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Uneven Love

Uneven Love


There are many facts of life which are difficult to accept. And a major one is the fact that life isn't fair, at least to our infantile grasp of things. Who understands why some people struggle with infertility, while others have more kids than they want? Nor can we understand why some people get wealth, brains, status, bubbly personalities, good looks and adoration, while others are physically or emotionally handicapped, unloved and untalented.

How much jealousy, anxiety and shame result from feeling spurned, unwanted and unliked?One type of inequality which causes great anguish is "uneven love." Uneven love occurs when one person, whom we can call the "seeker," craves more love, affection or respect than another individual, whom we can refer to as the "distancer," wants to give. This situation occurs frequently between husbands and wives, between parents and children, between friends as well as in the workplace.

The anguish of the spurned one is noted in numerous Biblical stories, including the pain of Cain, Ishmael, Esau, Leah and Joseph's brothers. How much jealousy, anxiety and shame result from feeling spurned, unwanted and unliked?

The spurned may be tormented with questions such as, "Why doesn't s/he call? Why doesn't s/he call more often/stay longer/invite me? What have I done wrong? Where have I failed?" From the time we are young children, we get used to seeing ourselves through others' eyes. If they applaud our achievements and greet us lovingly, then we have worth. But we tend to conclude that if a person whose opinion we value, such as a teacher, parent, spouse, child or peer, doesn't respond in kind to our requests, then it means, "I am less than…" This loss of self-esteem can lead the spurned one to lash out angrily, accusing the distancer of being cruel and uncaring and purposely withholding the life-sustaining emotional nourishment which provides us with a sense of value and security. Or, it can cause the spurned one to fall into despair, sure that, "It must be that I am not enough – not smart, witty, exciting, attractive, etc. to be in the winner's circle."

Many people suffer from social anxiety as the result of rejection, neglect or abuse. They fear getting close to others, worried that, "What will they think of me? What if I like him/her more that s/he likes me? What if we do love each other equally at first, and then things become uneven? What if I'll be rejected or abandoned once again? It's safer to keep things superficial and not get emotionally involved."

While the pain of the snubbed one is obvious, there is also pain for the distancer to contend with. To be loved and respected by someone you look up to is thrilling. But to be loved by someone you view as a loser or a pest feels insulting and suffocating. Here is the seeker, offering his treasured gifts of love and admiration on you, and you feel cold indifference or contempt, wanting to shake off this unwanted burden, thinking, "I resent this person for trying to dictate how I apportion my time and energies and where to direct my affections. Why can't s/he accept what I give and be happy with that? Why those sad, accusing eyes, making me feel that whatever I do is never good enough? Why am I obligated to this stifling, immature, foolish person who cannot leave me to have my freedom, space and independence?" Yes, unwanted love is a painful burden.

The more invasive the seeker appears, the more the distancers want to spend even more time awayThe more invasive the seeker appears, the more the distancers want to spend even more time at work or in front of the computer screen or prove, "You can't control me." When the seeker cannot arouse even a smile or nod of acknowledgement, this intensifies the feelings of rage, humiliation and confusion on the part of the seekers. Seekers are often convinced, "If I love this person so much, s/he will eventually love me back. It's impossible that I can love so passionately and not be rewarded! If I am persistent and find the right tactics, I'll get a share of his/her wealth (love)." They may rely on the phrase, "As in water face answers to face, so the heart of a man to a man" (Proverbs 27:19). Or, they give even more of themselves, relying on the famous quote, "You come to love the one to whom you give" (Strive for Truth, Vol. 1, ch. 5). Seekers replay in their minds the tune from a popular 1960's song, "I'm gonna make you love me! Yes I will! Yes I will!" The truth is that we cannot do so.

What Can Be Done with the Pain?

The first step out of this conundrum is to realize that it is a form of self- torture to demand more love, understanding and respect then another person is able to give willingly and happily. We cannot control who loves us and even whom we love. Yaakov had a special love for Rachel and Yosef. Rivka had a special love for Yaakov and Yitzchok for Esau. Love is like rain; it comes when G‑d decides. Nagging, lecturing and demanding will only alienate others, especially people who treasure their space and independence. Love cannot be forced. It is in G‑d's hands. We can certainly do our best to "win friends and influence people," to be kind and polite, but we don't know the secret of why some people are attracted to us and others are repelled. Many of us would like to have more love in our hearts for certain people, but cannot arouse those feelings. Nor can we force others to do so.

