We do not need to go out and find love;
we need to be still and let love discover us.

–John O’Donohue

Since we were children, we have been told a patchwork of stories about love. We expect love to give us exaltation, bliss, affection, fire, sweetness, tenderness, comfort, security, and so very much more—all at once.

Our minds are too often clouded by pop-culture images that equate love with sex and romance, delivered in thunderbolts and moonbeams. This idea of love makes us say things and do things we do not mean. It makes us cling frantically to relationships that are bound to change, challenge us, or slip away. Major bookstores often have a love section that’s actually just a romantic relationship section—volumes on how to get a relationship, how to keep a relationship, and how to cure a relationship. As one publisher said to me, “The love market is saturated.”

Perhaps we think we’re getting the portion of love we deserve, which is not very much at all: “I’m just not lucky in love,” or “I’ve been too damaged to love.” We may feel so cynical (sometimes as a mask to hide heartbreak or loneliness) that we dismiss love as a sorry illusion. Some of us decide we are through with love because it takes much more from us than it ever gives back. At those wounded moments when we most need love, a hardened heart can seem like the best defense.

Many of us have been told that if we loved others enough and sacrificed, it wouldn’t matter that we didn’t love ourselves, and that we could keep that up forever. Or if we loved a friend or a child enough, that love itself could cure all ills, meaning no more painful setbacks or defeats. If there is such pain, it implies we were bad at love. Or maybe it was suggested to us that all we needed in this world was love and that we didn’t have to fight what is wrong or call out what is cruel or unjust.

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