The 8 Paradoxes of Real Love
Monday February 14, 2022

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Do you know what I would love to receive on any day of the year as a gift from my love and I would receive it as one of the most thoughtful, loving gifts? Fresh from the garden, ripe and warm-to-the-touch-from-the-summer-sun tomatoes. Yep, fresh garden tomatoes. Don’t get me wrong, red roses are gorgeous, but such a prescription for a gift suggests a void of knowledge (unless someone indeed adores red roses) of who their loved one is and what would delight them and tend to their needs to convey the feeling of being loved.

Valentine’s Day itself is a paradox of sorts. Nudging if not requiring us to do something that may not feel natural or timely, yet at the same time reminding us to partake in one of the most wonderful and life lifting expressions to living an amazing life.

Over the years of Valentine’s Day posts here on TSLL, a consistent theme has emerged: it is preferred this day not receive special treatment but rather be a reminder of what and how to engage with life and with those we love each and every day of the year. So I am going to keep the theme going because I remain resolute that much like appreciation on Thanksgiving Day, such a skill – giving gratitude – would behoove us each day of our lives for building better connections.

In this past weekend’s Saturday Ponderings. . . love was the unconscious theme running through nearly item on the list. One additional paradox that is not included in today’s post and the list below was shared (check it out here, #2). Readers shared their experiences with love, and while I know each of us finds ourselves in a unique place in our lives along our love journey, and thus life journey, I find it helpful to be reminded that knowing that love, real love, is powerful and a power for good in our lives is often easy to agree to, but knowing how to love and receive love can be hard, and even scary especially if our hearts have built, as one reader aptly described, thick scar tissue.

Today I would like to try to reduce the opacity surrounding real love. There are so many voices, media outlets and books clamoring for not only our attention, but our trust in what they know is true that it can be confusing. Okay, truth be told, it can be mind numbingly frustrating as just as soon as you read one directive of what not to do, the next article states the same action is what you should do. Argh!

Cultivating real love begins first with ourselves, yes, but then it must involve the courage to step into the possibility of unknowns, of which there are many. So let’s take a look at eight of the paradoxes of Real Love and try to find peace with said unknowns, yet inspired to continue to be brave in the pursuit and engagement and nurturing of real love in our lives.

1.In order to find, we must let go

In order to find love, you must let go of knowing. To find more and better love, we must risk more, which means not knowing what will come of the energy we expend into an endeavor we have never before now invested our time, heart and energy. The common maxim that captures this paradox – great love and great achievements involve great risk. C’est vrai.

We cannot write a prescription for finding love because we actually do not know what exactly is best for our most true selves. We may have an outline and boundaries, but the heart doesn’t abide by logic alone. No.

So long as we acknowledge when only lust is holding our attention. So long as we choose to grow and do the homework of becoming a Secure adult when it comes to relationships (read this post), we will be thrust into moments and spaces we cannot know how all will unfold, and we must find our equilibrium in this field of unknowns. That is why we must ground ourselves in being secure in ourselves, gathering up the beneficial skills of nonviolent communication and how to build trust, and live each day a life we love and find fulfillment regardless of our relationship status.

When we have built for ourselves a secure foundation, we can be more comfortable opening ourselves up to awesome, grand opportunities because we always have ourselves to hold us securely and rejuvenate the strength we need to return back out into the world and try again while we wonder, while we wait, while we dance with the love that holds our attention.

2. Loving another reflects that we love who we are in love

Part of the reason, loving another is longed for is the feelings we feel within ourselves while in their company or feeling loved, seen, known by them and accepted as we are. The natural hormones of connection – serotonin, dopamine, the endorphins that boost the feelings of happiness, even oxytocin released during intimate physical moments – keep us trying to find a person and people (our friends and family, etc.) that cause these feelings to return. So in actuality, we are in love with how we feel when we are in love.

There is no denying or getting away from the fact that we are social creatures. Each of us requires a different dose and/or type of social interaction as we often talk about here on TSLL as many readers (myself included) are self-described introverts, but even being an introvert involves connection – with ourselves (yep, that counts) and with others. When we find the types of connections, and especially in our romantic life, that prompt the natural hormones of happiness to be released, we want the connection to continue. We want to feel good. There is nothing wrong with that. It is human. Give yourself permission to be fully human.

3. The beautiful, exquisite tango between fear and hope

A TSLL reader shared the paradox he has found in love, and his observation holds so much truth. When we are drawn to another, in such a way we cannot explain, even if we try to dismiss or ignore it, part of the reason we wish to squash the feeling is that to hold hope that the magnetism is real contains the fear that it either is not real or it won’t be acknowledged by the other.

We hope our interest will be reciprocated. We fear that we will be rejected.

We hope our risk of openness will pay off. We fear the pain that will follow if it does not.

We hope the love we feel may be present will go the distance. We fear our investment will end in great heartache.

What is important to keep in mind is that if we don’t have fear, than what are we hoping for? The truth is, yes, as Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh teaches in order to love we must not become attached or have fear, but the truth also is, when two hearts are involved in an intimate connection, there will be fear and there will be a healthy attachment (learn more about the Dependency Paradox in the next item on the list). The key is that there is balance, that both are giving and receiving. In other words the dance of reciprocity takes place because both understanding the value in being part of the union. Rather than demanding the other give, we invite them, we inspire them, they are moved to give love to us, and we too are inspired by their invitation to respond in loving ways.

There is no guarantee the attachment to each other will last, which is where the fear resides, which is why we must give without expectations, but from a sincere place of love for the other.

