I've heard a certain teaching, in various forms, which I have tried to integrate into my life for very personal reasons. It is a teaching similar to "the law of attraction," and goes something along the lines of: we are often attracted to people who have a lesson that we need to learn, or who have some quality in abundance that we sense is missing in our own lives ("opposites attract"), or who remind us of our unintegrated shadows. Thus, the teaching goes, if you're attracted to someone who doesn't share your feelings, or who is unhealthy for you, or who is "off limits" for whatever reason, the way to resolve that attraction is to work on the issues in yourself that are brought up by this person. Kind of like when your body needs certain nutrients, it craves foods that contain those nutrients. So you can essentially swap a healthful food in for an unhealthful one that contains the nutrients you need.
Well, in my case, I've tried that, sincerely and fully, and I can say that it usually doesn't work. After much reflection, I've decided that this teaching, which I'll call "the Other to Assimilate" has its merits, but it is also dangerous.
First of all, the insidious idea is that my love is something that serves ME, not the other. I'm not actually attracted to the other person; I'm just deceiving myself. I'm really attracted to the lessons he can teach ME, or the qualities in MYSELF that need to be brought forth that he can help with, or even a simple presence to ease MY loneliness.
That's not actually how it works.
After much soul searching, I've realized that most of the people I've loved, I've loved for THEMSELVES. Even after I learn the lessons that I needed to learn from their presence (and believe me, my conscience is a strong disciplinarian), even after my soul matures and grows due to their influence, even after I find another person to assuage my loneliness, I still miss that specific person when s/he is gone. I'm not missing their lessons or their influence, I'm missing them. Some ineffable quality, an "other," a unique expression of life that defines them as themselves and nobody else. Yes, if they are abusive or harmful to myself, I need to cut them out of my life. But when there's real love, I grieve their loss, not (only) because of what they gave me, but because of who they are.
Secondly, it reduces love to a flat, predictable formula. Person X has quality Y; I need Y; therefore, I need X. But love is much richer than that. There is always some assimilation of the other's qualities in any relationship; this is a valid component of love. But there's so much more. There's physical attraction, familiarity of soul, companionship, personality, common activities... Unending possibilities. Every person is a unique universe of potential, character traits, mannerisms, preferences, activities, ideas, and so on. When you meet someone whose universe somehow resonates with your own, you can't pinpoint one specific reason that you want to be with them, if it's really love. It's a multi-dimensional, ever-changing, and immense experience.
Thirdly, for some reason, this "Other to Assimilate" teaching seems only to be espoused when talking about romantic love. I never hear people mourning the death of a family member being advised to "learn the lessons you're supposed to learn from that person and move on." They aren't urged to introspect on what caused them to be attracted to that family member in the first place. Why is a familial attachment any different than a romantic attachment? Maybe because there's a tacit recognition that we don't choose our family members and therefore don't really have control over whether we become attached to them or not. But I think this takes away from the depths of love. Maybe we are attracted to people romantically for the same reasons we are attracted to our family members or our close friends. Maybe the romantic Other feels, at some deep level, like family. Why would we take away from the grief of someone who's lost a romantic prospect, just because it's slightly different than an actual family member?
Finally, this "Other to Assimilate" teaching opposes itself to the feelings and experiences of those who love, or grieve the loss of love. It essentially tells someone, "I know you FEEL like you love that person, but your feelings are lying. You actually love yourself." If our feelings are not accurate indicators of our emotional reality, which is by definition intangible and immeasurable, then what can we trust? Why would we allow somebody who doesn't know us, doesn't know the situation, and is guided by an ideology to prove rather than commitment to reality, to tell us what's "really" going on? Maybe your feelings are right. Maybe you do love the other. Maybe you should just listen to your feelings for once and not try to explain away the unexplainable.
People aren't foods to consume. They are people. Respect that.