To be clear from the outset, this post is about love ability (the character capacity to genuinely love. It is not about lovability as the term is commonly employed and understood. Some of the most “lovable” people I know are actually quite lacking in their ability to truly love. How can that be? To answer the question simply, because merely possessing attractive personality traits doesn’t necessarily make someone capable of really loving. You need soundness of character for that. But too often folks mistake attractive traits like charm, good humor, charisma, etc. for love ability. And the consequences of that mistake usually only become clearly evident after someone has invested a lot in a relationship that ultimately proved devoid of loving regard.
The Nature of Love
Love’s true nature eludes all too many of us. Few of us are properly informed about what genuine love is. Morevover, many things look like love that really aren’t. Some equate attraction with love (especially, physical attraction). But there are many things besides love that can draw one person to another. And many qualities that initially attract parties can seem to vanish into thin air over time. Others equate tender sentiments with love. But you don’t even have to like a person or the way they operate in the world (egoically) to behave in a loving, upright manner toward them. It’s a mark of mature character to behave lovingly (while setting appropriate limits and boundaries, of course!) even when someone or their manner rubs you the wrong way.
Loving is a behavior. And it’s a behavior we do well to display even when it’s difficult to do so (perhaps, especially when it’s difficult!). Disturbed characters on the narcissism spectrum simply can’t love very well. And those on the far end of the spectrum can’t genuinely love at all. But not all narcissistic individuals are repulsive characters (some are even quite charming). And failing to appreciate that fact has led many folks to enter relationships destined to fail or become toxic. (See, also: Amorous Narcissists Can Charm Convincingly and Emotional Romeos Are Masters of Seduction.) Masters of emotional manipulation might know well how to hook you, but that doesn’t mean they have the capacity to love you.
Where Love Ability Starts
As with all other positive character traits, love ability starts with the individual. Once you know what it really means to love yourself, you better understand what’s involved in loving another. You also better understand when someone’s behavior toward you is truly loving. Love ability also begins with embracing the first and most essential “commandment” I outline in Essentials for the Journey. Appreciating that everything we say and do has impact, and caring about the nature of that impact is the beginning of mature character. I talk more about this subject on the latest Character Matters podcast.