Chapter 14 Learning Objectives
Upon reading this chapter, the student should be able to:
- Provide example(s) of the various meanings or criteria that might be meant by being ‘loved for oneself’.
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When you are old and grey and full of sleep And nodding by the fire, take down this book, And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep; How many loved your moments of glad grace, And loved your beauty with love false or true, But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
— from “When You Are Old” by W. B. Yeats (1893)
Often the lament is heard that one does not feel loved for herself or for himself, but instead is loved or liked for some characteristic or set of characteristics he or she has — wealth, beauty, personality, physical attributes, job, social prestige, special skill, or whatever. It is easy to see why the lament may be justified with regard to such often superficial or impersonal things as wealth, prestige, or job (when the job is only a means to earn a living, not a reflection of genuine personal interest or inner self; jobs are not impersonal if, for example, it is work a person is particularly suited to and interested in and if perhaps it is work he or she would want to do it even if not paid for it).
A person who loves someone because of those qualities would seem to love anyone who had them, and not the present loved one if he or she did not have them, regardless of any (other) personal qualities. This is also true, though perhaps to a lesser extent (depending on how much is nature or luck and how much is cultivated through hard work) with regard to looks or physical characteristics. Certainly there is not terribly much to the relationship if it would deteriorate on the basis of one’s aging or gaining a small amount of weight or if it would deteriorate even because of disfiguring surgery or accident. And it seems to me that a woman whose mate would leave her or love her less over something even such as a radical mastectomy has a mate or a relationship with some serious flaws anyway. A young man or woman who cultivates their beauty or athleticism (at the expense of more important and more permanent qualities) might beware of marrying someone who likes them primarily for that, since when their youth, beauty, or athletic skills desert them, so might their shallow companion.
Obesity through gluttony or total unconcern for appearance might cause a legitimate strain on an otherwise good relationship because such a cause gets more into character and personality than just physical appearance. Certainly obesity due to some unavoidable medical problem should not seriously harm a relationship that has more than (superficial) attraction — or more than infatuation.
When the lament is because one feels loved for one’s personality, skills, or particular actions — things that seem closer to “self” — it is not always clear how justified the lament is or whether it really means what it seems to mean on the surface. It would seem odd to want to be loved, enjoyed, and appreciated for something other than one’s actions, looks, character, personality, and mind, etc. What else would there be? Is there a “self” that can be loved apart from these traits?
And doesn’t one have to “earn” love in some way anyway, or is it supposed to be totally unconditional? (Though if it is totally unconditional, how is it then personal?) Is someone asking to be loved even if they were (a) totally different (person) also? What point would there be in that? Certainly it would be odd for someone to feel about a car that they liked it only because of its shape, size, mileage, maneuverability, durability, price, performance and comfort but not really for itself. What would its “self” be apart from all these things, or what is wrong with liking it for those things — those are the things that one’s appreciation for cars should be based on, it seems.
Yet even with a car, one can form a sufficient sentimental attachment to it so that one would hate to get rid of his old car even though it no longer provides the kind of service one needs or the performance one wants in a car and even though its looks may be severely run down. Hence, it seems there might be something to liking or loving one’s car even though there is little or nothing specifically about the car one loves or can love anymore. Part of this could be because of what the car has done in the past, the good times it has provided for its owner or the good times it has taken him to or helped him share with other people. It provides a link to the past and helps conjure up some pleasant memories perhaps. Also, the owner may simply feel comfortable with the car in certain ways.
With people, I think a number of things can be meant, some similar to the example of the car, in talking about being liked for ones’ self. Some of these are fair to ask for or want in a relationship; some are unfair to seek or require.
First, since there is a difference between enjoyment and attraction, it is fair, I believe, for one to expect another in a supposed love relationship to be attracted to him or her, to care for him or her in a loving way, independent of the particular enjoyments the lover receives from the loved one’s attributes or particular qualities. However, on my analysis of what love is, for that attraction to be one of love (and not just infatuation), one does have to do something(s) that the attracted person enjoys and one does have to do things that are good for them — not all the time, of course, but generally. You must do these things, not (just) to keep the other attracted, but to keep that attraction one of love and not just one of blind infatuation. Hence, you cannot just, in general, do nothing or do bad or dissatisfying things for the other person.
