendship declares love; sacrifice and friendship fulfills love.

The Macdonald quote is partially drawn from an earlier post I made, called Love and Power. This post (Selfless love) is something of a complement to that earlier post.

In conclusion, I draw a dichotomy between two different types of love, what I can selfish love and selfless love. The first is where you love somebody because of what they do for you or give you, and the second is where you love somebody because of what you can do for him/her or give to him/her. At the root of the first, selfish love, is lust and the root of the second, selfless love, is "agape": godly, sacrificial love. To be fully accurate, I do believe that true love can be intermingled with that root lust, and the love is genuine in a sense of "real affection". You can go through a lot of situations and it will hold strong on the basis of that affection, but the problem is that the root source of your affection is going to be "what I get" which is the spirit of lust (desire for self). And like Macdonald implies above, when your partner ceases to fulfill that need, ceases to give to you, then the relationship will fail. It won't hold through difficulties.

And a great post I saw from a friend discussing this topic in very similar terms (towards the end):

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