Spider Love

This is from Martha Beck's new book, Steering by Starlight, beginning on page 196. I wish there were a way to teach this to people looking for love - I really do.

If you went into your garden, recruited a spider, and asked it, "What do you love most?" the spider might answer, "I love flies." This is true: Spiders enjoy a tasty fly the way I enjoy ice cream. And how does this love cause a spider to behave? Well, it makes a sticky web, catches flies alive, wraps them up to keep them from escaping, and keeps them there, conscious, but helpless. Then, whenever the spider needs a snack, it scurries over to the fly, injects it with venom to dissolve some of its insides, and slurps up some of its life force.

This is the way many people think of "love." They will say, in all honesty, that they love their children, their partners, their friends more than anything in the world. But their love is consumptive, not giving. They need their "loved ones" to feed them emotionally, so they imprison people, trap them in webs of obligation or guilt, paralyze them to keep them from going away. They love other people the way spiders love flies.

Before you set out to lead a relationship where conflict is occurring, remember this: The goal of real love is to set the beloved free. If someone else's "love" requires that you abandon your own soul, it's spider love. If you find yourself trying to control a loved one, you're in the spider's role. Spider love really isn't love at all but a version of fear that creates a perceived need to control.

There are two red flags that will start to wave when real love disappears and spider behavior begins. The first is the deception, by which I mean saying or doing anything at all that is not honest for you. The second is the word make. When you do something even slightly dishonest because you're trying to make someone do or feel something, love is no longer running the show. This is just as true when you're trying to make people feel good and loving as it is when you're trying make them follow your orders. People-pleasing and guilt-inducing are as much control strategies as domination.

If you're on the giving end of spider love, you'll feel grasping, desperate, angry, wounded, or all of the above. If you're on the receiving end, you'll feel a desperate desire to escape, often muted by your own rationalizations. "Mom's just trying to make me happy," you might think. "That's why she's offered me a house if I get gastric bypass surgery." Or "Coach only screams at me because he's trying to make me achieve my potential." Or "Jesse just needs to make sure I deserve his trust; that's why he's tied me to this chair."

If you find yourself repeatedly convincing yourself someone loves you, check yourself for spider glue. If your body and your mood darkens when you think of the person who's trying to "make you happy," listen to it. If you feel wretched and panicky with the need to control someone else, realize you may be playing the spider yourself. Either way, leave the web behind. Detach. Whatever your role in the drama, drop it and begin focusing on real love, the sort that always frees the beloved. You can think of it as Stargazer love, because at the level where you are truly steering by starlight, you'll do it naturally.

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