To love is an art and perhaps the most important one, for love is not only the fundamental ingredient of harmony in relationships but also the basis of our very existence. It is the one thing everyone desires and offers wholeheartedly, and yet, it remains ever elusive. Or, at least it feels that way.

What is the key, if any, to true love?

When it comes to love, the age-old adage, treat others like you want to be treated, does not work. Love operates on a different principle. Let me share a beautiful Tao story by Chuang Tzu.

In ancient China, a disciple wanting to understand how to love people sought his teacher’s advice.

“Master,” he asked, “it is said that all you really need to know in dealing with the world is to simply always treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. What do you think?”
“Let me tell you about how the marquis of Lu entertained the seabird,” the master said in response.

“One day a rare and beautiful seabird was blown far off course by a storm. It ended up in the royal garden of the marquis, in the capital of Lu. Delighted to sight the rare, novel and magnificent seabird, the marquis of Lu had it captured. He made the bird his special guest and it was put in a large hall reserved for the most exclusive visitors.

“The marquis had performers sing and dance for it day and night, and he presented it with fine roast meats and excellent wine, with exotic grains and other delicacies. The bird, however, was terrified and confused, and it ate and drank nothing. Three days later, it died.”
“Why do you think the bird died?”
“Because it was hungry and stressed…” the disciple stated the obvious.
“Not quite,” said the master. “The bird died because the marquis of Lu entertained the seabird the way he himself liked to be entertained, not the way a seabird likes to be entertained.”

This anecdote is worth more than a thousand books written on love. This is the art of love in a nutshell. To love the other person the way he or she likes to be loved is love. All else is merely an illusion of love, quasi love at the most. Feed them what they like to eat.

The seabird in the story didn’t die, if you ask me. It was killed. The marquis took the life of the bird by not loving it in a befitting manner. So it is with love. It doesn’t die. Instead, it is killed. When two people act blinded either by their own desires or their individual preferences, love takes the hit. And, it can only take so much.

I’m not saying that you are not entitled to live your own life just because you are in a relationship. All I’m suggesting is that if you truly love the other person then you make an effort to find out what matters to them and how he or she wishes to be loved.

A young mother had just put her newly born daughter to sleep. She stood near the crib with her husband, appreciating the little sleeping beauty, and recounting her own growing up.

“I had a rather tough childhood,” she said. “I always longed to learn painting but my parents forced me to take piano lessons. They never cared about what I really wanted. I hated piano.”
“We’ll make sure our daughter doesn’t go through that,” the husband said, putting his hand on hers.
“Exactly! I’ll never let my daughter take piano lessons. Instead, she will take painting classes.”

This is the primary cause of conflict in most relationships. We want to live our dreams through the other person. We want the other person to fulfill our desires. Perhaps, it’s natural that we want such things. After all, it is why people enter into relationships so they may feel fulfilled and complete.

Even though this contention is well understood, most partners continue to fail each other. You know why? In broken or failed relationships, both people continue to assert how much or what all they are already doing for the other. They can write a thesis on how their partner even fails to reciprocate, much less initiate. There are no confusions there. Both are clear on what the other person is not doing.

What they often don’t do, however, is to understand what their partner actually requires. And, this discovery begins by posing a simple question to the other person, “What will make you happy in our relationship?” Or, “What can I do to show you that you mean to me, that I love you and care about you?”

This will make the other person think about and synthesize their expectations from you. Plus, you’ll know exactly what the seabird needs and how it wishes to be entertained. Even though we want to love and to be loved, the truth is, each one of us wants to be loved differently, in our own way. Gestures or words that may mean nothing to you could make your partner’s heart flutter. But, you won’t know until you ask and understand how he or she aspires to be loved. You may want to read- How to make a relationship last?

This is the simple principle of long-lasting relationships: to love them the way they want to be loved and not how you think they should be loved.

Love is not about sculpting the other person to an image of perfection you hold in your head. There’s a better term for that — foolishness. To love, on the other hand, is making allowances for asymmetry and imperfections. It is a reasonable acceptance of human flaws and weaknesses. After all, in our imperfections lies the sublime emotion of love like the unfound diamond in a raven mine.

Pick up love, polish it a little and the priceless jewel will shine softly but brilliantly like full moon does on a winter night. Love doesn’t just deserve that care, it needs it.