Despite having just four letters, love is one of the biggest words. What is love? This is an eternal and probably unanswerable question, but it is fun to seek an answer. My article presents a few approaches to love, mainly the most interesting kind, the one in a sexual relationship, ie erotic love.
The first problem is a semantic one, since the word 'love' is used in so many different ways. Perhaps more than any other word in the English language, 'love' can mean anything, or almost nothing. It is often used thoughtlessly. When someone says, "I love him," about the man they live with, this means little to me, until I know much more about their relationship. Note that in some languages the word 'love' has a more restricted usage, eg in Polish you cannot say, "I love chocolate".
It doesn't seem likely that all these quotes refer to the one thing. How are we to resolve the confusion?
Tremendous confusion is caused by the fact that the word 'love' refers both to an emotion and to an attitude or orientation. The emotion we feel in our heart called love, is like all other feelings, a transitory experience. It may last a day, an hour or only an instant. It cannot remain fixed and stable, any more than anger or sadness can, however long they may last. Though it is wonderful to feel the emotion called love, when it's not there, it's not there, and we can't induce it by an act of will. Unlike the emotion, the attitude of love can be a permanent orientation.
The crucial distinction between love the feeling and love the orientation is seen in the behaviour of a person who feels passionate love for another but acts cruelly towards them.
The emotion of love is not a more intense form of liking; it is different in kind. Some people state that they love a person but do not like them. Another common mistake is to view the orientation of loving as an all or nothing state. If I do something out of completely unselfish motives for someone, then this is an expression of my love, no matter how small the action, and regardless of my feeling for that person.
The feeling of love is often, but not always, accompanied by the orientation of loving, ie we are kind to those we like. Yet, one can care deeply about someone over a long period of time, during which one might feel love for them only from time to time, or perhaps not at all.
Stephen Covey points out that love is to be found in actions, as well as being something we can feel. People driven by their feelings do not take responsibility for love. They are unaware that the feeling of love can be recaptured. It is regained when we act in a loving way: by affirming, appreciating, being considerate of, being kind, through affection, making small sacrifices and giving to, communicating with, and seeking to understand the person we are in relationship with. Another example is choosing to overlook petty failings in the other person. It is important to realise that these actions do not depend on feeling love but that they generate the feeling. The person who is behaving in a loving way creates the feeling of love in themselves. Of course it is likely that the other person will respond in a positive way.
One could argue that creativity is needed for us to be loving towards other people. By contrast, consider the man who buys red carnations for his wife every Friday.
Krishnamurti draws a clean distinction between love and sentiment:
To be sentimental, to be emotional is not love, because sentimentality and emotion are mere sensations. A religious person who weeps about Jesus or Krishna, about his guru or somebody else is merely sentimental, emotional, cannot possibly know love. Again, aren't we emotional and sentimental? Sentimentality, emotionalism, is merely a form of self-expansion. To be full of emotion is obviously not love, because a sentimental person can be cruel when his sentiments are not responded to, when his feelings have no outlet. An emotional person can be stirred to hatred, to war, to butchery. A man who is sentimental, full of tears for his religion, surely has no love.Scott Peck adds, "It is easy and not at all unpleasant to find evidence of love in one's feelings. It may be difficult and painful to search for evidence of love in one's actions." He cites the example of the alcoholic in a bar who, with tears in his eyes, professes to the bartender love for his wife and children, who are in need of his attention at that very moment. In a different vein, Chet Snow warns against mistaking love for the "emotional, ego-bound merry-go-around of sexual attraction and possession".
Looking back at the 15 quotes, not all are easily classifiable as emotion or orientation. I think that numbers 1, 3, 5, 6, 9, 11, 13 and 15 clearly refer to the emotion, whereas numbers 8, 10, 12 and 14 clearly refer to the orientation. Perhaps what the quotes really tell us is that love is such a mystery that no-one really knows what it is. Love is like a black box: each of us sees it as containing what we most value.
I thought about what love is for me personally, what the essential aspects are as I experience them. I listed: caring, fondness and affection, closeness, feeling with, and trust. Love reduces the separation between me and another person. I feel it as a genuine connection, one I experience somewhere deep in myself.
