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Is love hard work?

The Daily Telegraph has published an article today about Cheryl Cole’s engagement, exploring whether it is wise to commit after knowing someone only briefly.

This is a great opportunity for me to begin a series of blogs using my favourite book, The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. In this book, villagers pose 26 questions to their Prophet, each one concerning a vital aspect of our lives.

From now on, whenever it seems interesting and helpful, I will quote for you the relevant question from this book, and then see if I can apply it to today’s world and the problems we face now.

Today’s Daily Telegraph article is a great start, because it’s about the first question in the book, when the Prophet is asked about love. Here (in part) is what he says:

‘When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.
For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning….’

So what is the Prophet trying to say? Love doesn’t look like much fun from his description, does it?! He seems to be suggesting that love is hard work. He’s right. But we don’t much like to hear that these days…

There are two main problems why we so often feel disappointed when we look for love.

The first is that we want instant satisfaction. If you meet someone and it doesn’t instantly feel right and stay perfect, you may well be encouraged to ‘move on’, to ‘find the right person’–as if there is someone waiting ‘out there’ in the world who is perfect for you.

The second belief we hold is that once you find this (mythical!) perfect person, everything will be happy ever after. You won’t ever need to work on the relationship–it’s already perfect.

But these ideas are both false, and they lead only to more disappointment! That’s because, first of all, there is no ‘perfect’ in life. Life is a work in progress, and although we have moments that feel absolutely perfect, those moments never last because things are constantly changing. After all, that’s what being alive means! If something never changes, it’s not alive.

Furthermore, you’ll never find lasting satisfaction if you expect to find it outside of yourself, somewhere out in the world waiting for you. You have to create situations and relationships that provide you with the satisfaction you’re seeking, and you do this through hard work, optimism and determination. What the Prophet says is true–love’s ways are truly ‘hard and steep’!

One of the reasons why we feel so often disappointed in love is that we confuse ‘lust’ and ‘love’. Lust is what you feel when you’re sexually attracted to someone. Did you know that it’s based on scent?! Unconsciously, we are attracted to people whose immune systems best match our own. This is a mechanism in our biological makeup, to encourage us to mate with a person whose immune system, together with our own, will produce the healthiest and strongest children. Lust is really powerful!–it can surprise you, even feel like it’s come out of the blue. We have very little conscious control over lust, and sadly, it doesn’t often last long. Feelings of lust may fade after just one night, or a few weeks or months. Lust is definitely not the same thing as love!

Love is a completely different concept. Love is something we can create, and the harder we work at it, the more delicious it feels. Love, if I may borrow and modify M. Scott Peck’s definition, means considering your partner’s needs to be at least as important as your own, if not more so. It means giving up things you want to do sometimes, so you can serve the best interests of your partner. The great thing about love is that, although it takes a great deal of effort to nurture, the harder and longer you work at it, the better it gets. Love never needs to grow stale or old.