What Would Love Do?

A few days ago I sent an email to my mother, asking if I could mail a package to her. We don’t talk or see each other much any more…the past continues to interfere with our ability to be in the present together. I think this dates back about seven years to when I began a relationship with Deborah, and more intensely since we were married in 2009. I think my mother lost an “emotional” partner in a sense as I began my matrimonial journey, and she has never accepted that. But that’s a whole other topic for another day.

It did not seem like a complicated request to me, but it clearly was to her, the tone of her reply emails to me becoming more and more terse as her insistence on controlling the process grew. This is not new. By the third email I was really pissed, and began hammering out a reply to match.

I too, am still very angry—specifically that she has never accepted or become part of my new life—and I could feel the fury and frustration building inside of me as I pounded away on the keys. She has a knack for bringing that out in me. I think most of that anger comes from the sadness of what could be, but isn’t. Like love is now conditional, and has been withdrawn, and this hurts. But I have trained myself not to feel hurt.

Trouble is, I have repressed and denied my feelings for most of my life. And that clearly has not worked, as I am slowly discovering. I need to acknowledge the feelings now, but also not allow myself to be ruled by them. Another topic for another day.

My instinct is to lash out and hurt back when I feel attacked. But deep down I know there is nowhere to go with this. Deep down, I don’t want to blame or make my mother (or anyone else for that matter) responsible for my anguish. I want to understand where it comes from so I can let it go, and focus on being and becoming the person I want to be.

So right before I pressed SEND, I stopped. Do I really want to escalate this, I thought to myself.

Is this what love would do? Asking myself this one question has changed a lot in my life lately, often preventing me from doing and saying many potentially destructive things. I need to remember that anger is really a cry for love. Do I want to be right, or do I want love?

Love would definitely not send an angry email.

So I have not sent it.

27 thoughts on “What Would Love Do?

  1. Right is a choice, love is a truth. I really like the way you summed up the situation, in saying “the past continues to interfere with our ability to be in the present together.” That’s beautiful.

  2. This post touched me deeply. I so appreciate your honesty and courage in writing this—that is what truly serves others. I could identify with the feelings that are the same about some my own still unresolved past issues. You gave me the courage to write to a man I am friends with who I think is strating a romantic relationship with someone that is in our “group”—I had thought we would eventually grow into that, but alas, it looks like not. However this is an opportunity to ask “what would love do?” in my own situation. I am learning and “staying with the broken heart” as Pema Chodron tells us.

  3. I have been there all too often myself. My mother is an ardent fundamental Christian, so her way of dealing with my more universalist tendencies is to use “tough love” as she calls it, which in reality is acting in a hateful manner towards me and my spiritual path. There have been several times where we have had heated conversations in person, over the phone, and over emails. However, for my own mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being I have had to just try and let go of my anger, and not let her control who I am, and what I do, because in the end it is my life, and my spiritual path. I can show her love, and she can choose to accept it or not. Hang in there.

  4. I have also had similar experiences with my mother. I grew up basically being scared to tell her what I really thought if I didn’t agree with her, so I stopped voicing my opinions to her. A few years ago, I put up a pretty thick wall between us. I have been learning to let it go because I can’t change her, and am now working to chip away at that wall without letter her get to me. I am most definitely a happier person, yet am also sad that I don’t have the kind of relationship with her that I would like to have.

  5. “My instinct is to lash out and hurt back when I feel attacked” – me too sometimes, more so when I was younger and had the energy to put into such rage. The older I get, and after living, loving and losing two cocker spaniels with senior issues…getting angry about some things serves no purpose but to raise our blood pressure or make us feel a familiar/comfortable thing from our past. The relationship with my stepmom has a lot of similarities to yours but now we have a great relationship because we aired it all out, decided no matter what we loved eachother and well…life just too short! A favorite quote of Oprah’s is this: “Forgiveness is giving up the hope of changing the past.”

  6. Jonathan,

    A moving story and an important lesson here for all of us.

    Reactive behavior was a big part of my other life- and always a disaster. I still lapse but not very often. Now when I am in a difficult conversation, I try to purposefully slow down, asking myself what would be the response that feels true to who I am. Sometimes that response is direct and strong- but always spoken with care and awareness- apart from those lapse moments.

    Anyhow, good for you. It takes great strength and self-awareness not to react, not to show them how right you are and how wrong they are.

    Thanks for sharing this.