Next, we must practice faith, trusting that G‑d gives us exactly what we need at all times, even if the amount seems unacceptable at the moment. You might be a parent who gave your all to your children and now rarely hear from them. You might be a child who is ignored by a parent or a spouse who must beg for a few moments to talk. We must remind ourselves constantly that G‑d loves us at all times, abundantly, even if it looks like what we are getting from people is very minimal and seems very unfair to our human eyes.

Maturity means that we do not allow others to determine our sense of self-worthThird, we must focus on appreciating ourselves as we are. If we see ourselves through the eyes of a person who does not like us, we will be devastated. Maturity means that we do not allow others to determine our sense of self-worth. We have worth, given that we are children of G‑d, who loves us as we are. Tapping into our Creator's love frees us from the fear that we are not getting enough or the burden of thinking there is something wrong with us for wanting more love than we get or being the object of someone's unwanted affections.

Ultimately, only faith can soothe a wounded heart, as G‑d is the healer broken hearts (Psalms 147:3). We can ask Him to remove the pain and, in the meantime, work on developing a sense of self-worth that is independent of other people. At the end of the book of Genesis, Joseph's brother, Judah, states, Yaakov's soul "is bound up with [Benjamin's] soul" (Genesis 44:30). And Yosef, himself, is at first surprised, then accepts that Ephraim is given precedence over Menasheh. Inner tranquility is the result of accepting G‑d's will, i.e., that some souls are bound up with each other and not with us. Loving G‑d's reality is loving Him.

Dr. Miriam Adahan is a psychologist, therapist, prolific author and founder of EMETT (“Emotional Maturity Established Through Torah”)—a network of self-help groups dedicated to personal growth. Click here to visit her website.
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Miriam Adahan April 25, 2017

I am sorry if I gave the impression that the distancer is closer to G-d! Obviously, the person can have emotional problems or simply be uninterested in the relationship. It has nothing to do with G-d! Yes, the pattern of seeking the love of someone who is cold and rejecting is a pattern usually established in early childhood and very hard to overcome. Awareness is the first step. Reply

David Australia December 16, 2013

How I find much wise council in the Torah and from Counselors but usually the advice is about what we must do. It's the how that most always is missing. When we don't subconsciously learn the psychological basics as children from learned and loving parents, its a very hard road. Children crave love and attention especially if they don't get much of either. Children grow up believing they won't ever get love or don't deserve love. How do you heal that? Reply

Anonymous London November 27, 2012

I find it very hard to feel empathy for someone who feels bad because someone who they think is a loser loves them. Nobody mature should be seeing other people as "pests" and losers". Otherwise great article! Reply

Anonymous Orange County May 21, 2012

Wonderful article! Reply

Anonymous Brownsville March 25, 2012

Loved your article. Clear and to the point. Yes loving G-d's reality is loving Him.
Thank you. Reply

Eva Bogomolny Israel February 3, 2011

Uneven love It looks like "distancer" is the person who is naturally closer to G-d and the "seeker" is further compare to the "distancer". So what "seeker" is really craving without realizing it is being closer to G-d. Since all humans are made in the image of G-d, the more radiant ones are the ones who are in more proximity to Him. So it's natural for the "seeker" to seek the closeness to the ones who are closer than he.
Once the "seeker" realizes what it is that he really wants - he'll try to get closer to G-d in a more efficient way - namely by learning Torah and doing Mitzvot. Reply

Anonymous April 10, 2017
in response to Eva Bogomolny:

Not necessarily. Sometimes, the distancer does not even believe in G-d, and therefore does not have the love of G-d to share. They are only seeking their own interests, and sometimes that is getting their needs met outside the marriage, and so they are cold to the seeker who just wants to share the love G-d has for a marital couple. Reply

Mindi Richmond, VA February 2, 2011

THank you A truly wonderful article and one that I will pass on Reply

Anonymous Roanoke, VA February 2, 2011

Minor dissent... "If we see ourselves through the eyes of a person who does not like us, we will be devastated."

Maybe not. Maybe maturity is the ability to recognize our faults, recognize what it is in us that occasionally rubs people the wrong way without falling to pieces.

We should always strive for personal growth, and sometimes the views of others can be an indication of something we have overlooked in ourselves.

Only after we have assessed our own shortcomings through the eyes of others, can we begin to assess whether the other person's view is reasonable/rational, or is something that we should overlook as we move on with our lives. Reply

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