However, people do get old, people do have accidents or surgery, people do change and are changed through time and living. People have moods and/or act differently under different conditions and situations. It seems to me that if a relationship is, or has been overall very good and very loving, one should not have to worry about being unloved when one is older and looks differently; one should not have to worry about being unloved because sometimes one is depressed, ill, pre-occupied, busy, tired, in a quiet, private, reflective mood, just wants to be alone or because one cannot provide a type of enjoyment or match one’s usual bubbly mood or intellectually stimulating manner, or whatever. Sometimes some people do not want to have to “perform” in some particular manner in order to be liked. Certainly one should not, if the relationship is a good and loving one, have to worry that their being, say, ill might cause love for them to wane or die, just because lying wretchedly ill in bed through no fault of their own they cannot be their usual, provocative, witty, entertaining, benevolent self.
Further, over time there is the kind of feeling one might have for a loved one that is like something of the sort one has for the car because of what they have been through together; because of what they have shared together (only with a person of course in a much more mutual, active, important, personal, and meaningful way), regardless of what they may ever be able to share together again. A relationship should not, it seems to me, depend just on “what one has done for the other lately,” or will continue to do, but there should be some love and appreciation for what the other person has done and meant in the past. Certainly one could reasonably expect, I would hope, to be loved or cared about as much as a car can be loved and cared about after the same period of time. This is especially true, if no controllable qualities arise that would justifiably alienate the lover. If A turns out to voluntarily have destructive qualities that are difficult for B to cope with, it is possible, though not necessary, those qualities might justifiably cause B to cease caring for A in a very loving way. And in some cases they ought to; or even if they do not cause attraction to die, they might justify no longer calling the relationship or that attraction one of love. I will discuss this further in the chapters on commitment and on ethics. Here let me just say there should be in a good or loving relationship both attraction and, after a period of time, a kind of nostalgic affection for each other as well, independent of (given the following qualification) any particular attributes or qualities that are pleasing or gratifying.
The qualification is that attraction should be independent of good qualities and joys but not in spite of the other’s controllable bad and/or dissatisfying characteristics. It would be unfair for a person to expect attraction, care, or concern (though this might still happen) if they, voluntarily, seldom or never did anything that was satisfying, and especially if they continually voluntarily did things or had characteristics that were dissatisfying, hurtful, or otherwise bad for the other.
Such an attraction, if it existed, would not, on my analysis, be love anyway, but infatuation or some sort of unjustified, masochistic attraction. An unhappy person who is unhappy through no particular fault of their own (one whose life has some rain in it but not because they have gone about seeding clouds) can be found attractive, loved and cared about; a mean or bitter person might not be. An incapacitated person can be loved; but a lazy person — continually doing little for himself or the other, might not very long expect attraction for (or the relationship with) him to continue. One might even love a grouch, or even a sometimes vicious person — if there are sufficient times where the other has redeeming social characteristics. One might become and remain attracted to them even if they do not have such redeeming features, but this is hardly to be expected and impossible to be reasonably demanded.
Nor would this attraction be love. The attraction and ethically humanitarian concern part of love may be unconditional, but not the total part; getting along with someone, living with someone, or putting up with someone are not unconditional; some satisfactory and good behavior at least is to be expected.
Another sense of “being loved for oneself”: a person may not mean that they want to be loved apart from or in spite of any of their characteristics or actions, but that they want to be loved and appreciated for particular characteristics or behavior that they feel most represent them. Sometimes one has some characteristics (whether acquired naturally, accidentally, or by one’s own effort) that are especially important to him, whether reasonably so or not. The person may want to be recognized, appreciated, noticed, or liked for these characteristics; and this might be what they mean by being loved for themselves. It may be something as general as beauty or intelligence or as specific as a new way of tying a tie. I spent weeks one time in adolescence trying to cultivate a certain type of smile (after David Jansen — a smile mostly in the eyes, not bubbly or animated, but kindly, with that brief upturn of the corner of the mouth, sometimes one corner, sometimes both) since it seemed to be the kind of smile that reflected moods I often felt. Hence, I was happy when the smile was liked by someone or responded to by someone. Of course, this would be a frivolous aspect to base a relationship on, but it is one of the many kinds of things that go into making up a relationship, making it a satisfying one — one person doing something that intrigues the other one and the first liking that this particular thing is found intriguing by the second person. It may also be something that helps attraction grow — she is attracted to him in part for his smile, and he is attracted, in part, to her for noticing and liking this smile that is mildly important to him. Because different things are important to different people or to one person at different times, it is hard to know ahead of time what might be important to another person — or what they might consider more part of their “self” or nature.
The opposite side of this is having someone particularly enjoy, benefit, or be attracted to you because of (a) trait(s) of yours that you yourself do not consider important or of value. It may even be (a) trait(s) you would like to change or lose. It may be one(s) you do not really care to display (very often). Hence, you may be loved, but feel loved for the wrong reasons — or feel not loved for yourself, not loved for traits that are important to you or that represent you (as you would really like to be).
