I remember the day that I realized that most of what I had called love, in relation to boyfriends or even friends, wasn’t love at all.  It was a fear of losing someone I felt dependent on.  It was quite a blow to discover that instead of being loving, I was being needy.  Yikes!

I started looking around at my clients and friends, wondering if there were other unattractive feelings that people mistake for love.  I have found at least a couple that happen pretty often.  One is projecting the ideal picture of what one wants in a mate or friend onto someone else.  Another happens when a dictatorial or controlling person finds someone they can dominate.  And the dominated party is often playing the role that I used to—the needy one.

In most cases, these ways of relating to others are believed to be love.  But, all of these are actually based on fear.  Specifically, it’s the fear that “there’s something wrong with me being just as I am.”

To be even more precise, the needy person fears that they don’t have what they need within them to survive, so they feel dependent on others.  The idealist fears that the world will fall apart if life doesn’t conform to some ideal, so they depend on people around them to be some ideal way.  The dictatorial person can only feel comfortable when they’re in control and things are conforming to “their way,” so they depend on dominating those around them.

So, what is love, then?  It is self-acceptance that allows us to unconditionally accept someone else.

Love has freedom built into it.  Freedom for the other person to be who they really are, to grow, change, or even leave.  This freedom is built not on restraining ourselves from grabbing at the other person, but rather on feeling within ourselves that we are enough, that we have everything we need within us, that we are perfectly OK exactly as we are.  The more we feel this self-acceptance, the more others are free to be exactly who they are—because we don’t need them to be otherwise.  And, in my experience, others feel this acceptance at an energetic or non-verbal level, and they want to be around us even more.

The more this shift has taken place for me, the more I am able to enjoy others. Instead of dreading the moment of separation, I’m able to immerse myself in the relationship we have now. Clients have told me that they feel less anxious in relation to others.  They feel more relaxed about others’ behavior, even if they don’t agree with it. They are more able to flow with changes and shifts in relationships. And, they say that relationships just feel easier to be in, overall.

Have you ever wondered if the dynamic you’re experiencing is actually love? Have you noticed other feelings that people mistake for love?

Sara Avery helps people get unstuck in their relationships, health, career, and self-expression. Learn how she can help you tackle your biggest challenges.