4. The Dependency Paradox – more, not less freedom is present

As shared in episode #318, inspired by the book Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love, the gift of being in a healthy relationship with real love at its foundation is that ironically, rather than taking freedom away from the other and they us, we actual give more freedom to them to soar and they to us. Why? Because “people are stronger when they feel loved”.

“Does [being programmed to connect with someone special] mean that in order to be happy in a relationship we need to be joined with our partner at the hip or give up other aspects of our life such as our careers or friends? Paradoxically, the opposite is true! It turns out that the ability to step into the world on our own often stems from the knowledge that there is someone beside us who we can count on—this is the ‘dependency paradox’.

One of the keys to a secure relationship is understanding how to not only trust ourselves, but knowing who we can trust and how to determine who is trustworthy. Equally so, we must be trustworthy ourselves, only acting from a place of loving-kindness and integrity, no matter how others may respond. (listen to episode #319 to explore more deeply the topic of trust)

“If you want to take the road to independence and happiness, find the right person to depend on and travel down it with that person. Once you understand this, you’ve grasped the essence of attachment theory.”

5. All real love ends in heartbreak

To know real love is to know, even if only once during the duration of our partnership, there will be devastating heartbreak when it ends. But in order to feel such pleasure, such happiness, such companionship and passion, we must accept the deal that has to be made. And to return to the first paradox shared above, we cannot know what the heartbreak will be when we enter into the relationship. It may go the distance, and death offers the only pain we will ever feel, but it also may end after the season for the relationship concludes. We cannot know and that is why we must be brave because to not be brave, we miss out on the possibility of tremendous elevation of contentment and joy as we walk along life’s journey.

6. Love longs for closeness, desire thrives on distance

The Marginalian points out this truth of love, modern love, a love that marries the desire for passion coupled with the continuing foundation of a life-long partnership. The confusion comes from knowing how to allow both ideas to co-exist as a relationship grows and moves through life’s chapters.

There is no one prescriptive way to hold both in our relationship. Rather it will depend on the two involved. It will involve trust, communication, bravery, vulnerability, boundaries and it will also require a letting go of scripts modeled, told and dictated to us by others on what “should” happen.

7. Love is real but it cannot be shown to us by others

Let me put it another way. We know love exists. Movie and book and movie upon book try to convince us of this truth, that we do not dispute, but what is projected to us as love avoids the truth of what real love involves. Why? Because, well, mostly, it’s not sensational enough for viewing audiences.

I know! What?! Of course love can be sensationalized. No, no, no. What is sensationalized is not real love. What is sensationalized in the media, in books as to what love is are the actions on the surface that are seen supposedly depicting love, but you cannot show depth of feeling, the truth of connection, trust. They can only show action – sex, physical pain, loss, surprise, shock, longing, lusting. To show the everyday nurturing of what real love requires is boring on the screen to most people (however, I have a feeling many in TSLL audience would enjoy such scenes of everyday life as I know I would, in fact I would prefer it).

Real love involves the way we speak to each other, respond to each other, care for each other in everyday loving ways even when the person isn’t present. The food we make and share, our appreciation of the other, what we do not do – now the latter is incredibly hard not to portray visually for the very definition of what it is.

Real love takes time, requires patience, integrity in our actions and how we move through our days, and the courage to believe that doing so will build the love we seek. We find love, real love, by being love in our lives to ourselves as well as to others.

8. Making space for yourself within the togetherness

While reading The Alchemist for the umpteenth time recently, I was reminded that “love would never keep a [person] from [their] Personal Legend”. In other words, real love allows, in other words gives us the freedom to pursue our own deepest needs, values and wishes, as psychologist and relationship therapist David Richo teaches. With both partners supporting, encouraging, listening, understanding and knowing what the other seeks as they understand what their Personal Legend is, neither wants to stand in the way of their love’s pursuit, but rather supporting them along the journey. That is love. That is real love and it must be reciprocated.

Today and each day moving forward, my wish for you is that the love you give to the world be returned to you in more amazing and awesome ways than you can even imagine in this hopeful moment. Have a beautiful day and start to the new week.


6 thoughts on “The 8 Paradoxes of Real Love

  1. #8 I think it’s so important to give each other the space to grow in the relationship. We have given each other the space to be ourselves and that has definitely helped us both to flourish together. xx

    1. I so agree Kameela. One must not lose their identity to maintain a relationship. Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours!

  2. Thoughtful post, Shannon. A complicated emotion this one, so many types of love, so many changes in its character over the course of any relationship. Some events and experiences strengthen that love, others destroy it. As mentioned in your post, scar tissue. Even now I cannot say I truly understand it all. I am not sure we are actually meant to be comfortable with all of our emotions. All part of the human experience I suppose. On this day my husband and I did a walk down memory lane as he remembered sending large rose bouquets to my workplace. Only to have me struggle to bring it home in rush hour traffic, carefully. For a while, gigantic greeting cards were presented. I still have them. Since I am not much for chocolate candy, he once substituted chocolate diamonds. That worked quite well. After 53 years of marriage, you would think I had a grip on it all. I do know a few things. You must understand and love yourself before there is any room for another. Two, Romantic love is intense but shallow at the same time. Often short-lived but occasionally long-lasting and enduring, supported by the challenges of day-to-day life as well as tragedy and pain. Third, it is often not recognized without introspection. It can easily slip away. Love is a gift, it needs to be protected and maintained. For this Valentine’s day I gifted him with something he has wanted for a long time, something personal, something that he will use regularly, a bagel cutter! What more could you want in such a long relationship?

  3. A great present and many congratulations on 53 years of marriage. Something to celebrate indeed. I am coming up right behind with 47 years??

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