GOOD LOVE AND BAD LOVE
I don’t know how many kinds of love there are. Since I am the Love Doctor, I probably should count them but I don’t feel like it right now. For the sake of today’s column, let’s assume there are two basic kinds of love: good love and bad love.
In the mental health field we understand that “good” doesn’t mean perfect and that “bad” isn’t always blatantly evil with horns and a pointy tail. That said, I’m still going to use those two very judgmental and categorical descriptors to talk about good love and bad love.
Good love isn’t always sweet and warm. Sometimes it’s cool and tough. One thing’s for certain though. Good love is not for the benefit of the lover. It’s for the benefit of the loved one and even when it’s harsh, it’s all about the receiver. The giver isn’t looking for any benefit other than the wellbeing of the love object. Take punishment, for example. It’s not a pleasant thing. It’s meant to be a corrective measure. As a parent I might use punishment to try to make my child behave better. If it works, that’s good. Then it’s a worthy example of good love, sometimes harsh, but ultimately for the benefit of the receiver.
If it doesn’t work, that is, the child’s behavior does not improve, we have another story developing. If I keep using the punishment despite the fact that it apparently isn’t working, my love is no longer as good as it was. In fact, now I might be fairly accused of stupid love or, at least, lazy love. If I keep flogging away at it despite plenty of evidence that it’s not working just because it makes me feel better, then I’m delivering bad love. It’s all about me and how I feel. Maybe I’m just getting my anger out.
In this scenario, good love would have me consulting my spouse, looking into parenting manuals, going online to see what others have done to try to correct this bad behavior, perhaps even asking the child to explain herself. I’m looking for something that works because it’s still all about the loved one, in this case, the child. Because I care about that child, I’m using my creativity and my energy to learn how to parent better. Just because I only know one trick, that doesn’t mean I can get away with using it over and over if it doesn’t work. I need to do better, to try harder in order to call my love good love.
As any small child would tell you if she could, bad love is better than no love at all. A child will solicit abuse, manipulation and humiliation rather than put up with neglect. She has no real choice. Her organism requires social attention and physical touch. Without attentive care she will whither and withdraw. It’s as vital to her psyche as food and water are to her body. She’ll take bad food, bad water and bad love just as eagerly as she will take the good stuff. Because without it she’ll die.
As adults we can exercise more discrimination. We still want love, all right, but we won’t die without it. Lots of adults live without love of any kind from anyone. Too bad but it’s true. Some of them are folks who’ve decided not to put up with bad love and just haven’t found good love that lasts. Some of them are just isolated. They may not live well but they live.
Some adults prefer bad love to good. That’s how it is when you’ve grown up with bad love and you don’t even know what good love is or what it feels like. You might have a dream about it but you don’t really know how to handle it. To experience good love you have to feel worthy of it and get comfortable receiving a gift from another. If you’ve never had good love it’s hard to feel worthy of it. More likely, you’ll feel you only deserve bad love and so you’ll look for it. We grow accustomed to whatever we’ve lived with. That’s why people who’ve known good love, whether from childhood or from learning about it and living it as an adult, will accept nothing less. Adults who know better would rather have no love at all than to put up with bad love. It just feels bad and who needs that? Only someone as needy as a child.
Good love is a gift, given freely, with no strings and no catch to it. The one who gives it is not looking in the mirror. Once you’ve had it you can learn to give it, too. The best thing, though, is when two adults give it to each other. Because they want to and because they can.