How To Tell The Difference Between Ego Love And True Love

The greatest roadblock most will face on the journey to finding true love is not in finding a suitable partner, but in overcoming the ego-based expectations we have about what a relationship is supposed to be like. These expectations have the power to make a relationship with great potential into a complete disaster.

By Robyn Riley5 min read
How To Tell The Difference Between Ego Love And True Love

Our expectations for our one true love come from our own lives — watching our parents and family members, social media, as well as from the romantic stories we’ve been told on television, in movies, and in literature. The images and stories of passionate romance play in our heads like a scorecard, and if our relationship doesn’t look like them, then we assume there must be something wrong with the person we’re with. Rather than see the person we’re with for who they are, we compare them to others and to an ideal in our minds that they will never be. 

We’re also unfortunately under some delusion that our partners are supposed to reflect ourselves back to us in some way. We may meet a person who likes the same food or music as we do, or who shares some of the same opinions that we have and mistake this for the strong foundation of a lasting relationship. 

These things feel good because they’re validations of our ego-self, a feeling of being seen and legitimized externally by someone, which for a while helps us forget we’re alone in the universe. But we must be careful not to mistake these warm feelings of recognition for love.

Rather than see the person we’re with for who they are, we compare them to an ideal in our minds. 

To say that we should avoid putting expectations on prospective lovers is not to say that we shouldn’t have standards. We can have standards for the kind of person we’re willing to be with, like they must be ambitious, courageous, and family-oriented, or have the same political or religious beliefs as we do. This isn’t the same as demanding a person act like your fantasy Prince Charming in your mind who’s the amalgamation of all the men you’ve ever seen in your favorite romcoms. 

The truth of the matter is that finding true love is not about finding someone who agrees with us about everything or who validates who we think we are. True love is much more complex and is more rightly described as the deep biological and spiritual intertwining of two people over time via working through personal differences with respect and compassion for one another. It’s not a “falling into” love like we so often hear about in fairy tales, but a conscious choice to extend oneself over and over again for the spiritual and nonmaterial growth of someone else.

What Is Ego Love, or “Attachment”?

Ego love is ultimately self-centered and revolves around how another person can satisfy the needs, desires, emotions, and image we have of ourselves. When we love someone egotistically, it’s not love at all. It’s more accurately described as attachment, a kind of unconscious and desperate clinging, doomed to cause suffering for both parties. 

Attachment involves projecting our mental image of a person onto them, rather than seeing them for who they truly are. When we’re in a state of attachment, we only care about how this person makes us feel about ourselves, and a true give and take isn’t a part of the equation. Attachment also happens when we project our intense desire to be loved unconditionally onto another person and make the love we offer to others conditional based on what they give us in exchange. This isn’t love.

We have a tendency to look at another person and see their appearance, social status, wealth, accolades, and failures first. Through the use of ego, we see patterns and it’s how we navigate the world. It’s important that our ego does this so we can detect people who are a threat to us as well as people who may be compatible with us at first sight. If your evaluation of a person doesn’t go beyond these things, though, you’re not likely to end up finding true love.

Ego love revolves around how another person can satisfy your needs, desires, and self-image.

When we’re dominated by our ego, there’s an unconscious, reactive aspect to our behavior that makes us act from a place of greed, selfishness, and self-preservation. In a neutral sense, it’s about survival and that’s the evolutionary purpose of our ego. When we’re in control of our ego, though, it works for us, and we can use it to narrow our prospective dating options through careful selection without letting it govern our hearts.

Attachment is also sex-centered instead of being soul-centered. This is because attachment is rooted in the material plane only. This type of love is most common among people who meet at a club or on Tinder and hookup before knowing anything about each other. It’s to be avoided at all costs!

When we’re getting to know someone, they’re just mysterious enough for us to project our fantasies onto. Of course, once we know enough about a person that the fantasy no longer sticks, the fun subsides and we become tempted to move on. Once the initial dopamine rush we get from experiencing someone new and exciting wears off, we tire of the person, and the “love” we thought we had seems to vanish. This is because ego-based preferences constantly shift.

