We want love. We spend countless hours dreaming about love, imagining what love will be like. Then we devote more hours, days, and even years seeking love. We meet people, and we get involved. We try to discern if love exists in relationships we enter into that are possibly defined by lust, convenience, or even money. We think finding love means finding the person who will love us, who will give us everything. Mr. Perfect. Ms. Wonderful. Mr. Romance. But what if we’ve been looking for love from the wrong end of the telescope?
A line in Viktor Frankl’s holocaust survivor book, Man’s Search for Meaning, has sent me thinking about a different kind of quest for love. Frankl says love is one of life’s most essential meanings. He gets how important love is. A person who finds love has found something real and true to hold onto in even the most wretched of circumstances. This resonates with any of us who reads romance. We know love is central to happiness in life.
But Frankl isn’t talking about being loved, he’s talking about loving. To love someone gives your life meaning. You don’t have to do anything more—and that flies in the face of the typical American belief that life should be a series of accomplishments. No, if you love, that’s enough. From this emotion may flow heroism and many other estimable qualities and behaviors, but to have found the feeling of love is to have found meaning.
I like this message. As much as we all search selfishly for someone to love us, as much as being loved by someone is crucial to our daily happiness, the truth is, it must be the right someone, and the right someone is the person we love in return.
This idea is the key to most romantic conflicts in literature and drama. Another Victor, Victor Hugo (the same man who wrote Les Misèrables), wrote a play, Hernani, about a young woman whom three powerful men love. But she loves only one of them. Giuseppe Verdi adapted the play into an opera, Ernani, that is today known for its over-the-top melodrama. Elvira loves the bandit Ernani (a dispossessed nobleman). She spurns the king’s questionable advances. She resists marrying her guardian, who offers the security of an honorable position. Apparently, all three men sincerely love her, but the love we seek is the love we feel, so Elvira rejects the two men who offer her worldly rewards. She loves inconveniently, but she has found love and she won’t deny it. The story doesn’t end well, alas. Most romances didn’t, not until the twentieth century. Romeo and Juliet. Tristan and Isolde. Despite their unhappy endings, such classic love stories have resonated for centuries, and Viktor Frankl’s concept explains why. Finding love means finding the person you love, regardless of the surrounding circumstances.
The love we feel is the love we’re looking for.