The spirit of the world is all about getting things, owning things, possessing things, and we have carried this attitude of consumerism into our relationships, into the very heart of our personal lives. We have come to think that people can belong to us, that we can own someone. And, just as with things, we get angry when the people we 'love' fail to minister to our needs or get broken or stolen from us.
You see, the biggest lie--a very common one these days--is when someone says 'I love you'. No doubt millions say these words every day. What they invariably mean is, 'I want you to be mine. I like the look of you and have decided that i want you to be around to make me happy forever.' That is what most people mean when they say 'I love you'. And this is the biggest lie.
We have come to think that people can belong to us, that we can own someone.
We collect girlfriends, boyfriends, wives and husbands the way we collect cellphones or washing machines or houses or cars. And when they fail to live up to our expectations we get frustrated and angry. And the desire for possession when angry results in husbands beating their wives, girlfriends killing their boyfriends, and anything that has legs and can move being raped. Rapes, yes, for it's all about possession. Everyone's on the lookout for collecting someone new.
One of the commonest greetings here in Swaziland (and echoed around the world) is 'Sisi, I'm proposing love'. That it isn't love becomes immediately apparent when the child, woman, gogo or donkey doesn't immediately consent to the man's request.
And when we get tired of our girlfriends, boyfriends, wives and husbands we trade them in for newer models--makhwapheni style.
Yet the worst of it is that our 'I love you' collecting habit doesn't make us happy but rather enlarges our fear. You see, the moment we get something new we worry that someone might steal it from us. A friend of mine recently tried an old number he had on his phone, the number of a lady he'd once dated. He dialled the number and a male voice answered. He asked for the lady and received a gruff, 'She's not here'. Then a few moments later that same man with the gruff voice phoned him back, aggressive and loud, with a host of questions as if he was the police officer in charge of a criminal investigation: 'How did you get this number? Who gave you this number? What do want with this woman? Who are you?' and so on. Once a man has said, 'I love you', and you have said, 'I love you too', he is terrified that once you are out of his sight you might be saying 'I love you too' to somebody else.
This isn't love. and it never was. A couple say 'I love you' to each other and then believe that they own each other and deny each other any freedom in a desperate bid to secure the happiness that they themselves so desperately crave. The world's values are sick and the world's love is already as stiff as a carcass. No-one can ever own another person--we call this slavery, not love--and no-one should even try.
The secret to relationships is not possession but freedom. Real love is always wanting the best, the highest good, for someone. That doesn't mean ownership, but the opposite--it means being able to let someone go. If you really love her, then you'll set her free to follow her own path. If she chooses you, that's great; but if she chooses someone else, then that's her choice. The truth is that the highest best for the other person might not include you. If she wants to spend time with you today, then thank God for that, for it's a blessing; but if she doesn't want to be with you tomorrow, then thank God for that too, for she's following her own path.
Are you looking for Mr Right? You will never find him. Mr Right is always Mr Wrong if you're looking for someone to become part of your collection. But if you're able to let someone go, then--even if it hurts for a while--you'll learn to be content and when you say 'I love you', you'll mean it and won't be caught telling the biggest lie.
[Originally published in the Times of Swaziland SUNDAY, September 24th, 2006.]