Monday, January 24, 2011

Does Love Hurt?

I joined a discussion yesterday about whether love hurts and if that pain is avoidable. The topic interested me enough that I thought I would write my thoughts for you to read here. Based on media representations it seems that the general consensus is that love can be painful, but that pain is worth taking the risk of love. There is the popular saying:

It is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.

So one of the ideas is that if you love someone and they die, or leave you than it hurts. The songs tend to come at it from a different angle. They say that love hurts because the person that you love might reject you or hurt you in some way. These are both interesting things to think about and discuss. Is it the fact that I love that person that causes the pain, or is it the absence of an expected love that causes the pain? The following quote from is what started the discussion:

One is never wounded by the love one gives, only by the love one expects.

I find this aphorism to be quite true. It is not our love that causes us pain, it is the unfulfilled expectations of love. In the case of the loved one dying, it is missing the love that they have given you that hurts. As Christians, our love for that person should cause us joy, as we know that they are in a better place. In the second instance it is that fact that we expected love in return for our love that causes us pain. If we loved them without an expectation of returned love, we would be completely happy as long as they are happy.

This then brings another question to the table. Are there not instances in which we have a right to expect love in return? Shouldn't one have the right to expect love from a spouse, parent, child, sibling, good friend, etc. My answer to that is; yes. Yes we have a right to expect love. Especially in the sense of a spouse (traditional vows include loving each other 'til death do us part'), but even in the sense of another family member or a best friend, who we love, we do have a right to expect love from them. We have this right in the same way that we have the right to respond to evil with evil, but Jesus asked us for more.

Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’f]"> But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. (Matthew 5:38-39)

What I understand from this verse is that when someone takes our eye, or our tooth we have the right to take the same from them. When someone slaps you then you have the right to slap him back. But Jesus tells us that we need to give up that right. In order to follow Christ we must learn to give up the rights that we have. It is the same way with expecting love in return for love. We may have the right to, but the love that Christ has called us to does not expect anything in return. That is the very definition of true love: selflessness. Hence, the pain that we so commonly associate with love actually has nothing to do with love, but the unfulfilled expectation of returned love.

So if the pain that we associate with love, is actually not from love, then that brings us back to our original question: Does love hurt? As this post is becoming long I will continue to tackle this question in a later post.


  1. Matthew, what a pleasant surprise for me to drop by and read this detailed interpretation of my aphorism. Often, I don't realize the full implications or meaning of what I write until some thoughtful reader points it out to me.

    Today's aphorism has a reference to Noah. You might be interested.

  2. Thanks for dropping by! I guess maybe I should've asked you before I quoted you, but you got me thinking and I thought it was something I could write a little more on than I was able to in the discussion forum.