As Valentine’s Day approaches, many of us turn our thoughts to love.

I’ve been thinking about how love evolves over the course of our lives.

At first we “love” ourself. We are focused on our own satisfaction and happiness. No one else matters. We want to be fed or changed or comforted now regardless of how tired or busy our parents may be! We are helpless and cannot take care of ourselves so we depend on and need others to care for us. We have nothing to give, we can only receive.

Our “love” evolves to another, usually a parent or caretaker. It’s a love that initially comes from dependency. We need them and we want them around and therefore we act a certain way. Our parents are our primary teachers for what love looks like. If they love well (toward each other and toward us), then we will likely love well. It is worth noting that no parent provides perfect love. They are humans who are sometimes exhausted, sometimes distracted, sometimes hurt, sometimes impatient, and sometimes selfish. They learn through on the job training. Some people believe that the love they received from their parents was perfect because they are unaware of the imperfections. This can result in this same imperfect love being passed on to another generation. Some people believe that their parents failed them miserably. Although this may be true, I believe all parents do the best they can with what they have to work with at the time. At some point, it is up to us to direct ourselves onto the path that we desire for our lives; in a way, to parent ourselves.     

Our love may evolve to a pet. Depending on our maturity, our level of responsibility, and our cultural norms, this may range from the pet providing us with amusement, companionship, or perhaps work to truly caring for the well-being of the creature. Some consider the love we receive from our pets (dogs, for example) as unconditional. Cats are another story.

Our love evolves to others; to those beyond our blood. It is usually a person who is kind to us, who understands us, and who accepts us. We call this person “friend”. Sometimes friends remain in our lives for a very long time. Sometimes they come into our lives for a short time and then move on. The fact that they have moved on doesn’t necessarily change our love for them.   

Our love may evolve to having romantic feelings for another person. We think of this person as “the one”. We see them as the complement of ourself, our other half. Romantic love may start as a friendship or as erotic love and then evolve into care, compassion, and kindness and perhaps a desire to form a union. Since the Medieval period, western culture evolved to a version of love involving personal choice. It is the love of one specific individual for another specific individual. Prior to this period, it was the church or the family who sanctioned a marriage. The eastern cultures continued to have family choose marriage partners for children, although this is now changing toward the western cultural model. A partnership that has been chosen by family does not mean love is not part of the relationship. There can be a deep love in this marriage also.    

Falling in love is an unconscious act that is beyond our control. In a way, it happens to us, not by us. The act of falling in love can blind us to certain aspects of our beloved’s personality. We may initially see only the positive, admirable and noble aspects of the beloved. Even the beloved’s flaws can be endearing. When we fall in love, we may see our beloved as the perfect mate, the fulfillment of our dreams and wishes and all of our needs.  This is akin to the infantile expectations we had for our parents. As the relationship develops, we may realize that this perceived perfection was an illusion as the “dark” sides of our beloved are revealed. We may come to realize that our lover has their own needs, desires and wounds. We may find (to our shock and horror) our beloved possesses some of the same “negative” characteristics that our parents exhibited when we were children. We may realize that our beloved can be impatient, hurtful, stubborn, hurt, needy, angry, withholding, and selfish (just like us and all human beings).

This begins the work of love. Falling in love is effortless, love requires work. If we can navigate the conflicts of this romantic relationship successfully we can resolve our childhood trauma and arrive at a place of greater happiness and fulfillment. This happiness is not bestowed on us by the beloved (as our initial fantasy expected), but instead, it is attained by working on ourselves to understand and resolve our childhood traumas and by working with our partner to help them resolve their traumas. Through this process we become more whole and loving individuals and thus become a more loving couple. With work, perseverance, commitment, honesty, vulnerability, forgiveness, and compassion, it is possible to grow in love together.

On the other hand, if we don’t resolve our childhood emotional traumas with this partner and move on to another, some believe we will inevitably repeat the negative relationship dynamic over and over again until we finally deal with our issues and create a more evolved love.

We can create a loving, intimate partnership only by giving up the infantile fantasy that our beloved can meet all of our needs all of the time. This is an important realization if we go on to have children because more challenges and opportunities for growth are coming (as every experienced parent knows!).

Our love may evolve toward a child. Not just any child, but our child; our creation, our blood, our DNA; the continuation of our name and our genes. We love this child because this is “our” child.

Sometime later, our love may be required to evolve again to our disobedient child. This may start when the child is around 2 years old and continue through the teen years (and perhaps beyond) when our child is testing boundaries, seeking independence, or finding their way. This child is not the compliant, well behaved angel we once knew. When we can love this child despite their bad behavior, our love has evolved because we have finally learned to separate the perfection of the individual from the imperfection of their behavior. This is a love that is not dependent on the child doing things to our liking; but loving the child no matter what. We can dislike the behavior while continuing to love the child. This is a lesson that we can later apply to others as our love evolves.

We then must learn to love our children enough to let them go out into the world on their own, to make their own decisions and their own mistakes, to create a life of their own, to experience success and failure, as well as the joys and sorrows of life. 