  7. I love your writing, Jonathan! Just read your article on Tiny Buddha and followed you here. I can totally relate to your story. I, too, had a difficult relationship with a controlling mother who wanted what she wanted without concern for what anyone else wanted. When I\’d call her, she\’d spend the first few minutes chastising me for not calling sooner. I\’d tell her she could call me too, and she\’d say flippantly that she didn\’t make phone calls. Our relating was completely my responsibility. I\’d always call her out of obligation. Begrudgingly I\’d endure the first few minutes of guilt-tripping, take it personally and get pissed. The rest of the conversation was never fun. Finally one day, I realized that calling her was not something I genuinely wanted to do and doing so was inauthentic. I decided to honor myself and my truth and only call her when I really wanted to talk with her. Months went by. Finally after about three or four months, she called me. She wanted to know what was wrong. I told her nothing was wrong. I just wanted a more balanced relationship. I told her I need love too and I wanted her to call me as much as she wanted me to call her. Well, that didn\’t fly. After trying to communicate my feelings as kindly as I could, she did what I subconsciously always feared she would do. She told me she never wanted to see me again, speak to me again or hear from me again. I remember that hearing those words was oddly freeing. I realized that my behavior when dealing with her had always been an attempt to avoid experiencing her behaving and saying just that. Six months went by and I honored her wishes. It actually felt strangely good to me. I felt like I had stood up for myself and set boundaries. Finally, on Thanksgiving Day, I decided I wanted to call her. I\’d been hearing from my siblings that she was suffering from our estrangement (although, not enough to call me, but that, I realized came from a lack of self-love on her part.) She answered the phone sounding very disoriented. She\’d just fallen down and was seriously weak. I hung up and called my brother and told him to get her to the hospital. When I arrived she was in the intensive care unit. Her kidneys had shut down and she was on life support. The doctor told me it didn\’t look good. My siblings were expecting the worse. When she saw me, she lit up and told me she was sorry and that she loved me. Miraculously, she came out of this life threatening state in no time. She is now 92 and thriving. Our relationship is transformed. I only call when I want to. She never guilt trips me and treats me with respect. She calls me and tells me she loves me. I\’m now so grateful that, who she was, forced me to set boundaries and claim my independence and adulthood. A good mother either kicks her kids out of the nest or makes it so unbearable they finally leave. My mother\’s behavior made me claim my womanhood. It\’s a very different and healthy relationship when we as children break away and claim our adulthood. Thank your mother for being so unreasonable that you want to break the bond of child/parent and claim your manhood. It took me decades. Seems like you are still young. 🙂

    • Thank you so much for the thoughtful comments jarlfosman, and sharing your story. You hit on something very important here. The whole issue of boundaries and breaking the child parent bond. This is precisely what’s happening. More for me to think about.

  8. Oh Jonathan, the words, the story, the energy…these all just feel soooo familiar!! 🙂 “…the past continues to interfere with our ability to be in the present together.” Love that! I’ve also learned that it’s better to be kind than to be right. Thank you so much for your heartfelt and honest narration. 🙂 Much blessings and Love & Light…Nadine Marie

  9. Jonathan, thank you for sharing a beautiful story that touched home. I salute you for being able to choose being Love during such an emotionally difficult time. It truly hurts when mothers are unable to love their children unconditionally. I believe it’s because they have much healing to do as well; more than likely, they, too, have not been loved unconditionally by their parents…so they don’t don’t how to do so. Our ego so badly wants to be right, yet, our souls know what’s best for everyone. You listened to your heart…which ultimately is the right thing to do.

    I was able to connect with a lot of your feelings thanks to your transparency. Your posts are so down-to-earth…so real. When you said, “She has a knack for bringing that out in me,” I was like…”Exactly! I know how that’s like!” I believe people (not just mothers like yours or mine) become upset and distant when their loved ones form new, loving relationships, because they fear that they’re going to lose them. What they don’t realize is that unconditional love is abundant and unlimited.

    My mother always wanted me to herself; she often suggested that I not make friends, or even stay in touch with relatives, because “No one can be trusted.” Like you said, that’s “fear” talking. When I was in high school, she even told me to never get married, because “Men can’t be trusted.” When fearful people, like our mothers, realize that they can’t control us, they act out like children who didn’t get their way…with hurtful words and actions. I don’t believe that we should encourage negative behavior by allowing them to continue being controlling and unloving, but we can choose to love them unconditionally…which you did. You reminded souls like me to choose Love rather than being right, and I’m very grateful for that. Please continue sharing wonderful YOU.

  10. Hello Jonathan,

    I have several thoughts on this.

    First off, I’m not an anti-anger type of guy. I don’t consider myself an angry person by any means, I don’t get angry very easily, and I rarely stay angry for very long—I tend to get it out of my system fairly quickly by expressing it in one form or another; or I get perspective and that tends to defuse my anger fairly quickly and effectively. But when I do get angry, I certainly don’t have (don’t think that I have) any issue in recognizing when I’m angry, acknowledging why I’m angry, and in most cases expressing my anger (no hulking out here), when I’m sensing I’m being attacked.