People sometimes ask me what made our love last so many years. Perhaps the three main things were: putting each other first, communicating, and living the relationship one day at a time - making no plans or commitments. It helped a lot that we have similar backgrounds and temperament, plus that both of us are mild characters. Sex and affection ensured continuing closeness over the years. Decades later, our intimacy is deeper and one side-effect is that we have both lost the ability to tolerate discord between us. This means we need to resolve disagreements quickly, and we do so. Overall, my experience suggests that if you take care of the essentials then a relationship will get better over time.
Reflecting on my list, it seems to me that feeling and orientation cannot be separated. Take caring, it is an orientation alright, but can it be divorced from feeling? Surely you care because there is some sort of feeling for the person or thing you care about. Fondness and affection are feelings, but can they be divorced from a friendly attitude? Closeness is a feeling, but it is also a decision to involve oneself, to be vulnerable, to let down defences. 'Feeling with' is obviously a feeling, but another word for it is empathy, which is a way of relating. Empathy can be just a technique, as in counselling. Trust is an attitude, but it is clearly laden with feeling.
It is a chicken and egg argument: do I feel close to my partner because of a decision or attitude, or does my attitude of openness arise from the feeling I have when I am with her? Clearly one feeds on the other. When I think about my love for her I think about the relationship I have to her, and that relationship includes both feelings and orientations, which are inextricably linked.
So the division of love into feeling and orientation is somewhat artificial. A bit like talking about the separate tracks of a bicycle's front and rear wheels, which go down the same path. It is well to remember that we human beings are basically driven by our emotions. Our life attitudes and orientations do not come from rational analysis or thinking but arise from our emotional life. Yet it seems to me that only by dividing love into feeling and orientation can we understand the paradox of people being cruel to those they claim to love. Simply put, you cannot be selfish and cruel to another if your attitude to them is loving.
For purposes of analysis, it seems to me that love can be divided into feeling and orientation, and that the orientation of love can be dissected into components. Yet nothing complex is just the sum of its parts, and especially not love. So it's important to remember that what I present below is just a model, a way of trying to understand what love is. If it resonates with your experience or clarifies something then it has done its job.
Love is its own motive. Being the ultimate source of motivation, it has nothing behind it. There are many other motives, such as pleasure, security, power, acceptance, duty, freedom and achievement. These other motives lack the self-sufficiency of love. If you love someone, you care for them for their own sake, not for any benefit or effect they have on you. What you love has intrinsic value for you, ie value that is independent of your own existence. Love is wanting the gain of another, without gain to oneself. Perhaps ultimately love is wanting the gain of the Whole, not of the part that is our self.
Caring is the first essential. Love without caring is meaningless.
You can't love whom you don't respect, about all you can do is pity them. Loving entails unconditional regard, ie respecting and valuing the person regardless of our assessment of what they do or say. Note that it is possible to respect even a small child, to value their autonomy and respect their potential.
It is essential to know the person, as otherwise you may be loving your ideas about them, not the person themselves. This is called projection - reading into others what is actually in your own mind. The knowledge involved in love is not a static picture; rather it is a growing understanding of the other person, an increasingly accurate perception of what it feels like to be them.
If you are not willing to give to the person you ostensibly love, then you do not really care about them. Of course, not all giving is an expression of love. The workoholic husband who gives money but begrudges his time is an obvious example. Giving in a loving way means contributing what the other person wants or needs, not what happens to come easily to you. Knowledge is needed since ignorance of the other person's needs may sabotage your giving. Nor is horsetrading - I give this if you give that - an expression of loving.
The necessity of receiving is less obvious. If you are able to give but not to receive, then you are not putting yourself on the same level as the other person. When this is a pattern in the relationship it amounts to aloofness, though one is not normally conscious of this. It is only when you can both give and receive freely that there is a real connection with the other person. If you cannot receive then you remain separate. Nor is receiving as easy as it sounds. It is often easier to do a favour than to ask for one. An interesting aspect of receiving is that you will have a problem with receiving unless you are able to truly give without strings.
Obviously, it is not possible to love someone whom you do not accept. You cause separation by judging. Rather, the question is: how much do you need to accept someone in order to love them?
