To love is to give what you don't have

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Robert Maurer
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To love is to give what you don't have

To love means not to idealize the partner. It means putting aside the pain that others have caused us to recognize that we are here and now, in front of someone who deserves the best of us. The voids of yesterday cannot be projected into the present.

Written and verified by the psychologist GetPersonalGrowth.

Last update: 15 November 2021

To love is to give what you don't have. It means seeing the other as unique, new and exceptional, deserving the best of us and not projecting old wrong patterns from the past onto him / her.



It is necessary to love in an authentic, free and mature way without pretending that this affection leads us to forms of love already lived and known that have made us suffer. To give what we do not have is to embrace the here and now to give value to the other.

The French psychoanalyst Jaques Lacan managed to convey his theories, statements and knowledge with a noteworthy dialectic. By virtue of this, we recognize his importance and his competence in inducing reflection on decisive issues such as love.

Lacan's aphorism "to love is to give what one does not have, to the one who is not" constitutes an oxymoron that once again plays with psychoanalytic slang. Lacan's aim was to induce the reader to reflect on the tendency to establish relationships on the basis of lack: in adulthood we seek the love that we did not receive in childhood.

We look for in the new partner the affection that the previous one deprived us of. We always embrace love, of which we have an ideal vision. Giving up this ideal will allow us to free ourselves from the past to give our partner what we have not received, that is, genuine affection.



Why "to love is to give what one does not have"?

The aphorism "to love is to give what one does not have" is justified in the complexity of the connections between human beings. Jacques Lacan spoke of it during his VIII seminar "The transference" referring to Plato's Banquet.

Lacan emphasized that love often manifests itself under the figure of a lover wounded by lack. This makes us think that what we lack is hidden in the other and that he is obliged to give it to us.

Sigmund Freud also addressed the question: during psychoanalytic therapy the patient tends to transfer numerous shortcomings and gaps caused by the absence of love, especially in childhood. We project this transfer, that is to say that "we are missing something", in almost all relationships.

We repeat the relationships of the past

Jacques Lacan and Freud agree that our unconscious affects us more than we think. To the point of boycotting the way we interact with the world, hence our relationships. We need and seek above all else love, approval.

The phrase "to love is to give what one does not have" therefore alludes to a concrete fact rooted in our unconscious: the lost paradise of childhood. A part of us carries the shadow of an unfinished past.

The shortcomings of our parents, who may not have nourished all our needs, have not embraced our fears or offered us a secure and fulfilling attachment.

According to Lacan, as we grow up we want to heal that lost paradise (that of childhood). This need causes many emotional relationships to fail and this creates more gaps, more desires, more unsatisfied anxieties.


In each tie, we repeat the same pattern until rendering love is a frustrating repetition that smacks of unhappiness and misunderstanding.


To love is to give what one does not have, to one who is not

According to psychoanalysis, there is an unavoidable way to achieve satisfaction and maturity in our relationships. It is through resignation and acceptance.

We have to give up the love we did not receive in childhood because that time has elapsed, because the affection of the parents is not what we can receive from the partner.

We must also give in to that obsession with seeking new loves to receive the love that others have not been able to give us. Because those people who have hurt us are others and who occupies our heart today is another. To demand that someone repair what others have caused us is not logical, it is not mature.


We have to start from scratch and accept what we have not received in the past (love). Later, we will feel freer to give and receive, to recognize the other without demanding, to put aside the past and embrace the present.

To love is to give what you do not have to someone who is not, because that person is another (different from those who have hurt us in the past).

Love here and now, leaving behind what is no longer there

The suffering of a childhood or a traumatic past persists, it is true. The effects of a partner who has betrayed us or who has violated the fundamental principles of respect and commitment last over time, there is no doubt.


Nothing, however, is as indispensable as opening up to new relationships starting from the present, from the here and now, leaving behind what no longer exists, what no longer exists. This takes time.

To cross this threshold and allow us to establish happier bonds, we need to work on our self-esteem, accept the past, heal it and strengthen self-awareness. Only in this way will it be possible to build a more solid future.

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