Another sense of being loved for one’s self: a characteristic often desired in a relationship is the desire to be (and, I think, therefore appreciated or valued). This does not mean that one’s language is understood, though that is often, of course, important too; but rather refers to something deeper, than that. It means having one’s good character, one’s intentions or motives, and one’s desires and care’s or even one’s whims (sympathetically) understood or known.
For example, anyone who would have understood me as an adolescent would have known my trying to grow a David Jansen smile was not of serious importance, but only of humorous or stylistic importance to me. One, for example, wants to have his loved ones understand when he is using sarcasm or is trying to make an important point though doing so with humor. One wants to be recognized as tired or ill, not lazy, when one takes some time for rest and is not as industrious as usual. One sometimes wants a loved one to know that when he has said something ignorant or angry or inappropriate that he realizes it and wants to be pitied for being a victim of his faulty mind rather than chastised for being ignorant or evil. Of course decency still requires an apology, but understanding of the perpetrator’s character or intent or true meaning, or understanding of the cause of the statement, will allow immediate acceptance of the apology and forgiveness. Lack of understanding can bring anger that hurts feelings; and it can bring the feeling that because you are not understood, you are therefore also not loved for yourself, since your “self” did not really mean the remark or mean it the way it was taken. Even the best of people are stupid or somehow otherwise out of character sometimes. Friends and loved ones know to ignore it or know how to properly respond to it, knowing it is out of character. They know, for example, that when a usually loving, kind, intelligent person says something that seems stupid or malicious or both, not to immediately berate them for doing so, but to instead calmly or teasingly ask what they meant by that or why they said it, since it seems so out of character for them.
Sometimes wanting to be “understood” means wanting to have others understand, and appreciate your problems and pressures and how well you are doing or trying to do what is right and what is expected of you. Sometimes people want others to know they have been patient or have gone the extra mile or have tried really hard to behave in a certain way or to do something, perhaps especially if it was something they were not very good at, did not like to do, or were really too busy or too tired to do. I once had a man bring his wife’s championship show dog to me for an 11×14 portrait, to be a surprise birthday present for his wife. He spirited the dog out of the house, brushed and groomed it in my studio, got the dog back home without his wife’s knowing he had taken it away, selected his proof, had the picture matted and framed at a framing shop, brought it back to show me the finished product and just beamed with pride at the successful accomplishment of all his efforts and expense. When he presented the picture to his wife, her only comment was that he had not brushed the dog correctly. He was crushed.
Obviously she had not understood nor appreciated all that he had done, and done just for her, even though it hadn’t come out the way it would if she had done it herself. It was not as if she had to show false appreciation for the picture, but she should have shown true appreciation for his efforts and for his desire to try to please her with something really special.
Even without their trying to do something special, people sometimes want others to appreciate just how difficult just daily living sometimes is for them and how much effort it sometimes takes for them just to do their job and be ordinarily civilized and reasonably pleasant. It is not that they want a medal, but that they want their efforts and their conscientiousness and character (in making those efforts) to be understood and appreciated. If someone works all day at a tiring job, stops at the grocery on the way home, and cooks dinner for the family when they get there, they don’t want to be unsympathetically and unappreciatively chastised and criticized for forgetting to pick up dry cleaning or for preparing the same meal they served less than two weeks ago, particularly if no one else who could help lighten the load bothers to help do so, and/or if no one else even realizes or appreciates how much one does and why one therefore cannot always be super-satisfying.
To a person with one kind of lifestyle, a person with another sort of lifestyle may seem to “have it made” — to have an easy life. But the other person may have their own (perceived) difficulties, pressures, and obstacles that requires some personal effort to overcome, and for which they want to be appreciated. Some people are more efficient and more capable than others and can more easily handle obstacles, inconveniences, and petty annoyances; and some people think their world has caved in if they break a nail or the maid is two hours late, or if the flower arrangements are not quite the way they wanted them at a wedding. It may be hard to sympathize with the latter sort of person, but the point is they may unfortunately have the same amount of stress and have to use the same amount of emotional energy and reserve to cope with such minor things as another person would to cope with something really important and objectively more difficult. And they may want to be appreciated for coping with that much stress. The stress is real and the effort required is real, even if the cause of the stress is trivial, unimportant, and unworthy of the amount of stress it provokes in them.
Wanting to be understood can also mean in this regard wanting to have your problems and concerns and desires understood — as when an adolescent wants his parents to show they understand how much something means to him that they seem either to be oblivious to or to make light of or to offer what seem like platitudes to him about a subject. For example, they may want him to date some girl he is not interested in, and they may say embarrassing things to him about it in front of others. Or the child may be embarrassed because his parents seem old- fashioned to him or because they display affection to him in front of his friends whose parents do not do that. A parent may insist on chauffeuring a young teenager on a date instead of letting him or her double date with older teens who drive, but perhaps unsafely.
