-At the Desert Retreat House-
I recently had a heartfelt conversation with someone who told me that he thought he had put too much undo pressure on his kids as they were growing up. He expected them to be honor students at school, to be heroes on the sports field, and always perfectly well-mannered. The Dad lamented: "I thought I pushed them so hard because I loved them and wanted the best for them, but now that I am older and they are all grown up, I look back and I wonder if I didn't do this for myself?" The man went on to say, "I wanted people to praise me because I had such smart kids who were such great athletes and so well behaved--good job!"
I told the Dad that I thought he had gained some great wisdom in his later years of life. I have no doubt that he loved his kids, but I also think he probably did push them so hard for his own self interests - selfishness can often be disguised as love. At times, what looks like love is really an illusion.
The mythic character, Narcissus, looked into a reflecting pool and was enamored with the image of the person that he saw. He thought he had fallen in love with another, but he had actually fallen in love with himself. What looks like love can, at times, be an illusion - selfishness in the guise of love.
I am reminded of something Thomas Merton once said:
The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves,
and not to twist them to fit our own image.
Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.
In my life I have seen plenty of people (myself included) who had fooled themselves into thinking that they loved another when they were really enamored with themselves. I have counseled many married couples who were essentially in "relationships of convenience," both people remaining in the relationship because of what they were getting out of it rather than what they were putting into it. I know lots of people who surround themselves with "friends" because these friends meet their own personal needs - good business contacts, someone to take to the party so you don't have to be alone and it doesn't look like you are a loser.
Sometimes these relationships may look like love - but selfishness and narcissism can easily be disguised as love, and every one of us can fall victim to the illusion.
I've often heard it said that marriage is a "50-50 give and take proposition." But there is plenty of evidence that relationships that operate according to this "50-50 proposition" very often fail. When you think the other person isn't meeting their end of the bargain, it's time to say goodbye.
The truth is that, in a marriage both parties must give 100% of themselves to the other. Both people aways laying down their lives for the welfare of the other. When this happens, marriages succeed - this is true of any relationship of genuine love.
Genuine love involves giving 100% without concern as to what "I" am going to "get" out of the deal - otherwise it's an illusion of love.
The Dalai Lama offers some wise advice about what it means to truly love another:
Remember that the best relationship is one in which
your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.