Would you rather love, or be loved?

It’s the perennial question, especially for women, I guess. Of course, I’m talking about romantic love.

Many people, especially women writers, have expressed that being loved is a greater bliss. It brings utmost contentment. Only a handful of very lucky people can stay being loved for a long time. It requires luck because while you can choose whom to love, you cannot force people to love you back.

Yet, once in a while, you come across women, or women writers, who claim that they would rather love, than be loved. For me, this is interesting. While loving unconditionally is a noble act, the problem is that I think that we have a stronger psychological need to be loved,  than to love.  Of course, we also have a psychological capacity to love. But as Erich Fromm has pointed out, to love requires a lot of mental effort. How long can we ordinary folks sustain that effort? On the other hand, the feeling of being loved brings with it long-term contentment. In a sense, it is ‘easier’ to be loved, than to love.

Even when it is romantic love, how long can we sustain that unconditional effort? Or you may argue, effort is not in question here. It’s chemistry. You just can’t help loving each other. You just can’t help it.

Fine, but psychologists have all pointed out, confirmed by our own experience or our observations of countless cases, that this chemistry, this can’t-live-without-you fever, is short-lived. Again, we can’t help it. It is in our genes that this chemistry is short-lived. Six months on average. A year if you’re lucky. Afterwards, it is conscious effort that will hold two lovers together.

Then, why is it then once in a while we hear people, especially women, claiming that they would rather love, than be loved, and that to love is a greater bliss?

I have no training in psychology. I guess on a certain psychological level, we want to (need to?) glorify ourselves; we want to think of ourselves as someone special, someone great. This special person will love unconditionally, even when the person she loves does not love her back.

And I think there is a certain beauty about this unconditional love. So for example, I do find the scenario depicted in the last pargraph of Ko Wai Yin’s article below (Apple Daily, March 3) beautiful, even though I doubt how many women can ACTUALLY attain that stage. Or you may argue, it is exactly because few of us mortal souls can reach that stage, or even want to reach that stage, that we find it beautiful.

曾經滄海

2010年03月03日

小女人其中一個大抱負是,住到別人心中,永不搬遷。即使她不再愛他,即使她已經死去,他對她仍然情深似海,為她守身如玉,為她心如止水,直至地也老了天也荒了,海也枯了石也爛了。
一個女人身患絕症,最放心不下的,是她死後會有另一個女人取代她的位置。也有女讀者一字一淚寫信給我:「我們才分手兩個月,他為甚麼有了新女友?他明明說過除了我再也不會愛上別人,其實他現在心中是不是仍然有我?跟她在一起的時候他會不會想起我?」似乎,不少人的愛情共識是,被愛是幸福之最,即使我不愛人,仍然希望對方愛我,義無反顧,了無絕期。
小女人近乎偏執地在乎自己在男人心目中的位置,因為千百年來,男人壟斷了自己在異性面前獨斷專行的地位,他們創建一夫多妻制度,他們發明貞節牌坊,發給守身的女人做獎牌。女人一直是被動付出的那一方,如果某一天,居然是男人矢志不渝地愛着她,恍如抱着一塊隱形的貞節牌坊,女人便堅信自己書寫了愛的傳奇。
我嚮往的愛情正好相反,我覺得愛比被愛幸福。每一場愛情開始的時候我們都幻想過圓滿的結果,而現實總是沮喪的,到了最後我們會很無奈地發現,我們總有這樣那樣的理由放棄對愛的堅守。茫茫人海,萬丈紅塵,如果遇上一個人,值得我們用一生的熱情去奉獻,去執着,去堅守,那是多麼幸運的事啊!不是每個人都有幸「曾經滄海」的。我羨慕……
  • (高慧然)

By the way, at this moment in time, I believe that the only kind of love that has the capacity of coming very close to 100% unconditional is parental love. Erich Fromm has said the same!

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2 thoughts on “Would you rather love, or be loved?

  1. Nettie

    Dear Paul,
    Thanks for recommending your article to me. It is of course, well-written and the topic itself is in hot debate within my circle of friends.
    To me, I think there shouldn’t be a clear distinction between the two (to love, or to be loved) ! As when you are in love, you are actually both the giver and the taker. Of course, I have once thought of this question, starting to count how much I have been given to the relationship and taken from my partner. However, I do really think this is a stupid act because love is actually unconditional and countless.
    May be my type of relationship is regarded as traditional one as you know, nowadays, people believes in easy come, easy go. It definitely needs a lot of efforts to sustain a long-term relationship. Indeed, there are a lot of hard times throughout a relationship but I do believe we have to chase back to the origin of such relationship, how the two of you hook up and how you develop the love in between. May be that’s a better way out to find out the true meaning of love!
    I am still a freshman in love and I do believe that my parents, or even you can give more insights on this issue! Love is definitely a very hard topic to learn in life, isnt’it?
    Love, nettie

  2. A good point you’ve made, Nettie. Maybe there isn’t really such a clear distinction, so that when you’re in love with someone, you are both loving and being loved. But it’s also interesting that people, and I guess females in particular, enjoy discussing it. (Oh my God; why was I discussing it, then?)

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