There are a lot of conflicting messages out there about what the signs of true love look like. Is it the fairy tale version offered by Cinderella? Or do the words of Prince Charming from Into the Woods reveal more of how it plays out in real life - "I was raised to be charming, not sincere." What about a couple that stays together for 50 years, but fights every day?
Which are the real signs of true love? Many of us didn't get a good example of love shown to us by our parents (me too), so we really don't know what to look for.
The recently released movie, Me Before You, suggests that true love is being willing to kill yourself so you don't burden the person who loves you. But that's not love, that's selfishness. Love and selfishness can sometimes get mixed up though and we can confuse one for the other. There are times where they're obviously different, but other times when it can be harder to see the distinction.
Not Signs of True Love
Here are some scenarios that I see regularly in relationships. Each one appears to be a loving gesture on the surface, but when you dig down and discover the true motivation, it really isn't loving at all.
"You're Better Off Without Me." This is the rationale of the main character in the movie. He believes loving him is too much of a burden and so the way he thinks he can show her true love is by preventing her from having to love and care for him. But that's not love, it's selfishness. It denies her the opportunity to choose to whom she'll give her love.
"You Deserve Better Than Me." This self-loathing and self-deprecating comment seems to have good intentions - the other person's well being, right? This must be a true love sign. Not really. Again, it's selfish. Each of us gets to decide for ourselves who we want to love.
"You Should Find Someone Who Makes You Happy." This is often said as a reason to give up and move on. Rather than see how the person could change and become a better partner, one who does make their partner happy, this statement can be used to justify not even trying. A tone of "I'm inadequate" to meet your needs underlies this statement, as it does the others as well.
These statements, and others like them, are really selfish when you get to their core. They're 'me before you', but that's not love. Love that is real is sacrificial. A sign of true love is 'you before me'.
True Love Motivates Togetherness
Unfortunately, I have found that these statements are often motivated by even more than just selfishness or a poor self-worth. One circumstance that can bring out statements like these is cheating. Several couples I've counseled in the past year have had one partner say something like this to the other and later we've come to find out that they were having an affair at the time. The statements were made in an attempt to end the relationship in a way that looked caring, but really the motivation was to hide their behavior. This is an example of how what looks like signs of true love can really not be at all.
A male going through a midlife crisis, a person feeling depressed or stuck in some form of addiction sometimes makes a declaration like this. While it is true that loving a partner during a trial like this is tough, they don't get to make the decision for the other person who the person chooses to love or when. Their partner gets to make that choice. Remember the wedding vows, "for better, for worse...in sickness and in health"? Love isn't just for the good times.
Many things can drive a person to push away a partner who loves them. Sometimes it can be to manipulate or deceive. Other times it's to garner sympathy. It can also come out of a fear of what it will take to change, laziness to put in the effort to change, or having to love their partner back, none of which are always easy or comfortable. Sometimes it's a poor self-worth and faulty beliefs about themselves. All of which make it vital for each of us to be able to recognize the difference between the signs of true love and those that aren't.
There are a lot of different forms of 'me before you', but no version of 'me first' is loving. True love is always 'you before me', and of all the signs of true love it's the most important one of all.
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