The idea that we have to “earn” love is hard to shake.
After all, we grow up learning that “nothing costs nothing.”
We’re told that to expect something without earning it is “entitled.”
We come to believe that the only reason why anyone gets anything in the world is because they have “earned” it…or, alternatively, figured out a way to fraudulently get it.
People don’t just GIVE us valuable things, right?
They either have to exchange those valuable things for something else of value…or else those valuable things must be stolen or conned out of the person.
Over and over again this equation is reinforced.
We are absolutely drowned in the idea that everything we get in life is either an achievement or a mistake.
We earn money that allows us to buy the things we want and need.
We earn status that makes it more likely that certain people will like us or want to be around us.
We earn educational and professional credentials that make it more likely we’ll get opportunities we desire.
Why WOULDN’T it be the case that love— or even basic dignity— is something the must also “earn?”
The idea of “love” as something we can’t “earn” kind of breaks our brain.
This thing called “love,” you mean it’s freely given? No strings attached?
What kind of nonsense is THAT? EVERYTHING has strings attached, right?
And yet, love defies everything we know about how things of value are “earned” and “exchanged.”
We can’t “earn” love. It’s not an achievement. We don’t love our children, our pets, or our lovers because they’ve “tried hard enough.”
This drives us NUTS. We don’t understand this. It makes us maddeningly insecure.
If we can’t “earn” love, then that means love isn’t something we can KEEP by working hard and performing well.
If love isn’t an achievement, how do we KEEP love? If it’s freely given, doesn’t that mean it can be freely taken away too?
We don’t like THAT at all. So, out of anxiety, we retreat back to our idea of love as achievement— something we can predictably manipulate and manage, like our work performance or our physical condition.
But everybody reading this has had the experience of someone we want to love us, not loving us…even though we did everything “right.”
As I write this, there is a Siamese cat within my arm’s reach that I love overwhelmingly.
She didn’t do anything to earn that love. She doesn’t know want “earn” means. She just is what she is…and I love her.
She can’t do anything to LOSE my love.
I’m not going to wake up one morning and decide, yo know what, my little Siamese cat isn’t checking all the boxes these days, it’s time to cut my losses here.
There are psychologists, like Nathaniel Branden, who have tried to outline definitive theories of love, and some of those theories are very smart—but love remains kind of a mystery.
We do know one thing, though: love is not “earned” or “achieved.” If we’re not loved, it’s not because we’re not sufficiently “deserving.”
You “deserve” love exactly as much as my Siamese cat does.
Do not withhold love from yourself because you feel you haven’t “earned” it.
Love isn’t a prize or a reward or a bargaining chip.
Many people reading this have been hurt because people in their lives have dangled the prospect of love in front of them, like something they could “earn” if they “try” hard enough.
In this case, “trying hard enough” usually means “doing what that person wants.”
Don’t bite. It’s not real.
Love yourself even if you haven’t “earned” it— because I assure you, you haven’t.
Because you can’t. Because love doesn’t work that way.
And that’s the good news.
Subscribe to the Doc’s free email newsletter!
One thought on “We can’t “earn” love– and that’s the good news.”
Often think if kids relate to earning love in the same way as earning respect. A very insightful article.