Intimacy is a way of relating rather than a feeling. Being intimate with a person means we are truly ourselves with them, without any kind of barrier or facade. This is only possible if we are fully comfortable with the other person, ideally to the point where we feel as though we are only with ourselves. This takes time, more exactly, it requires a long and mutual process of self-disclosure. Ultimately, intimacy means being entirely known by the other person, ie not consciously holding anything back. Montague Ullman explains the importance of this, "The freedom to let oneself be known is also the freedom to be oneself."
There are four important factors bound up with intimacy - empathy, openness, vulnerability and trust.
Vulnerability is paradoxical. Though it appears to be a weakness it is in fact a strength. In reality all of us are vulnerable because we are sensitive. Yet we often conceal our sensitivity with pretended toughness, humour, cynicism or intellectualisation. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable means keeping our hearts open to the other person. As a consequence we can be hurt by them, but the alternative is to erect a defensive barrier, which is ultimately more painful. Vulnerability hinges on trusting the other person.
Aron's central idea is that mutual vulnerability fosters closeness: “One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure.” Aron's research centres on the self-expansion model of personal relationships. The idea is that people seek to increase their potential efficacy using relationships in which they include others in the self, thus seeing themselves as possessing to some extent others' perspectives, identities, and resources. He sees interpersonal closeness as a cognitive overlap between self and other. Aron wrote, "We think that the closeness produced in these studies is experienced as similar in many important ways to felt closeness in naturally occurring relationships that develop over time. On the other hand, it seems unlikely that the procedure produces loyalty, dependence, commitment, or other relationship aspects that might take longer to develop."
When he was asked what love is, Aron answered, "Most central is the sense of intimacy and connectedness. Next most central is commitment, loyalty, being ready to stay with that person. And the third, least central, is passion and intensity."
Intrigued by his work, journalist Mandy Catrin tried the same experiment with an acquaintance; they too fell in love. She described what happened in the New York Times on January 15, 2015. You may want to try Aron's 36 questions with someone yourself.
Yet I think Sternberg's division is too simplistic, since it omits some of the most vital ingredients of love - such as giving and caring. As for commitment, I think it is a result, not a component of love. Two people will naturally want to stay together if they are in a loving relationship. Having been in such a relationship for the last forty years, I can say that a conscious commitment to stay together was never part of the picture for either of us. Rather, the desire to stay together was the outcome of loving each other. On the other hand, a person who baulks at committing themselves because they value freedom more than the relationship is not tasting the fruits of love, or so it seems to me.
The ego is a false sense of identity, a pretence we try hard to maintain. It is ego that stops us from admitting it when we are wrong. Thus we might prefer to lose a friend than an argument. A clear example of ego at work is when we try to save face. Ego is a false sense of pride that masks a deeper insecurity. Whenever we are defensive we are acting from the ego. For the ego is like an inflated balloon we constantly guard against being pricked. Ego is a fragile narcissism that costs us dearly. It can be summed up as being hooked on having things our way. If my ego is extremely inflated then I will see everyone and everything as existing only for my benefit.
The conflict between love and ego becomes clear when we review the seven components of love. Caring requires us to deflect concern from ourselves to another. Respect is only possible if we are not too caught up in ourselves. To know another we need to displace our interest from our own person. Giving goes counter to egotism. Receiving goes counter to pride. To accept another we need to tone down our ego-based judgements. The empathy needed for intimacy is only possible if we genuinely focus on another person, putting ourselves aside for the moment. Likewise, openness means pulling down our ego-defences. Trust and vulnerability are only possible if we are not afraid of being invaded or rejected by the other.
A good relationship should not be any real achievement. It is sufficient if I'm nice to you because you are nice to me. This is a simple win-win form of conditional love. Yet even this is difficult for human beings. One reason for this difficulty is the presence of two egos. Another problem is due to incompatible ideas about how each partner thinks the other should behave. Also, whereas we see and directly experience all that we do for the other person and are very aware of our own needs, we are far less aware of what they do for us and of their needs. We feel our own hurts directly and painfully; we have to imagine what the other person really feels. Many of us do not make an active effort in this regard.
