Most persons don’t realize this, but the common, or popular, view of “love” involves an element of receiving something. “I love chocolate” really means that “I enjoy getting the experience of the taste of chocolate.” Similarly, “I love you” commonly implies “I enjoy playing with your body,” or “I enjoy believing that you will give me security or protection,” or “I enjoy feeling sexual pleasure with your body” (or “I want to have sexual pleasure with your body.”) As a result, Lacan, in his teachings about love, described the typical act of love as “polymorphous perversion.” 
Don’t be put off by the big words. You already know what perversion means. Polymorphous simply means “having many forms.” So this amounts to saying, like the popular song from the 1980s, that we’re looking for love in all the wrong places. That is, we look for satisfaction in all the various titillating parts of the body but never find what is truly sought.
What is “truly sought” is something we all experience as painfully missing from life: some comforting sense of absolute belonging and acceptance. Those who are fortunate get a sense of this feeling as babies, under a parent’s protection, although the feeling is fractured more often than not by ordinary parental empathic failures, and then it is lost entirely as children become older and independent and the awareness of their essential human isolation and mortality sets in. Those who are less fortunate suffer a deeper lack: some parents are emotionally or physically distant and rarely provide any comfort and acceptance to their children; and some parents are outright abusive, leaving their children to languish in an environment of criticism and neglect.
Suffering from the lack of parental acceptance, some people skip from one “partner” to another over the surface of existential pain, like a stone skipping over water. As long as they stay above the surface they’re perfectly happy; but when an affair ends, and they come crashing down, they’re desperate for the next leap, sometimes searching for a new partner even at the funeral for the old one. Yet sooner or later the stone loses vitality, and with a final splunk falls into the depths of tribulation.
Lacan points out that although “love”—that is, in its common, popular sense—is, in essence, a futile chasing after something that doesn’t exist, there is nevertheless a love beyond this “making love,” a love that exists beyond lack and limitation and that involves a sort of ecstasy of being, as a matter of soul, not of the body. The irony is that in the common act of “making love” we think we know what we want, but it turns out to be an illusion, while this other love touches on a real experience of which we know nothing. It’s a mystical sort of thing, as Lacan acknowledges.
Now, although Lacan doesn’t say it this way, the difference between these two kinds of love—common “love” and true love (or real love)—can be conceived of as the difference between receiving and giving.
Note carefully, though, that giving does not refer to the mere sharing of material objects or wealth; it refers to the expression of profound emotional qualities such as patience, forbearance, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness.
This all goes to show that it’s easy enough to “love” those who “love” us: parents who protect us, “partners” who make us feel received, animals who never threaten us. But can we love those who annoy us . . . irritate us . . . obstruct us . . . scorn us . . . hate us? Can we love our enemies? That’s the real test of real love.
And it was out of a true understanding of the difference between common “love” and real love that a man such as St. Francis of Assisi was led—led right to the point, actually—to pray that he might seek “not so much to be
loved as to