You Don’t Need Love. Look For This Instead

Something rarer than love but far more valuable

I’ve lost the ability to enjoy romance anime/manga/novels. It’s been a while now.

I've been fond of anime since I was 7 years old. My first memory of it was watching Dragon Ball Z alongside my cousins who were only a few years older than me.

I wanted to look cool and win the approval of my cousins since they were the closest thing I had to siblings.

And I was smitten by Dragon Ball Z.

The art, the characters and the idea of Dragon Balls themselves was so enchanting to a 7-year-old who had thus far only been exposed to Mickey Mouse and Tom and Jerry cartoons (I love those cartoons too, for different reasons)

In high school and college, my love of anime only intensified. By the time I was 19, I had already started to pick up some Japanese and threw it around in regular conversation just to show off that I was a woman of culture (it was an interesting phase of my life - story for another day)

But there was just one problem though, I could enjoy almost all genres of anime except romance.

Of the 50 or so romance anime and manga I sampled over 6 years, there was only one that I really liked. The others started off on a promising note — handsome male lead(s)? Check. Quirky female lead? Check. High school setting? Check. Action and adventure and pretty dresses? Double check! Beautiful art and addictive (if silly) storyline? Super check!

They all hit the same tragic end which would force me to stop reading.

3-4 chapters in, and I'd wake up to the painful realisation that the male lead is a jackass. The most popular trope of male leads in Shoujo manga (manga targeted towards teen and young adult women) is the arrogant crush.

Essentially it refers to the age old formula of a "cool", read disrespectful and cold hearted guy who catches the eye of the female protagonist who is warm hearted and sweet. And for some godforsaken reason this ditzy female lead wants to win the affection of the misunderstood jerkass hero.

You have a few episodes dedicated to showing just how much of a jerk the male lead is — from outright bullying the female lead, to pressuring her to do things she doesn’t want to and giving her a hundred mixed signals. It’s very difficult to like the guy.

The only thing he has going for him is his bishie good looks and some redeeming quality that only the harried and abused female lead can see.

This is usually the point where I stop reading.

And even if I finish the story, the ending is usually some variation of jerky guy becoming a little less of a jerk and declaring his undying love for the female lead who has chosen to put up with all his bullshit till the series finale.

If this is what “happily ever after” looks like, I’d rather not have any part of it.

Look, I get it.

Romance novels or indeed romance manga aren't supposed to be taken seriously.

But the problematic sexist tropes are one thing and the ideation of "love" quite a different beast.

Love feels great — whether romantic, platonic or familial.

I'm one of those people who would roll my eyes at you if you said the strongest force on earth was "love" instead of gravity. And yet, I understand the appeal of love.

Too often I've seen people use the L word to get their way.

"If you loved me, you'd quit that job"

"If you loved me, you'd buy me X"

"If you loved me, you'd ignore all your responsibilities and do this obviously unreasonable thing I'm asking you to do"

See a pattern?

It's as though we've stretched the idea of love to include all manner of deplorable and foolhardy behaviour, to be performed with impunity no less!

No wonder so many people have trust issues.

The problem is, if you look for this kind of shitty behaviour masquerading as "love", chances are, you'll find it.

All our lives we're told that being worthy of someone's love is the greatest thing we can accomplish.

We think it's rational, even normal to say:

"I can't leave her even though she's using me, because she said she loves me"

"I can't ask my partner to change because I love them exactly as they are - so what if they're a heroin addict? I will love them harder"

"I know he’s a jerk to everyone else but he loves me. And love is enough!"

It had to be said...

The most dangerous human you will ever meet is someone who loves you and does not care about you. If you run into someone like this: Run—run as fast as you can. Such people will not change because, fundamentally, you do not matter to them. All that matters to those who love but do not care about you is how you make them feel. — Malcolm and Simone Collins

Maybe love isn't the most important thing after all.

Remember the line, "You never loved me. You just love how much I loved you"? An alarmingly large number of people idealise this kind of love — the validation, the attention and the implicit agreement that there can be no wrongdoing when you infuse something with love.

If not love, then what do we look for?

Look for the ability to care. Cultivate it yourself.

Become someone who cares about yourself and other people enough to point out destructive patterns, and change for the better.

Find someone who cares about who you are as a person rather than just about who you are when you're with them.

What the world (and the plotlines of most romance novels) needs are people who express their love through acts of care and kindness.

Stop looking for someone who loves you.

Find someone who cares for you more than they love you. Only such people can be trusted to have the self-awareness to do right by you and by themselves.

If you love someone, you might not care if they were sleep-deprived. You’d expect them to use every waking moment to give you attention. If you cared, you’d ask about their well-being and find less stressful ways of expressing your affections that’s good for you both in the long term.

If someone cared for you, they wouldn't put you in harm's way just to have the opportunity to comfort you later on.

Love is an emotion that one feels within themselves — you don’t even need a real person to kindle feelings of love. Fictional characters or celebrities will do just fine.

Emotions themselves aren't good or bad. Many violent and abusive acts stem from the most benign emotions.

When you settle for love, you aren't looking for intentionality. When you look for someone who cares, you're making it clear that you want them at their best and that you're prepared to care for them and give your best.

It’s entirely possible to have both love and care, but don’t let someone use the excuse of "love" to justify bad behaviour. You deserve better. And if you’ve misused the emotion of "love" before, it’s time to do better. Good luck.

Author of 'How to be a Lighthouse'. I write for those pursuing excellence and meaning.