The Need for Love
Alan Loy McGinnis

Human beings are made for love, and I find that many of my clients forget that.  They scramble to shore up their self-image with various techniques, without giving sufficient attention to the source from which they will get help most readily--good friendships.  They make all sorts of protests--that they're too busy, that they've learned to live without needing anyone, that they can't trust people, that they are really loners and prefer solitude.  But it is all a smoke screen, and underneath lies a powerful aching to love and be loved.

Many people make the mistake of supposing that they will be happy only when they find the right man or the right woman to marry, neglecting the essential arena of friendship.  Few of us are ready for a sexual relationship until we have learned to sustain a friendship.  We do not have to marry to be happy, but we do have to have some love, and that can be found in the right type of friendships.  The irony is that the persons who begin to relax in some solid friendships with people of the same sex--and stop worrying so much about meeting the man or woman of their dreams--begin to be much more attractive to the opposite sex.  Friendship appears to be the best springboard to romance.

There is another reason to put more emphasis on friendship and less on romance:  with the realities of divorce and death, most of us will have to spend at least some of our adult lives unmarried, so it is a poor strategy to put all our eggs in one basket.  We could find ourselves entirely bereft of love when something happens to our mate.

When a man says to me, "I don't need any other friends--my wife is my best friend," I do not applaud.  He is putting too much pressure on his marriage, for there is no way any one person can meet all your emotional needs.  To expect your mate to do so is to ask an impossible thing.  Moreover, I fear for the man when, God forbid, he finds himself without his wife.  Your mate should be your best friend, but not your only friend.

How does one go about building a circle of sustaining relationships?  Most of my clients think the problem is in finding a place to meet new people.  But the basic answer is not in meeting more people, it is in deepening the relationships we presently have.  Many of us have acquaintances who could be promoted to friends, some friend who could be promoted to a good friend.  It may seem easier to begin with someone new, but the best source of love is probably in your present circle of family and acquaintances. . . .

When we encircle ourselves with a few intimate friendships, we build for ourselves a pipeline that supplies a stream of sustaining reassurances that we exist, that we have worth.  It does not happen without a great deal of effort, but it is worth every ounce of energy we expend.

I know of no single step one can take to enhance self-confidence that is as important as building a network of accepting, loving relationships.  Sometimes the people who come for counseling are in such bad shape emotionally because they do not have enough love in their lives, and they are almost screaming, "Somebody please love me!"  Progress comes when they are able to relax, stop begging for love, and begin loving.  They look for someone for whom they can do a favor, someone to whom they can send a word of encouragement, someone whose shoulders they can put an arm around, and perhaps even begin to love.  When we are "networking" merely for what we can get out of it, it usually backfires.  But when we start finding others who need love and take the initiative in giving it to them, love seems to begin flowing back to us.

Alan Loy McGinnis (1933-2005) was a best-selling author, family therapist, business consultant, and popular speaker.  After a twenty-year career as a minister, he became a counselor and co-founded the Valley Counseling Center in Glendale, California.  In the 1970's he began researching friendship and authored The Friendship Factor.  He authored more than fifty articles and several more books.


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