(About a 4 minute read)
How often have you heard someone suggest that they can make themselves love someone?
I hear it offered as advice, or said out of determination to make some relationship or marriage work. It is my impression women are a bit more inclined to accept the notion than men. But I also think women are more inclined to take responsibility for a relationship than men.
Yet, as often as I hear it said, I more often see it assumed. Someone — again, usually a woman — struggles to turn around her heart in order to turn around a relationship.
However, I wonder if it’s possible to make ourselves love — really love — someone? What would we do if we tried? Would we make a list of all their good qualities, repeat them like motivational mantras each morning while looking into the mirror like a school teacher to see if the lesson was being taken in, internalized?
Would that even work?
To answer that question, let’s take a look at love. Or, rather at loves. Plural because there are more than one kind. Indeed there are several, but of the several, only four might concern us here. Those are erotic love, romantic love, mature love, and unconditional love.
Now, the science strongly suggests the first three are each closely associated with specific brain chemicals — neurotransmitters, “molecules of emotion” — while the fourth remains a mystery. Erotic love is driven by testosterone. Romantic love by, among other things, dopamine. And mature love by oxytocin.
Those chemicals directly translate into feelings, emotions. Testosterone translates into the horniness of erotic love. Dopamine translates into the intense pleasure of romantic love. And oxytocin translates into the warm and fuzzy feelings of mature love.
So far as I know you cannot will those chemicals to increase in potency. In some specific cases, however, you might be able to induce them to flow a bit more readily. For instance, you might play upon the fact that the warm and fuzzies can occur simply from thinking about the beloved, by — simply simply thinking about him or her.
So in such cases the surprising answer might be “yes”, there are at least some things you can do to make yourself love someone — at least in theory.
But what about practice? I think in practice it might be a bit more difficult because so much else is likely to be going on besides what your doing to yourself to help the situation. He or she might be treating you like a jerk. Or they might be wholly disinterested in doing their own part to help out. Or maybe you’re just incompatible. Maybe you’ve just grown apart.
I strongly suspect that in real life it is most often not worth it to try to make ourselves love something. We might find ways to save or enhance a relationship anyway, but making ourselves love someone doesn’t seem like one of those ways.
I am reminded here of my two marriages. Both were characterized by abuse. In the first, I was the abuser. In the second, my ex-wife was. Would it have helped my first wife or helped me to have re-ignited our love for our spouses? Decidedly not!
This might seem flippant, but it seems to me there can be no substitute for choosing wisely who to partner with in the first place. Trying after the fact to turn things around looks to me like folly.
Let us suppose, however, the real problem is a bit different than you are already in some relationship that you wish to improve or save. Let’s suppose the problem is you have been unable to love in the first place.
That situation is as tragic as it is common, I think. Especially nowadays when so many of us have experience of multiple partners and have suffered wounds to love. We want another chance, but our wounds are deep and perhaps not completely healed. What can we do about that?
Well Rumi had some advice about that. “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” Of course, Rumi was talking about unconditional love, but his advice goes for any kind of love, I think. Removing the barriers is key.
However, I would urge anyone to exercise caution before proceeding to remove the barriers to unconditional love. While it is well worth experiencing, it is also the most subversive thing you can experience in any lifetime. The outcome cannot be predicted, other than to say it is likely to be both renewing and healing.