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Love is hope and the hope of love

Part 2 in the “Love is...” series

We’re continuing our exploring what love is. Not to pin it down but to open up our understanding of it, to help ourselves make love work better in our lives. Last time we looked at love as energy.

This time we’re going to look at the idea that love is hope. I don’t just mean that when we fall in love we feel hopeful. Of course we do. But here I mean something deeper. I mean that in a way love is hope. That it functions just like hope. That you can understand love much better if you understand the psychology of hope.

You meet someone and at some point—sooner or later, slowly or suddenly—you find yourself falling in love. What the hell IS that?? Well, you could easily say you fall in hope. That is, at some point, in some way, you—me too of course—become overwhelmed by the hope that this person is not just wonderful but will be wonderful for me. If only we could be together... If only we could be together more intimately... If only we could be together forever... If only...then how happy we would be, how wonderful our lives would be.

We could live off the smell of their hair and the crook of their smile and nothing else!

We catalog the wonders and delights of the other person, thrilled with the hope of possibilities.

And that hope is as intoxicating as any drug and knocks us for a loop just as powerfully.

So notice. I’ve just described love totally in terms of hope. You don’t even need the word love.

This goes on. Suppose, say, seven years go by and things are now rocky, so rocky they’re making you queasy. Why is it that most of the time most of us don’t just leave at the slightest sign that things are not working?

Because we’re living in the psychology of hope. In the human psyche, hope is always the last thing to die, in most cases. Tens of thousands of years of evolution have given us this trait. It keeps us alive so many times, when it turns out we’d have regretted giving up.

Take someone buried in the rubble of a building after an earthquake. They hope for a quick rescue, and maybe this hope is encouraged by the sounds of activity up above. But then things quiet down and days go by. Most people who’ve been in this situation report never giving up hope. “Where there’s life there’s hope,” they say.

And that’s just how people in relationships behave. Things may be going badly, the relationship may feel as though it’s been buried in rubble, but still they have the hope of rescue. Somehow. Obviously hope does die at some point, but the headline is how long it lingers.

So what does this understanding mean for us?

It means we have to be careful. And that’s because most of us are desperately hungry for hope and because hope is powerfully addictive.

The average American, in spite of the ads and the headlines, doesn’t feel all that hopeful. Discouraged is a better word to describe too many of us too much of the time. We are galvanized by any hope of hope. Multilevel marketing schemes are all based exactly on this. So is the whole positivity movement. If someone is selling hope, people will line up to buy it.

Now here’s where the addiction comes in. Suppose you’ve been feeling a lot of hope, say because you’ve read a book about how you can make a million bucks in six months in your spare time. Or get six-pack abs in six weeks. You’re buying the hope. The odds are the promise won’t deliver. The hope will deflate like a leaky balloon. But OMG you want that feeling of hope back, just the way an addict wants his next fix. So you look around frantically for the next seemingly plausible promise and glom onto that as hard as you can glom, until it too fails to deliver, and the cycle starts all over again.

You don’t do this because you’re a loser. You do this because you have the psychology of a perfectly normal person.

And so we have to be careful when we fall in love. Or fall in hope, as we might now call it. It’s so easy for us to be blinded away from seeing the things that tell us that our hope doesn’t make sense. The person with the sweet-smelling hair and the sunrise-bright smile turns out to have a nasty temper and we can’t let our intoxication with hope blind us to that. Especially since the nasty temper will sooner or later make the hair smell not so good and the smile come less readily as time goes by and acrimony builds.

And once we’re fully in the committed relationship, we can’t let hope blind us to the things that aren’t working. There’s only one sane question at this point: are these things realistically fixable or not? If so, then, hey, great. Fix them! If not, then you have to ask the next sane question: can I live with this if I don’t have the hope that it’ll somehow magically go away? If not, if you can’t rely of the crutch of hope, then you have to bail.

And that’s how understanding that love is hope can help you.

One more thing, though. If it turns out that the hope does make sense, it makes the love all the more wonderful.

Next post: our “Love is...” series continues.


Our book Why Couples Fight is a way to discover a realistic path to hope. It’ll show how even if you’ve felt mired in conflict over irreconcilable needs, you might be much closer to your both being able to get your needs met than you ever imagined.

And in Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay, you’ll discover the classic book on deciding whether to stay or leave, with totally objective criteria.

We hope you’ll...

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