Love and Its Near Enemy

Most of us think of love in terms of the comfort, passion, closeness, or beauty it will bring us. We imagine the enjoyment of passing hours and days with our beloved, who pleases us in touch, smell, and conversation. Perhaps we even think of living happily ever after. Unfortunately this is not love but its intoxicating sibling, idealization. Buddhists use the term “near enemy” to mean a superficial or misleading twin of a valuable state or attitude. In Buddhist parlance, then, we could say that idealization is the near enemy of love. If we mistake idealization for love, we can be harmfully misled in our connections to others and ourselves.

The special self is the creation of idealization. Exceptional, extraordinary, perfect: these are not the descriptions of any real human being, a person with weaknesses as well as strengths. If we have heard repeatedly how talented, beautiful, smart, or promising we are, we may grow up with an intolerance for weakness and difficulty in others, and a greater intolerance for imperfections in ourselves. Within such a self-esteem trap, we are unable to connect with others or embrace ourselves in the messy ambivalence of love.