A good-enough lover

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Good-enough analyst

The basis of our love we usually acquire already as toddlers. The way we were loved in our early days shapes the way we will love, or the way we will wish not to love, as adults. The psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott wrote that the baby of what he called a “good-enough mother” – when he looks at her he sees himself, for she looks at him. A baby of a mother who is not “good-enough” sees her, because she is busy with herself, her mood, etc.

The same is true in romantic relationships. A true lover always sees the beloved. “The man who falls in love with beauty is different from the man who loves a girl and feels she is beautiful and can see what is beautiful about her,” Winnicott wrote. llove is finding the beauty of the beloved, which means seeing the beloved, and not seeing-myself, seeing my tastes, my desires. The good-enough lover sees his beloved, her needs, her weaknesses, her talents, her looks, and loves them, because he loves her, and does not love her because he loves them.

Kierkegaard wrote: “It is a sad upside-downness, which, however, is altogether too common, to talk on and on about how the object of love should be in order to be lovable enough, instead of talking about how love should be in order that it can love.” When we love, we always love the person, not his qualities. “He who loves the perfections he sees in a person does not see the person and therefore ceases to love when the perfections cease, when change steps in.”

the good-enough lover realizes

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Better love

Everyone wants to be loved. But it is not certain that this is the most important thing. Psychoanalyst Nina Coltart wrote: “it is healthier and more beneficial to the whole system to love rather than to be loved. There is a potent myth to the contrary, but this way of looking at it is true nevertheless and can be tested by long-term observation.” And George Elliott remarked in Middlemarch: “In marriage, the certainty, ‘She will never love me much,’ is easier to bear than the fear, ‘I shall love her no more.’” It is a greater disaster to stop loving, than stop being loved.

The ancient Greeks, those creatures of profound understanding, knew this well. We tend to see the opposite of love as hate, but for the Greeks the opposite pole of love was the desire to be loved.

And perhaps the most beautiful pronouncement of this is by the poet, W. H. Auden:

If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.