1 Words of affirmation (Talking)
2 Quality time (Time)
3 Receiving gifts (Tokens)
4 Acts of service (Tasks)
5 Physical touch (Touching)
The idea is that each person has a primary mode for expressing and perceiving love (as well as secondary and tertiary ones) and that if we know our partner's preferred language then it is much easier to show our love to them in a way that touches them. This analysis is fine as far as it goes, but it looks mainly at the surface level. "Words of affirmation" is far too narrow a view of communication, as it sounds more like "paying compliments" than achieving a heart-to-heart connection. Conversations late at night can connect us at a deep level to another person. We bond when we reveal our own guilty secrets, weaknesses and shameful thoughts. Also, listening to the other person is just as important as talking, and worth a lot more than simple praise.
I believe that communication, knowledge, giving and conflict resolution are the key elements to fostering love. Communication includes making sure that the other person has taken in and understood what we have said. Also vice versa. Communication is not what we say but what the other person hears. The only way to ensure that there is a reasonable degree of similarity between what we intended to convey and what was received is by repeated checking. This is laborious and repetitive, but short of telepathy there is no other way. However, communication is not just words. Body language and touch are also important. Intimacy requires actions, such as doing nothing together, holding hands, caressing, scratching, massaging or stroking them, or just being physically close. Physical bonding greatly strengthens emotional connection. It hardly needs saying that engaging in loving sex is the most active expression of love.
Knowledge acts as a key. It is much easier to satisfy your partner if you are sensitive to their needs. It is important to actively find out what the other person likes and to please them accordingly, such as taking them to their favourite restaurant, playing their favourite music or dressing up for them. We can hit the G-spot, metaphorically speaking. Knowledge has an active dimension. We need to ask questions to find out what the other person thinks, and especially what they feel. Taking the trouble to ask, in a sincere way, also shows that we care.
Psychologist John Gottman said, "Sex, romance and passion are about taking in information and energy, as opposed to broadcasting them. So it is not about being sexy or being attractive, it is about being interested in your partner and being receptive and knowing them, and taking in something deep and fundamental about them. It is a moment-to-moment decision to be interested, to be complimentary." People good at relationships have this habit of looking for things to appreciate.
How to see our partner with the eyes of love? I don't mean being blind to their faults. Since they are human, just as we are, we cannot pretend they are angels. Yet sometimes it is hard to see them in a positive light, especially if they are being abusive, aggressive or simply difficult. However, there is a way. It is to see the other person's good and bad qualities as opposite ends of a stick. That the unpleasant quality that is giving us trouble is the other end of a positive attribute, one that we appreciate in different circumstances.
The human mind pays more attention to negatives and dangers than to positives. Studies show that a good, strong relationship needs at least a 5 to 1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. So as well as needing to focus on the plus side, it is equally important to downplay or gloss over the aspects we don't like, and especially not to harp on them.
Giving has many dimensions: doing things for the other person, giving gifts, giving our time, giving pleasure, and ultimately, giving ourselves.
Love is fragile and vulnerable, unlike anger or hate. Testing it can break it. We resent it if the other person presumes too much on our love. It is a vulgar analogy, but a loving relationship is somewhat like a bank account: if the other person makes too many withdrawals as against deposits then our love for them will suffer. It is important to note that because there are two people involved, the giver and the receiver will not place the same value on a generous act. If we give without regard for the personality of the receiver then the result may be counter-productive, eg we may injure their pride. On the other hand, knowledge acts as a lever, in that something that costs me little to do may be felt to be a big deposit by the other person.
Every relationship of any depth will encounter conflicts. There is an invaluable technique for resolving arguments and fostering communication. It is to say, "This is how I feel when you do..." This works for me. Why? Firstly, it cannot be used as an attack on the other person. Secondly, since it is your feeling it cannot be questioned. Thirdly, it gets to the emotional heart of the problem. Beware of using "feel" to mean "think", as in "I feel you are wrong".
Finally, I can create the feeling of love within myself by means of loving actions. I can do so by being considerate of and showing respect for the other person, by being actively interested in them, by giving to and helping them, by allowing them to give to me (eg asking for a favour), and by showing I accept them. Acting in a way that fosters intimacy is probably even more direct. To do this I can listen and show understanding for the other person's feelings, divulge what I feel deep inside, allow myself to show a weakness, and act in a way that shows my trust in them.
