Love has been talked about in literature and culture since the dawn of time. But what does “love” actually mean? Philosophers, writers, artists, and great explorers have tried to define it, but there’s never been one definition that everyone has agreed on.
Anyone who has ever loved someone knows how hard it is to describe the feeling in one sentence. The only thing everyone can agree on is the fact that love is a mystery; it remains one of the biggest questions next to human existence.
There’s a special moment in most relationships when someone finally says “I love you” for the first time to someone. It’s a bug responsibility to love someone and to actually show it to them. It can also be a scary moment, making you feel vulnerable.
How do you know if it’s the right time to say those three words? How do you know it’s how you really feel, and it’s not just a very strong physical attraction?
You already know that “I love you” is a huge step to take in any relationship. That much is clear. But how do you know if it’s the right step to take in your relationship?
Well, that’s exactly what Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Han has discussed in his book, How to Love.
Below, we’ve found a passage where he explains why “I love you” might not mean what you think it does.
What “I love you” really means
At the heart of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings is the idea that “understanding is love’s other name.” In other words, to love someone is to fully understand his or her suffering.
Thich Nhat Hanh says that when people say “I love you”, they are caught in the idea of “self” and focused on the “I”. But according to Thich Nhat Hanh, true love involves letting go of the ego and understanding that we’re in this together:
“Often, when we say, “I love you” we focus mostly on the idea of the “I” who is doing the loving and less on the quality of the love that’s being offered. This is because we are caught by the idea of self. We think we have a self. But there is no such thing as an individual separate self. A flower is made only of non-flower elements, such as chlorophyll, sunlight, and water. If we were to remove all the non-flower elements from the flower, there would be no flower left. A flower cannot be by herself alone. A flower can only inter-be with all of us… Humans are like this too. We can’t exist by ourselves alone. We can only inter-be. I am made only of non-me elements, such as the Earth, the sun, parents, and ancestors. In a relationship, if you can see the nature of interbeing between you and the other person, you can see that his suffering is your own suffering, and your happiness is his own happiness. With this way of seeing, you speak and act differently. This in itself can relieve so much suffering.”
True love is when two becomes one
Thich Nhat Hanh says that when it comes to love, there’s no “I”. Instead, true love involves realizing that you’ve become one together:
“In a deep relationship, there’s no longer a boundary between you and the other person. You are her and she is you. Your suffering is her suffering. Your understanding of your own suffering helps your loved one to suffer less. Suffering and happiness are no longer individual matters. What happens to your loved one happens to you. What happens to you happens to your loved one.
In true love, there’s no more separation or discrimination. His happiness is your happiness. Your suffering is his suffering. You can no longer say, “That’s your problem.”
“Suffering and happiness are no longer individual matters. What happens to your loved one happens to you. What happens to you happens to your loved one.”
Does his sadness make you sad? Are you happy that she’s happy? These are crucial questions when it comes to determining whether or not you love someone. If the answers to these questions are “yes,” then it’s possible you truly love your partner.
But if you ask yourselves these questions and you say “yes” but you don’t think your partner feels that way, then you may no longer be together as “one.” Unrequited love is often the most heartbreaking, and if you let things continue that way, it will only lead to even more heartbreak down the road.
If you’ve found the person that these quotes describe and you feel the same way, then get excited! True love is a special thing. Not everyone gets to experience it in their lifetime, so it is truly a gift when you can say you truly love someone and they truly love you back.
Love is being there for someone in their darkest times, loving them for the flaws they have, and always lifting them up to be the best version of themselves. They should do the same for you, as well. Like Thich Nhat Hanh says, “…there’s no more separation or discrimination.”