There is a golden rule, some say, about the feeling of love. If it feels painful and difficult, it is not love, but attachment. And if it feels happy and easy, then it is love.
You will argue that love is difficult. Yes it is. But there is, perhaps, a subtle distinction here between two types of difficulty. Let me give you a couple of examples
A mother has given birth to a child which is different. She knows that the child will find life hard at times, and this causes pangs of compassion in her heart. But she wakes up every morning and gives everything to that child, because she wishes her child to be happy. Giving to the child feels happy and easy, even though she experiences undoubted pangs of compassion all the time.
A man believes he has fallen in love with a woman. In the past, he has suffered from loneliness, low self-esteem, and the sense that life is out of control. But now, as long as he is with this woman, he can avoid his loneliness, his feeling of self-esteem improves, and he feels life is more within his control. Sometimes the woman is not there. At those times, he becomes anxious, angry and panicky… because he feels lonely, insecure, and out of control. His pain and difficulty is on his own behalf – he is not thinking of her, except to palliate his own pain. This is attachment.
And of course life is more complicated than that. We all feel lonely at times; we can all fall subject to low self-esteem; and we all like to have a sense of control over our lives. Good company, social support, and a sense of mastery over our own lives, are good things. But we have to be careful how we behave.
If we find ourselves treating other people poorly, then we need to go back to first principles, and ask ourselves: am I truly being loving, or am I feeding an unhealthy attachment?
The clue is in how it feels. If life is fraught with pain and difficulty, and we are focused on what we ourselves are not getting, then we may be mistaking our own pain and need as love. If our actions are done with happiness and a sense of confident ease, and we are focused on the happiness of another, then yes, we are probably in a loving relationship.
Do I experience my own love as a wish to give, happy and easy? If so, then maybe I can use that feeling as a guide, and keep going.
Or do I experience my own love as a painful and difficult hunger on my own behalf? If so, then maybe I can recognise the signs of attachment.
Am I using another person to feed my own loneliness? Am I seeking the attention of another person in order to feed my self-esteem? Am I trying to control another person in order to get a sense of control over life?
I can use my heart as a guide. The giving heart is free and easy, and takes little thought for itself, except to keep itself healthy enough to help others.
The taking heart is full of need, and takes little thought for others, except to try to palliate its own anxiety.
If I want to be happy, then perhaps I can focus on my giving heart. It’s not so dramatic. It’s not the subject of as many pop songs. But it’s a good way to be happy, and to make others happy.