Unconditional love means loving the person irrespective of what they do, and even of how they treat us. It means loving the sinner, not the sin. The familiar example of unconditional love is mother's love. By contrast, father's love is conditional, requiring that the child live up to its parent's ideas. This means one is not loved for oneself but because one pleases. Note that 'mother's love' and 'father's love' are not to be taken literally, since they refer to archetypes. Thus an actual father might love in a predominantly motherly way, while his wife might love their child in a mainly fatherly mode.
Some people argue that only unconditional love is true love. Though I agree that unconditional love is a purer form of love, I think this is too harsh a view. Let the person who loves entirely unconditionally cast the first stone!
The problem is: what is love without motive. Can there be love without any incentive, without wanting something for oneself out of love? Can there be love in which there is no sense of being wounded when love is not returned? If I offer you my friendship and you turn away, am I not hurt? Is that feeling of being hurt the outcome of friendship, of generosity, of sympathy? Surely, as long as I feel hurt, as long as there is fear, as long as I help you hoping that you may help me... there is no love. If you understand this, the answer is there.Krishnamurti sums up his uncompromising attitude: "Where love is the self is not." I think it certain that the less ego a person has, the easier it is for them to love. Down syndrome people illustrate this poignantly.
In the novel, "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" by Milan Kundera, a woman tells her husband that she loves their dog more than she loves him, or rather, that she loves the dog in a "better way". I think she meant that it is easier to love a dog unconditionally, expecting nothing from it except that it be a dog.
The full text of sonnet 116 is here.
I disagree with Shakespeare's notion of love. He is saying that love is a fixed entity, one that does not undergo change. Furthermore, he makes love into an absolute, rendering it abstract and remote from human experience. I think that painting such an idealised notion of love does more harm than good, as it contributes to the "happily ever after" fantasy.
In my view, human love is unpredictable, changeable and indefinable. Moreover, love manifests along a spectrum. If one grows as a person then surely one's capacity to love would also grow. The love of our teenage years is not the same as what we experience in later life. By making love into an absolute entity, one that cannot be qualified, Shakespeare says that love is all-or-nothing. I submit that this is not what we experience in our actual lives. Moreover, it leads to destructive illusions, such as that the person who loves us will put up with us, no matter how badly we behave.
In my Spanish class we read and discussed another sonnet, by perhaps the greatest Spanish-language poet of the 20th century, Pablo Neruda, who is from Chile.
I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, or topaz,
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as one loves certain obscure things,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom but carries
the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself,
and thanks to your love the close aroma that arose
from the earth lives dimly in my body.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you directly without problems or pride:
I love you like this because I know no other way
except in this form in which I am not nor are you,
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,
so close that your eyes close with my dreams.
This translation is by Mark Eisner, from City Lights' The Essential Neruda. Although it is faithful to the Spanish original, I have made two minor modifications above.
Pablo Neruda's Sonnet XVII is a beautiful work of art, one in the tradition of Shakespeare. I recognise the poetical qualities of Neruda and Shakespeare, especially their masterly use of language and free imagination. However, both writers do a disservice to love because they portray it in an idealised way. They paint it how they think and feel that human love should be in an ideal world. Yet we do not live in an ideal world. We live in a world where real love arises between real people. By "real" I mean actually existing. Real love is not without problems, conflicts and incompatibilities. People are imperfect and they also love in an imperfect way. People change and so does their love. In some cases love continues, in others it dies. What interests me is not the ideal of love, but how love actually operates in the human context. How and why does it arise and continue? How and why does it die?
It seems to me that neither Neruda nor Shakespeare help us to answer these questions. Please don't mistake me. I am not cynical about love. I believe love is one of the two most important things in life, the other being health. I thought of writing a sonnet that speaks about love in a non-idealised way. It is not meant as a spoof. It's probably not a sonnet, perhaps not even a poem, but here goes:
How do I love you?
I love you through a series of accidents,
the accidents of your qualities matching my yearnings.
I love you through a chain of shared memories
and through the things we do together now,
through the paths of life we walk hand in hand.
I relate to you through a number of habits
not lofty ideals, but these small doings
are the common expressions of our love.
I love you not through words but through touch,
not through shared values but through affection,
not through common purpose
but through daily interaction.
Our love burns time
consuming it not like a flame
but slowing it down to a simmer.
We do nothing while together
yet that nothing means more
than getting things done.
