As an incurable romantic who longs to find the kind of love that defies logic, defies the odds, I have struggled with everyday relationships that have gone nowhere and left me feeling hurt and betrayed. I’m always trying to make sense of this elusive emotion, always trying to understand why love works for some and for others it is one heartbreak after another. Is the secret compatibility? Is lasting love built on friendship rather than attraction? Are there forces at play that can predict its success, like the forces needed to keep an aircraft airborne?
I have so much love to give, yet when I have offered it, I have been rejected for being ‘too intense’. I crave depth of connection, the intimacy of sharing – even the hard times. But, it seems, in this I am alone and so I closed off my heart, shut down those feelings, become hard and cold, trained myself to accept that love is something that happens to other people. Yet, I still can’t help trying to quantify what it is to love and be loved.
I see friends in relationships who profess to be in love and yet all I see is comfortable co-habitation, physical attraction, or a relationship simply for the sake of being in a relationship. Then I hear those stories about people who seem to have nothing in common or who have huge obstacles between them yet have a love that is so strong that it confounds and confuses all who witness it. I envy that kind of love.
So, what is it? What is at the core of love eternal?
An unexpected ray of light
Earlier this year someone entered my life. Someone on the periphery, unexpected and from such a different world that it would seem we had nothing in common. I was standoffish at first, mistrusting, suspicious of his motives. Yet, as I have come to know this person, I have come to care for him so very deeply and I’ve been trying to make sense of this when rationally it really makes no sense at all, yet emotionally it makes perfect sense. And then it hit me.
This person has only ever treated me with kindness. A kindness I have never experienced before. A sweet, innocent kindness that has asked for nothing in return. A kindness that makes my eyes fill with tears as I write this. And now I understand what all my previous ‘loves’ had been missing, why they never lasted. Though I had given kindness, I had received little in return.
To love is to be kind
Kindness embodies so much more than simply being nice. Kindness is selfless. It is patience, empathy, respect, compassion, thoughtfulness, consideration, putting someone else’s feelings before your own. It is gentle, open-minded, non-judgmental, accepting, open to understanding. It is sharing, helping to carry someone else's burdens even though your own are weighing you down.
Kindness does not belittle or criticize; does not take someone for granted, does not treat another with contempt or use emotional blackmail to manipulate.
We need only look at the state of the world to see that kindness is becoming a rarity. Is it any wonder then that people feel so starved of love and full of hate?
Society has become self-centered and demanding. It’s all about me, me, me. And in the dating/relationship arena these days, it is particularly evident. The swipe-right attitude. Love has become conditional. Instead of asking 'could I love this person, give them my all?', it seems all people want to know is 'will this person be able to fulfil my needs and desires?' as if shopping for a new car. People seem only willing to give love, once their demands are met. This attitude has made us suspicious of kindness, especially as some use kindness to lure others in or as a veiled attempt to get what they want.
But, now I see genuine kindness is the secret ingredient to a lasting relationship. It explains it completely. In a relationship where two people have grown apart it is kindness that will determine whether the relationship ends amicably or with bitterness. In a relationship experiencing tragedy or adversity it is kindness that ensures the love endures and doesn’t not turn to blame or resentment. When two people can no longer be kind to each other, love will die.
It is kindness that explains how some love can reach across continents, cultures and age. It is universal. With kindness, a relationship that seems to have the odds stacked against it, can defy the odds. It’s how a couple in an arranged marriage can go on to develop a very deep love for each other.
If you are in a relationship where kindness is not reciprocated, then what you have is not love.