Loving is Giving What You Don't Have: Lacan

When you love someone, you should love them realistically, not idealistically. Love means putting aside the pain left behind by others who've hurt you, and recognizing the fact that you're here, now, with someone new. Someone who deserves the best of you. Because yesterday's emptiness can't be projected onto today.
Loving is Giving What You Don't Have: Lacan
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

Loving is giving what you don’t have. It means seeing your new partner as someone new, unique, and outstanding. Someone who deserves the best from you. Certainly, someone who doesn’t deserve you projecting your old past mistakes onto them. It means loving in a free, real, and mature way. Furthermore, it means you’re definitely not expecting your new love to lead you back to those old ways of loving you’ve experienced before. The ones that made you suffer. In fact, giving what you don’t have means embracing the here and now and really appreciating each other.

Jacques Lacan

There are few figures who managed to convey their theories, statements, and knowledge in the manner of Jacques Lacan, the French psychoanalyst. Indeed, he was renowned for his use of dialectical juggling. However, despite this fact, his transcendence and expertise still allow us to both recognize and reflect on the most fundamental of subjects, such as love.

When Lacan said  Love is giving what you don’t have”, he was again playing around with psychoanalytic jargon. For how can you give something you don’t have? However, what he wanted to do was make you think. To make you realize that relationships are often constructed from a lack of something. Indeed, to make you realize that, as an adult, what you’re actually looking for is the love you didn’t have in your childhood.

Furthermore, the affection you didn’t have in your last romantic relationship you’re now looking for in the next. In fact, you find yourself always trying to embrace love by being far too idealistic in your idea of what love actually is. However, if you give up those idealistic views, you’ll be able to free yourself from the past and give your partner what you’ve never had before. Real affection.

A couple.

Why loving is giving what you don’t have

Lacan’s quote “Love is giving what you don’t have” feeds on the complexity of the bonds you build with others. Lacan spoke about this in his book Transference: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book VIII with his reference to Plato’s Banquet. One thing he pointed out is that love often tends to be aligned with the figure of a lover who’s been wounded by a loss or a lack of something. This has a tendency to make you think that what you’re lacking is actually hidden in the other person and that they’re then obliged to give it to you.

Sigmund Freud also addressed this issue. In his clinical practice, he noticed how his patients, when undergoing psychoanalytic therapy, tended to transfer these kinds of losses and the voids that love had left in their life, particularly during childhood. Thus, that transfer, that feeling that “you’re missing something”, might make you project onto virtually every relationship you have in your life.

When you bond with others, you repeat your past relationships without realizing it

Both Jacques Lacan and Freud believed that your unconscious influences your life more than you think. In fact, it can influence you to the point that you boycott the way in which you interact with the world and establish your friendships, as well as your romantic relationships. Indeed, it’s true that, if there’s one thing you need and search for more than anything else, it’s love and recognition.

Thus, “Love is giving what you don’t have” refers, according to Lacan, to a concrete fact that’s embedded in your unconscious, the lost paradise of your childhood. In fact, a part of you still drags that unfortunate shadow from your childhood around. The one where your parents perhaps didn’t nurture you, or address your fears, or offer you a safe and enriching environment.

According to Lacan, as you grow, you long to heal that lost paradise of childhood. Furthermore, it’s this need in you that causes many of your affective relationships to fail. In fact, each time you fall in love, you create more emptiness, longing, and anxiety. You then repeat this same pattern over and over with each relationship, so that love just becomes a frustrating repeat performance of unhappiness and misunderstanding.

Loving is giving what you don’t have

According to psychoanalysis, there’s one undeniable way of achieving satisfaction and maturity in your relationships. It’s through resignation and acceptance. You have to give up on the idea of being given the love that you didn’t receive in childhood because that’s all in the past. Furthermore, your parents’ love for you has nothing to do with love in your romantic relationships.

You need to stop your obsession with waiting for a new love to come along and give you the affection that others didn’t know how to give you in the past. They’re other people who no longer matter. The person you now love is totally different. Furthermore, it’s just not logical, mature, or advisable to demand that your new partner fix the damage that others caused you.

What you need to do is start from scratch and accept the fact that what you had in the past wasn’t love. Once you accept this fact, you’ll feel freer to both give and receive. Furthermore, you’ll be able to accept your partner without making demands on them. In fact, you’ll be able to set aside the past and embrace the present. Remember that your new partner is another person and completely different from those that hurt you in the past.

A happy couple, demonstrating loving is giving something you don't have.

Love in the here and now and leave behind the rest

It’s true that childhood suffering can persist for decades. You can suffer for a long time over a love that you felt betrayed by or that violated your own principles of respect and commitment. However, there’s nothing more important than opening yourself up to new relationships. Thus, go ahead, open yourself up to those new relationships in the here and now. Leave behind everything that’s wrong and everything that no longer exists. This all takes time. Indeed, in order to cross that threshold and allow yourself to build happier relationships, you need to repair your self-esteem, accept and heal the past, and strengthen your self-love. Only this way can you build a more enriching future for yourself.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Lacan, Jacques (1975). El seminario VIII “La transferencia” Buenos Aires: Paidós
  • Masotta, Oscar (2008). Introducción a la lectura de Jacques Lacan. Buenos Aires: Eterna Cadencia. 
  • Millot, Catherine (2018). La vida con Lacan. Barcelona: NED Ediciones.
  • Žižek, Slavoj (2008). Cómo leer a Lacan (1.ª edición). Buenos Aires: Paidós

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.