Love is not a fixed thing
but a fluid process
that is renewed or diminished
in each minute.
The attitude of loving is the most positive and productive orientation to people and to life in general. As a side effect, it happens to ensure that you are lovable. Whereas being loved does not guarantee that you are lovable. People may love you for reasons that are unrelated to your worth as a person, such as wealth, beauty or family relationship.
Krishnamurti expresses this much better than I can:
You want to be loved because you do not love; but the moment you love, it is finished, you are no longer inquiring whether or not somebody loves you. As long as you demand to be loved, there is no love in you; and if you feel no love, you are ugly, brutish, so why should you be loved? Without love you are a dead thing; and when the dead thing asks for love, it is still dead. Whereas, if your heart is full of love, then you never ask to be loved, you never put out your begging bowl for someone to fill. It is only the empty who ask to be filled, and an empty heart can never be filled by running after gurus or seeking love in a hundred other ways.
Robin Norwood draws similar distinctions by contrasting eros with agape. Eros "refers to passionate love, while agape describes a stable and committed relationship free of passion, that exists between two individuals who care deeply for each other". Norwood points out that we are conditioned to accept the illusion that a passionate relationship (eros) will bring us contentment and fulfilment (agape). "The price we pay for passion is fear, and the very pain and fear that feed passionate love may destroy it. The price we pay for stable commitment is boredom, and the very safety and security that cement such a relationship can also make it rigid and lifeless." Her solution to this eternal dilemma is to develop true intimacy. This means an ever deeper exploration of "the joyful mysteries between a man and a woman".
Robin Norwood is famous for her book, "Women Who Love Too Much". I think the title is wrong: not that women love too much, but that some women love in the wrong way - a way that is dependent, one-sided, without knowledge or intimacy, without receiving and hence without caring for themselves.
Being in love, especially love at first sight, is a classic instance of projection. A man who falls in love in this way is not relating to the other person since he doesn't know her at all. Instead, he is responding to his inner image of the ideal woman (ie his anima). In fact, the less he knows the woman, the easier it is for him to project his inner ideal onto her. Setting up a woman on a pedestal is not raising her status in any real sense, but merely a way to avoid dealing with her as a person. One lady criticised what she saw as her own lack of love, saying, "If I loved him I wouldn't have seen his faults". Hence the saying, "Love is blind." More accurately, love without knowledge - which is projection - is blind.
Richard Roberts writes:
Naturally when one falls in love, some projection has occurred; otherwise the individual singled out as the source of our enchantment would not stand out from all the rest. When we see this happen to one of our friends we say, 'I wonder what he sees in her.' When it happens to us, we are quite sure the object of our love has special qualities others do not possess.Needless to say, no person can live up to the image of a god or goddess that their lover projects onto them. When the lover realises that the other person is imperfect, just as they are, disillusionment results and the period of "being in love" ends. With luck, the experience of being in love may transform into the experience of loving - which is to appreciate the other person for what they are, not for what we would like them to be. Alternatively, it may lead the disappointed projectionist to seek another person to fall in love with.
The great challenge of creating a lasting loving relationship is to make the transition from "being in love" to loving in the true sense.
The in love stage is a taste of paradise, but it doesn't last. The rest of the relationship cannot be lived on a constant 'high'. Naturally, we want to regain that wonderful feeling. But how? A possible answer is given below. Being in an on-going loving relationship has great rewards, but these are not as spectacular as those of the in love phase.
Arthur Aron has done a series of studies on the notion that if you do something with your partner that is novel and exciting, that it can re-ignite the heady excitement and love from the in-love stage. Aron, "When you fall in love with someone you are sharing ideas, talking all the time, you’re becoming part of each other at a very rapid rate, and it’s very exhilarating. But eventually you get to know each other and the excitement abates. You can rekindle the excitement by doing things that are novel, challenging, exciting, and self-expanding with your partner. In the early stages, the forming of the relationship itself did it. But if later you do something together out in the world, it is associated with your partner because you’re doing it with them."
Aron suggests making a list of all the things that you would both like to do that you haven’t done in a long time or you’ve never done before. Do one thing weekly.