On the subject of letting go, we may sometimes find it necessary to let go of a friend, a relative, a partner because they are no longer a positive force in our life. A lot of thought and reflection may be required to make this decision. Physical or emotional abuse, lives that move in different directions, or a problem that refuses to be addressed are examples of situations that may result in letting go and moving on. For example, when someone in our life is an alcoholic or drug addict and we have tried our best to support, encourage, and help them, but they will not or cannot overcome their addiction, it may warrant a letting go, either temporarily or permanently. This may be for self-love, which we should also grow and nurture, for love of the addict if we believe we are enabling their behavior, or for the love of children that are involved. Self-love is not the same as the selfishness we have as children. 

Our love may evolve to strangers, to someone we don’t know, someone who can’t or won’t do anything for us in return. It could take the form of a smile to the checkout clerk, giving a homeless woman our spare change, helping an elderly man with his grocery bags, holding a door for the person behind us, donating to a fundraising campaign out of compassion, giving of our time to help others, donating blood, being a good samaritan, or saving a life.    

Our love may evolve to our enemy. Someone who has hurt us, someone who means to do us harm, someone who wishes us ill. This is the love that Jesus challenged us to have. This love is for our enemy but it could be argued that this love is for ourselves, first and foremost. Hate and anger have a corrosive effect on a person. We are not meant to be in “fight or flight” mode for long periods of time. Our bodies are on high alert when we are angry or hateful. Our heart races, our hormones course though our blood stream, our glands work overtime. All of this takes its toll on us over time both mentally and physically. Conversely, love has a nurturing effect on the body, mind and soul. Love, compassion, and forgiveness are for our benefit as much as those who receive these gifts from us.

When we realize that no one hurts another unless they have been hurt, that no one hates another unless they have been hated or taught to hate, that no one is unforgiving unless they themselves haven’t been shown forgiveness, then perhaps we can muster compassion for our enemy. When we realize that those who display anger and hate on the outside are sick and hurting on the inside, we may be able to have love and empathy for them.

Unconditional love is affection without limitation and love without condition. We may think we have received unconditional love in our lives. We may think we have given unconditional love in our lives. Although we may approach unconditional love at times in our life, I think we are imperfect creatures and therefore our love is also imperfect. Experiencing something even close to an unconditional love, on the giving or receiving end, feels wonderful.   

An unconditional love would necessarily evolve to a desire for the happiness of all creatures. There is no such thing as an unconditional love of one, without having an unconditional love for all. Unconditional love knows no constraints or boundaries.  The ancient Greeks and then the early Christians used the term Agape to describe this universal love.

The Hindus and Buddhists have a term called Ahimsa. This is to cause no (unnecessary) harm to any living thing. Ahimsa is a multidimensional concept, inspired by the premise that all living beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy; therefore, to hurt another being is to hurt ourself. Ahimsa has also been related to the notion that any violence has karmic consequences.

Buddhism takes this concept one step further to what is called Bodhicitta, which is expressed as Loving-Kindness and Compassion. The point is to develop Bodhicitta for all living (sentient) beings. The principle of Loving-Kindness and Compassion could be understood as treating all living beings as if we were their mother. A mother will do anything for the benefit of her child.

This love naturally expands to a love of all…the Earth, the universe, God.

At every moment, we have the opportunity to choose how to act. To be completely mindful of our actions means that in every interaction with another being we will consciously act with Loving-Kindness and Compassion.

We are never done evol-ving our love.

It is never perfected in a lifetime.

It can always grow larger, deeper, stronger.

The EVOL-ution of LOVE continues through the generations.

Increasing our ability to forgive expands love
Increasing our compassion expands love
Increasing our loving-kindness expands love
Increasing our humility expands love
Increasing our awareness of ourselves and our impact on others expands love
Diminishing our sense of entitlement expands love
Diminishing judgment expands love
Diminishing our fears expands love
Diminishing our selfishness expands love
Diminishing our sense of other expands love

As light takes the form of both particle and wave, as water takes the form of liquid, solid and gas; love, too, takes multiple forms.

Love is a feeling

Love is an attitude, outlook, or way of being

Love is a conscious act of will

Love is a way of behaving towards ourselves and others

Love is the way we think about ourselves and others

Love is expressed in the words we choose

Love wants what is best for the beloved

Love wants the beloved to reach their full potential

Love is supportive

Love is considerate

Love is kind

Love is patient

Love is optimistic

Love tries to understand

Love gives freely, willingly, and generously

The beloved need not currently be in our life in order for us to love them. You can love from afar. This includes those still in this life and those who have passed on to another.

You must love yourself in order to give love to someone else. Water does not flow from an empty pitcher.

Love is not getting someone else to fill an emptiness in you.

Love is not possessive

Love is not selfish

Love is not judgmental

Love is not jealous

Love is not envious

Love does not tie down

Love is not hurtful

Love is not need

These qualities are indications of our imperfect love and show us where we need to work in order to grow our love.

“Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word…” Martin Luther King

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” Martin Luther King

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Jesus

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Jesus

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” Jesus

“Everybody needs love, love, love.” Drive-by Truckers