Q. I enjoyed your PowerPoint® presentation about the tsunami of romantic love. Being totally in love with another human being, I know what that feels like—it’s beyond wonderful. Here’s my dilemma: this individual doesn’t seem to love me back. I’ve tried everything I can think of and I sense a moderate friendship response but no love in return. What is the formula to make this brain love me?
A. You are not alone in wanting such a formula—although there is none that I know of. Many individuals have fallen in love (or thought it was love) with another person only to realize for whatever reason the other person doesn’t return that same level or type of love. You may remember the old fable about holding a bird tightly enclosed in your hands, which only gives you possession and some sense of control. When you open your hands and set the bird free, however, you risk it not returning to you. If it does return, it likely will be of its own free will. This may be because you are feeding it and offering shelter from the elements and/or that it has some level of bird trust and love for you as a person.
The prerequisite for genuine love is freedom of choice. You can manipulate, punish, try to force compliance, or attempt to purchase it with gifts—but genuine love involves free choice. When you are offered love, when you recognize love as you develop a friendship and relationship, you get to choose: yes, I will accept this and build on it or no, I do not want this. Painful though it may be, genuine love always offers this choice freely—whether or not the offer is accepted. As someone once put it: giving someone all your love is never an assurance that they will love you back. You cannot force love. Give it some time to see if it will grow in their heart, but if it does not, be content that it grew in yours—and move on.