Kelly was 22 when she was first brought to our office by her parents as they were quite concerned about her safety. She had just broken with her boyfriend having found that he went on a date with one of her best friends. Kelly had apparently been crying every day; had become socially isolated and alarmingly had been cutting her forearm with a plastic knife. Her mother Linda was particularly concerned with Kelly’s low sense of self-worth. She had reported that Kelly had been scribbling down self-derogatory statements such as “I am a loser”, “no man would ever love me”, “I don’t deserve happiness”, etc. Her mother further described that in her opinion, Kelly had never recovered from her very first relationship, when she was 18.
Kelly remembered her very first “love” very vividly. She recalls that very first time she met Matt, she was quickly enamored. She couldn’t keep her eyes off him. She felt an unusual attraction to him, but couldn’t figure out what she was attracted to. She does know she liked the way he talked to her because it made her feel good about herself. It was only much later in her relationship that she noticed that he talked to many other women the same exact way. She was convinced that he was the man for her forever. It did not take her long at all to completely commit and submit herself to him. After about six months of dating, she moved in with him. Shortly thereafter, she would often feel as though Matt didn’t seem to be as interested in her as he initially was. But she would always find justification in her mind for his behavior. It was either a difficult childhood or maybe he was just having a bad day. In other words, she wasn’t listening to her instinct and was abandoning objectivity. Looking back, she realizes there were several warning signs in her relationship with him. Matt would often not treat her as a special person in social gatherings. He hardly ever asked about her aspirations or future life plans. He always seemed to be more focused on his own future plans and on what he wanted to do. She recognizes now that she was just an incidental company for him. On other occasions, however, she was also treated as a possession-something he could leave home and always come back to. In other words, he wanted to have his cake and eat it too. She recalls having these doubts, but would always soothe herself by saying, “I love him”. It took her three years to have the courage to ask herself, “Why do I love this man or do I?”
When she finally broke up with him, she felt completely used and fooled. She has not been able to overcome these feelings even to this day. Her mother agreed that Kelly was never been able to recover from the damage to her self-esteem and self-confidence she suffered in her relationship experience with Matt. Now, she is 32. Later in this article, you will find out how the rest of her life unveiled.
So what exactly is love? This has been a perennial question and of course there are differences in opinion. Having worked with thousands of people with relationship issues, I have come to the following conclusions.
First of all, I do not believe “love at first sight” is true love. And I know some of you are thinking: it worked for me. Well, you are a very small minority and are extremely fortunate. I believe true love can only develop over time. The foremost reason is that it takes time to know a person. Therefore, if you just met somebody and “fall in love”, that means you are not in love with the person you just met. Instead, you may be enamored by the person you imagine him/her to be.
Secondly, any lasting love cannot be built around attributes which can change with time or situation. Therefore, love built solely upon looks, wealth, certain skills, etc. is likely not to last since those attributes are subject to change with time and/or situation. In my view, the only human attributes which are enduring are one’s true and core character. For example, if somebody is innately kind, he or she is most likely to be kind almost always in most situations. I always tell both my patients and friends that true and lasting love is and should be built around virtues and not skills. The virtues are part of people’s enduring character whereas skills can be learned and unlearned. This is not to say that there aren’t people who have an ideal combination of virtues and a set of desired skills. However, I can tell you that you must be patient and savvy to find those people.
Now you will have to hold your horses until next week to learn what true love is.
The purpose of this article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical or psychiatric issue. Dr. Rakesh Ranjan is a practicing psychiatrist and a researcher. He is a recipient of several research awards and has authored several peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapter on psychiatric illnesses and their treatments. He is a national speaker for several organizations and serves on the medical advisory board for NAMI for Greater Cleveland. If you or a loved one is experiencing any symptoms that would lead you to believe that there could be a mental imbalance, please email your questions to Dr. Ranjan at email@example.com. Each Wednesday, Dr. Ranjan will address some of these questions in this column. All contact info will be kept confidential.