The Difference Between True Love and Selfish Love


Thich Nhat Hanh once said, “If you love somebody but rarely make yourself available to her or him, that’s not true love.” Those words are, undoubtedly, real. Our perception of love has been marred by romantic movies and books where lust overshadows the reality of the situation.

We seek the Romeo and Juliet kind of wild romance but do not heed the warning. Too often real love – the selfless kind – is confused with the selfish act of wanting a lover, but there are ways to tell if what you are feeling is actual love or a different type of desire.

1. Real love is not something that can be removed or built upon

“Love isn’t an equation, it’s not a contract, and it’s not a happy ending. Love is the slate under the chalk, the ground that buildings rise, and the oxygen in the air. It’s the place you come back to, no matter where you are headed.” – Jodi Picoult

You might find yourself thinking that the above quote goes against everything you know about love. Making love, giving love, falling in love and with love… these phrases have nothing to do with the actual emotion. These are “equations.”

Adding, subtracting, dividing, and multiplying all remove something from ourselves or the other person. We give love in hopes of receiving. We are satisfying desires with the hope of producing satisfaction. This selfish give-and-take is not real love.

Real love is not something that can be removed or built upon. Real love is the foundation of everything. There is no sudden manifestation of selfless, true love. Rather we become aware of its eternal presence as if it was the sky and the earth, the air that supports us, the world in which we exist. In other words, love is that mathematical undefined.

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2. Selfless love is not always in your face like lust is

“Love, like everything else in life, should be a discovery, an adventure, and like most adventures, you don’t know you are having one until you are right in the middle of it.” – E.A. Bucchianeri

Selfless love is not always in your face like lust is. Imagine selfish love like the boulder from Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom roaring towards you, threatening to crush you. You feel afraid at the sight of it, and some of us confuse this fear with excitement. Our bodies tremble at the thought of filling a void. But instead of completing ourselves, we get bowled over.

Conversely, real love poses no risk because it is not a trap. The emergence of this emotion comes from being at peace in the world. People who are in love lose all sense of fear and find themselves in a place of abundance. They feel comfortable in their own bodies and accept who they are. In turn, they are able to accept their partner for everything that individual is – flaws and all.

3. True love is not something we can create out of selfish desires

“In love the other is important; in lust you are important.” – Osho

Unconditional, true love is not something we can create out of selfish desires. When love forms between two individuals, it is not because it solves a problem or shows an end result (like wedding bells or a white picket fence). The authentic kind of love is merely a joy that two people feel only when thinking of one another, spending time together, or unconsciously doing selfless acts for one another.

You do not get disappointed at the absence of gifts or discouraged by the lack of a compliment. No demands are made. There is only an unbridled feeling of completeness that doesn’t falter, even during moments of tension.

4. Real love does not get clingy

On this matter, I like this true quote by Alan Watts, “Never pretend to a love that you don’t actually feel, for love isn’t ours to command.”

The issue with selfish love is that people think of it like a leash-and-collar system. It is the golden bridle on the elusive unicorn. But do you know what happens once you rope the magnificent beast and make it obey?

The unicorn loses its luster and, ultimately, perishes. Real love does not get clingy because it will endure distance, time, and even death. When you love someone, truly, there is no end to that feeling. It is an uncontrollable recurrence of happiness and warmth at the sight and thought of this other being.

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The difference between true love and selfish love comes down to one thing: fear. Real love has nothing to be afraid of, while selfish love needs to be constantly tended to. Those who do not share authentic love will forever need their needs satisfied, their desires answered.

Meanwhile, unconditional love exists beyond the physical limitations of the universe – bountiful and resplendent. While no one can describe what love is, once you share it with someone, it is an unforgettable, irreplaceable existence.