So be warned when someone initially meets your material preferences and that’s the basis of your relationship with them — you will quickly get bored of them, and the ego will simply prefer something more novel eventually. This is how the ego works; it’s not about getting what you want or need as much as it is about being in a state of want. 

When we look for love from an internal state of scarcity, we will never be fully satisfied regardless of who we’re with. 

When we look for love from an internal state of scarcity and don’t have the capacity to fill our own cup, we enter into the relationship without the ability to ever be fully satisfied regardless of who we end up with. The problem is within us, though we perceive it as an external problem. This is why so many people feel at a complete loss for why they can’t find genuine love. 

There are people looking for love literally everywhere, so the problem is not with a shortage of people to love or be loved by. It’s in our misunderstanding of how to love oneself first and then someone else. Most people have likely had many relationships with people for whom they could have easily developed true love, but the problem was in their own thinking about what love is and how to obtain it. 

What Is True Love?

True love is productive and transformative. When we truly love someone we allow them to shape and influence us, and we do the same for them. This happens due to the fact that genuine communication is being had; we express how we feel as opposed to projecting onto someone else how we want to feel. We slowly begin to see who a person is, rather than who we want them to be.

True love is something that emerges after time and energy have been invested in a person, and is not solely based on sexual gratification. These sorts of relationships encourage us to become better for another person, rather than seeing someone as a means to attain our own pleasure, resources, status, or have our desires met. When we’re in love with someone we feel the ability to make ourselves truly vulnerable. We’re able to humbly share our deepest fears, shames, and insecurities with them, and vice versa. 

True love is productive and transformative.

When we feel the total freedom to let ourselves be fully known by another person and that knowledge is received with kindness, we feel understood. The desire for someone to know, understand, and accept all the peculiar idiosyncrasies of our minds and personalities is natural. When this has been achieved for both people in a relationship, it creates a type of bonding that’s long-lasting and regenerative, but it doesn’t happen overnight.

We must learn how to love. Love isn’t a disorienting tumbling into euphoric oblivion; it’s a decision. A constant learning of who you are, aided by someone you’re getting to know. Knowing who you are on a deep level is essential. Of course, as we move through different stages of life we will change and adapt to new circumstances, but something fundamental about our essence never changes. 

The goal is to connect on the basis of this deeper level, so you can flow through life changes and challenges in unison with your beloved. When we don’t know who we are and have no humility about our own faults, it’s difficult to offer forgiveness and empathy to another person in their own limitations. 

All couples fight and disagree, but the ones in love fight fair and seek to find the common ground always. If it’s found that there is no common ground on a particular issue, then it’s built there and then. Couples in love don’t keep score; they forgive and let quarrels go completely once resolved. They don’t name-call or aim to deflect blame; they take responsibility for their side and seek forgiveness. 

When we’re truly in love, we feel the ability to make ourselves truly vulnerable.

When we enter a relationship from the basis of grasping or striving for a feeling of completeness that we have failed to cultivate on our own, then we make our emotional state the responsibility of the person we “love.” In a state of true love, we take responsibility for our own emotions and don’t blame or expect our peace to come from the person we love. 

If you’re not content now, in the present moment, and are fantasizing about another person making “future you” happy, then your future situation, in reality, will be unchanged. There’s no reason to think that any of the problems you currently have will simply disappear by the addition of a new, likely complicated person with their own issues to the equation. 

Closing Thoughts: There Is No Way To Love, Love Is the Way

There is no way to love, love is the way. When we come into a relationship from a state of being that’s loving towards ourselves and others, then we’re more likely to see reality as it is. The filter of ego distorts our vision of others and ourselves so fully that it’s almost impossible to find true love under its influence. Cultivate your own sense of inner completeness and self-esteem rather than seeking someone who will give these things to you. To find love, you must be in a state of love. This always begins with yourself. 

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