After my grandpa passed away, my grandma liked to sleep next to me during our visits. Those few nights resembled the slumber parties I would have as a young girl – talking late into the night about whatever came to mind. On one of those occasions I asked my grandma, “How is it that you and grandpa stayed together, and in love, all those years?” To which she responded, “We shared a similar faith in God.” A few years later I posed the same question to my then future in-laws and they answered, “Whenever we listen to a beautiful piece of music we instantly feel bonded.” The answers I received were both moving and informative with regard to mature human love. My takeaway: sustainable love includes a soulful element – a shared connection to life that transcends the relationship itself.

Robert Johnson states in the book We, “Love is a force that acts from within, that enables my ego to look outside itself, to see my fellow humans as something to be valued and cherished, rather than used.” Johnson argues that human love is built from the inside of the individual first. We must learn the “love of self” as an inner experience before navigating the outward connection to people and the relationships we form with them. The challenge is to love one’s self without falling into egocentricity. This requires self-awareness, an ownership of all parts of ourselves (the good and the bad) and a realization of ultimate meaning in one’s own life.

When we fail to love ourselves correctly, we risk falling into the habit of using others to temporarily fill the gaps. This will feel exciting and romantic for the moment but will ultimately subside, leaving an individual with a sense of emptiness and longing. The temptation to demand more from a partner or seek a new mate to experience the roller coaster ride all over again is initially appealing. But the transformation lies in staying with the emptiness long enough to find our own way, our own individual passion and meaning – a connection to ourselves. This way we are more likely to find a partner based on authenticity and not just on fantasy.

Johnson refers to this type of love as “Stirring the Oatmeal”. The ability to value and cherish another human being in the everyday experience of life: cleaning the house, getting the children ready for bed, making a meal. Instead of a fixation on the drama of romance, two people make eye contact during a song, a synchronistic moment, a beautiful day and recognize in each other what they love about being alive.