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What True Love Looks Like

Every society in the world praises the value of love. Love takes us beyond self-centeredness and motivates us to connect meaningfully with another. Yet, too often, the secular ideal of love emphasizes being loved, or at least on receiving love in reciprocation for the love one gives.

In Hebrew, “the word for love — ahavah — includes the Aramaic word hav, which means ‘Give!’ (And the initial letter alef makes it mean, ‘I will give.’) Loving…is not so much receiving, as giving of oneself, and making sacrifices for others.

Romance novels, movies, and fairytales can confuse us about love. They glorify love at first sight, which rarely leads to a fulfilling marriage, because it is usually based on fantasy. Yes, there are couples who fell in love right away, married quickly, and it worked out fine. However, Allison’s experience is more common.

Allison’s Story

Allison, in her mid-twenties, looks like a breezy blond cover girl. She met Jim on a dating site. She was so charmed by him in person that instead of sensibly limiting their first date to not more than a couple of hours, she agreed to an all-day date that included a six-hour round trip drive to a scenic location.  

They left early and returned to her place exhausted around 1 a.m. She said he could share her bed but without sex. Their next couple of dates did include sex. Allison was in love but with a fantasy. He loved recreational sex, not her. Their “relationship” quickly evolved into his texting her when he felt like “hooking-up.”  She was heartbroken.

It hadn’t occurred to Allison to find out before getting physically intimate what kind of relationship Jim was looking for, or to know what kind she wanted, until her disappointment showed her what she didn’t want.  

How Not to Fall Crazy in Love

Many of us can relate to Allison’s story because it’s so easy to fantasize. Do you think it’s natural to fall in love? Why suppress what happens naturally? But if you’re looking for a lasting, fulfilling relationship, why set yourself up for likely disappointment?

Many marriage-minded women, like Allison, get involved too quickly. They confuse sex with love. Hormones have a way of doing that. These women may believe the relationship is serious and then they find out that the man is there for no-strings-attached intimacy. They may continue to repeat their mistake in future relationships and become cynical about men and marriage because it never works out.

A wise woman uses common sense. Before considering becoming physically intimate, she learns what kind of relationship both she and the man want. If he says he hopes to marry, she takes her time to learn if they’re likely to be compatible in the long run, and to see if she likes the real him—his values and interests; and his strengths, weaknesses, endearing and annoying habits.

What True Love Looks Like

Arlyn’s parents showed her what true love looks like. “They were always there for each other,” she says. “What I learned from my dad was to be nice to my mother. When she came downstairs dressed up, but late, to go out with him, he wasn’t critical of her for being late. He’d say, ‘Oh, Mollie, you look lovely.’ He always complimented her.

“Not that they never argued,” she adds. “Sometimes they’d snap at each other. Like when they came home from playing bridge. One might say to the other, ‘I can’t believe you played that card’ But it was always a love story. They knew every relationship has ups and downs but they were always there for each other.”

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, gave this explanation of love. He said what you read in novels is not necessarily what happens in real life. It’s not as if two people meet and there is a sudden, blinding storm of passion. That’s not what love or life is, or should be about.

Rather, he said, two people meet and there might be a glimmer of understanding, like a tiny flame. An then, as these people decide to build a home together…and go through the everyday activities and daily tribulations of life, this little flame grows even brighter and develops into a much bigger flame until these two people…become intertwined to such a point that neither of them can think of life without the other. He said, “It’s the small acts that you do on a daily basis that turn two people from a ‘you and I’ into an ‘us.’”

What True Love Looks Like

Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW

Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW, author of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted (New World Library, 2014, audiobook, 2020), has a private psychotherapy practice in San Rafael, California. She offers and workshops for couples and singles, and continuing education classes for therapists at NASW conferences and online. She has taught also at the UCSF School of Medicine, UC Berkeley Extension, and Alliant International University. A former executive director of a family service agency, she earlier held senior level positions in child welfare, alcoholism treatment, and psychiatry.

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APA Reference
Berger, M. (2018). What True Love Looks Like. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 30 Jul 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.