One of the most valuable things you can learn about yourself is what you mean by the words “I love you.” The meaning you impart is complex because it contains you. Your past associations with love, your childhood imprints, your unspoken expectations and beliefs are all packaged in language.
Thus “I love you” expands into “I love you the way my father loved my mother before they got divorced.” “I love you as long as you don’t get too close.” “I love you more than Romeo loved Juliet, but please don’t ask me to die.” “I love you the way the high school football captain didn’t love me.”
Words become more personal the more emotional they are. Since “I love you” is the most emotional phrase in our language, it includes many feelings that you might never openly refer to, particularly painful ones. The meanings that get overlooked in everyday speech can be brought to the surface through the technique of association, which is the basis of this practice.
Sit down with a pencil and paper and record your answers to this question: What’s the first name that comes to mind when you think of each of the following words? Saintly; Passionate; Kind; Adventurous; Beautiful; Courageous; Tender; Loyal; Handsome; Selfless; Strong; Funny; Genius; Innocent; Admirable; Talented; Generous; Adorable.
Naturally no two people produce anything like the same list of answers, but there are definite profiles of how lists are formed. The way your mind ties things together by association is often just as misleading. The fact is that we rarely see people for who they are; we see them by association with people from our past.
False love operates by projection, displacing your own feelings upon another. Getting rid of projection is critical if you want to be able to tell true love from false, as either the giver or the receiver.
Adapted from The Path to Love, by Deepak Chopra (Three Rivers Press, 1997).