    Being assertive—and being angry is a form of this—when you’re being attacked is ok. It means you’re not going to just roll over and take it and be someone emotional punching bag. Anger is and can be the sign of a very healthy organism that is trying to defend itself from someone else’s aggression, anger, etc.

    Having said that, I don’t always respond with anger when I’m feeling attacked, and in fact I usually I don’t. I tend to be much more of a begin-with-the-end-in-mind and don’t-sweat-the-small-stuff type of guy. So oftentimes I tend to let situations play out a bit more; I ask questions, sometimes I stir up the hornets nest a bit more, and sometimes I interject humor into the situation, and sometimes I give the situation what is most needed—some time and space—for both people to cool their jets and think a bit more clearly.

    But I tend not to consider anger an enemy. It has it’s time and it’s place. Anger is a way of being assertive, sticking up for yourself, not letting yourself be bullied, letting someone else know in unmistakable terms that they have crossed a boundary, that you will not tolerate being treated a certain way. So much anger is about that. At other times anger can be about moral outrage, righteous (not self-righteous, but righteous) indignation.

    Your post, Jonathan, is fairly vague about the details—the details of what’s in the package, the content of the conversations, et cetera—so what I’m saying here in my comment is fairly broad-based.

    And one last thought on anger—here are a few of my favorite quotes about anger, and that allow me to keep things in perspective and not get angry very easily—

    “Never forget what a person said to you out of anger. Anger is a bow that will shoot sometimes where another feeling will not.” – Henry Ward Beecher

    “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.” – Robert Frost

    “In the last analysis, it is our conception of death which decides our answers to all of the questions life puts to us.” – Dag Hammarskjöld, “Markings,” pg. 138.

    “We’re all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.” – Charles Bukowski, “The Captain is Out to Lunch and the Sailors have taken over the Ship” (1998)

    And as much as asking “what would Love do” is a helpful question and can lead to a shift in our focus and our perception and our thinking, so can asking “what will really matter in the end?”

    Some day your mom will die; some day she may get cancer or have a stroke, et cetera. How much of what’s making you angry now will matter then? Or, will you be angry then for not having done things differently now? A few things to possibly consider.

    I lost my mom about 3 yrs ago to cancer. My mom was very set in her ways; our relationship (previous to her cancer) was not as deep as I would have liked—she seemed to feel threatened by my exploration of Buddhism and my fairly agnostic / living-the-questions approach to life and God and spirituality. So there was often some tension in some of our conversation. After my mom was diagnosed with cancer (stage 4 metastatic melanoma) in Feb of 2009, things changed. We spent a lot of time in waiting rooms together, just waiting, and talking, and listening. The conversations were different. My mom was scared and vulnerable. And I was scared too. I pretty much new what was awaiting her (I new the survival stats for people diagnosed with stage IV melanoma—it kills very effectively; only 5% of people with the diagnosis survive for more than a year; and there were no real treatment options once melanoma metastasizes / gets into the lymph system and spreads throughout the body). And the last 45 or 6 months were very good for us, in particular the last 2 months, once she resigned herself to her fate and chose to terminate chemotherapy and radiation treatments (she had pretty much run out of options by that time).

    Do I kick myself for some of the arguments and disagreements we had 5 or 10 years ago? Somewhat, I suppose. (I don’t kick myself too much, because it won’t change things; but I do try to kick myself enough so that I don’t repeat the same mistake with the people in my life now). But I was who I was then; I wasn’t as much of a begin-with-the-end-in-mind / what-really-ultimately-matters type of guy yet. I was still growing into that (I still am; part of the reason why I blog—because it allows me to continue teaching and learning what I most need to learn—what is really going to matter to me in the end? Whatever it is, I need to integrate it more and more into my life and live the shit out of it NOW). Maybe someday I’ll be a Yoda type Zen monk who will be capable of distilling all of what I’m saying in this response and delivering it in a very pointed and concentrated way, in just a few words or sentences, that cause a person to stop dead in their tracks and experience a profound paradigmatic shift, a radical figure-ground reversal in their approach to life and in what they consider to be essential in life.

    So if I had to sum up all of what I’m trying to say here to you, Jonathan, (and what I’m trying to say to everyone anywhere who ever has or will read my comment here or one of my blog posts), is this: Pick your battles. And in particular pick how you battle those battles. And above all, don’t lose sight of the real war—which in this case means don’t lose sight of “the bigger picture”—which isn’t really a war or about war at all; it’s about Love, and it’s about what ultimately will matter to you in the end and what ought to be most important to us NOW at this moment in our lives.

    I hope some of this is relevant and or helpful.

    Namaste, Jonathan, and warmest regards,


    • Thank you John…you make some very important and profound points here. Lots for me to think about and apply. Most of all, I do not want to look back in regret, and for the most part I really try to live by that. I really appreciate your heartfelt response, and what you have shared abour your mother. Jonathan

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