Children and adolescents, in fact, often have cares and concerns they cannot or do not explain but expect their parents to know about because it is so obvious to the child he or she cannot understand how anybody who supposedly loves them could not know. Sometimes they are right; sometimes parents are oblivious to how important something is to a child even though the child gives all kinds of verbal or nonverbal signals about it that the parents ought to recognize but do not. This sometimes starts in childhood when, for example, a protesting (often, crying) child is forced to wear clothes to school that embarrass him or her, even though there is no particularly good reason they should. A young child who wants to choose their own clothes may pick some really terrible (by adult standards) combination. But it may be very important to him or her; and an understanding parent may allow it, to their own slight embarrassment, if he or she cannot persuade the child to a more suitable choice. A child’s, or anyone’s, concerns do not have to be objectively reasonable, important, or mature in order to seem reasonable or be of the utmost importance to him or her.
Being understood can also mean having someone know what you want or would like, or how you would like to be treated. A second grader lived in an apartment near me when I was in graduate school; and for her age, she was a very good reader, seemed to like to read, and seemed fascinated with words and books. For her birthday that year, I bought her a bound book with blank pages for her to keep a journal or to write ideas or stories in or whatever she wanted. It cost about two dollars. Her mother, who had bought her all kinds of more expensive presents, like clothes and toys, etc., later told me that the girl had asked her why she never bought her great presents like the one I had. The people who had bought me the stationery for Christmas one year had understood me in this way.
Being understood can also mean having your deepest feelings and thoughts understood and appreciated — particularly when you express them. The dorm I lived in at college was across the street from a cemetery. One cold, snowy night, when I was particularly lonely, walking on the sidewalk beside the cemetery to go somewhere, death seemed a particularly bleak prospect since there were all those tombstones standing there in the cold and dark and snow, lonely beacons to no one’s notice or concern, silently marking the long forgotten graves of people no one remembered or cared about. That was to be everyone’s fate, including mine; the walk began on that very melancholy note. But that night as I returned to the dorm, I noticed someone had put fresh flowers near one of the graves. And it seemed to me somehow as if that one small bouquet commemorated all the graves and all the lives of the people who were buried in that old cemetery. This one individual remembrance somehow took on poetic universal significance to me; and in some way these flowers symbolized to me that people cared about those who had gone before them, even those they had not personally known. It was a very uplifting idea, particularly after a melancholy evening, and I was profoundly moved, and at peace with myself and the universe. I wrote about the experience to my parents. My mother’s response in her next letter was only to question whether it was safe to walk near a cemetery at night. I felt she hadn’t “understood”.
Sometimes what a person means by wanting to be loved for themself is that they want to be liked, appreciated, and respected, for their basic values, principles, ideals, goals, and the things they believe in and the way they behave in general even though they may not be actively pursuing any of those goals or values at a particular time. I think this is a reasonable expectation when one’s basic values and principles are good ones, and one conscientiously pursues them. People with good “character” — something which often requires conscientiousness and some personal sacrifice to earn and to keep — should be appreciated and respected for that character.
But less laudably, some people unfortunately feel understood and perhaps therefore valued or appreciated just by being around others who have the same values, regardless of the merit of those values. For example, some people seem to place higher value on how others appear than on what they think — they put higher value on style than they do on content. If such people are bigots, then to paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr., the color of someone’s skin might be more important to them than the content of his or her character. If they are simply class snobs, then the clothes on someone’s back or the labels on someone’s clothes might be more important than the ideas in his or her mind.
Though some values are rationally more important than others, not everyone is rational. Some people hold irrational and unintelligent values. But just being in the company of people with similar irrational values is not to be understood nor justifiably appreciated; it is simply to be in bad company that is like oneself.
- Figuring out for oneself what one wants to be loved and appreciated for and what one tends to find most lovable in others one loves or wants to be friends with or associate with.
- People with good “character” — something which often requires conscientiousness and some personal sacrifice to earn and to keep — should be appreciated and respected for that character.
- Sometimes what a person means by wanting to be loved is that they want to be liked, appreciated, and respected, for their basic values, principles, ideals, goals, and the things they believe in and the way they behave in general even though they may not be actively pursuing any of those goals or values at a particular time.
Chapter Review Questions
- Question: What are the dangers of focusing solely on beauty or athleticism in a long-term relationship?
- Question: What does ‘being understood’ in general by someone else mean?