Hollywood and romantic novels have fostered the false myth of 'true love' - that if the ideal partner is found then love will magically solve all relationship problems. This fallacy is kept alive by the normal process of relationship growth and disintegration (for those relationships that do not last). A person going through this process compares the last partner at their very worst with the new partner at their very best. It would be hard for them not to do this, since the memories of the first partner as sweetheart would be badly faded, often overlaid by years of bitterness and acrimony. In this way, people are in danger of repeating an ultimately negative experience, perhaps even with a partner very similar to the previous one. Asked if he would remarry, a divorced man answered, "Nah, I'll just find someone I hate and give them a house."
As Samuel Rogers put it, "It doesn't much signify whom one marries, for one is sure to find next morning that it was someone else." Psychologist John Gottman has studied long-term relationships for more than 30 years:
Interviewer: "Are the things that make us fall in love with someone good predictors of a successful long-term relationship?"
Gottman: "As far as I know they are not predictive of anything. Romantic love is a poor basis for marriage."
Erich Fromm delves more deeply:
Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person; it is an attitude, an orientation of character which determines the relatedness of a person to the world as a whole, not towards one 'object' of love. If a person loves only one other person and is indifferent to other human beings, this love is not love but a symbiotic attachment, or an enlarged egotism. Yet, most people believe that love is constituted by the object, not by the faculty. In fact, they even believe that it is a proof of the intensity of their love when they do not love anybody except the 'loved' person. Because one does not see that love is an activity, a power of the soul, one believes that all that is necessary to find is the right object - and that everything goes by itself afterward. This attitude can be compared with that of a man who wants to paint but who, instead of learning the art, claims that he has just to wait for the right object, and that he will paint beautifully when he finds it. If I truly love one person I love all persons, I love the world, I love life. If I can say to somebody else "I love you," I must be able to say, "I love in you everybody, I love through you the world, I love in you also myself."Being in love lacks some key components of loving. Firstly, acceptance - for we love the other because they appear to match our inner ideal, not for being who they are. Intimacy - since a relationship of deep trust has not yet been built up. Above all, knowledge - we simply do not yet know the other person. For that matter, respect is meaningless if we are respecting an idealisation, not the actual person. This gives us a clue why people are so bitter after the break-up of a love affair: they feel profoundly cheated. Cheated because the ideal person they saw in their partner turned out to be merely human.
Gloria Steinem observed, "Romance is a means to the end of self-completion, but love is an end in itself." This leads to the sharpest criterion for distinguishing 'loving' from 'being in love', penned by Margaret Anderson: "In real love you want the other person's good. In romantic love you want the other person."
This criterion can be applied to other kinds of love. Thus a mother who sees her child as a part of herself or even as a possession is not a loving mother. Fromm explains:
The mother must not only tolerate, she must wish and support the child's separation. It is only at this stage that motherly love becomes such a difficult task, that it requires unselfishness, the ability to give everything and to want nothing but the happiness of the loved one. The narcissistic, the domineering, the possessive woman can succeed in being a 'loving' mother as long as the child is small. Only the really loving woman, the woman who is happier in giving than in taking, who is firmly rooted in her own existence, can be a loving mother when the child is in the process of separation.In erotic love one needs to transition from the in love stage to loving maturely. Similarly, the parent needs to make the transition from one kind of loving to another - from loving the child because it is theirs to loving the developing adult for the unique person they are, not just as a son or daughter.
Working on a relationship necessitates withdrawing what we have projected onto the other person, so that we begin to see them as they are. The painful upsets in an intimate relationship serve to teach us what emotional stuff we are made of. Krishnamurti has captured this wonderfully:
Psychologist Charlotte Kasl compares the symptoms of falling in love to those of manic-depressive disorder, "mood swings... distortions of reality". It is hard not to label the state of being in love as addiction or obsession. It differs from these in that it is always curable, for example by marriage. It seems undeniable that the state of being in love is always temporary.
During the 'in love' stage we put no demands on the other person, allowing them to be autonomous. We accept and appreciate the differences between us. Afterwards, as we begin to merge our lives, we become demanding, wanting them to fit in with us. The very differences that attracted us become problematic under the stress of normal living. At this point, ego, the villain of the drama of relationship, enters.
What is the experience of 'falling in love'? Fromm describes it as "the explosive collapse of barriers between two strangers". Thus the ecstasy accompanying the experience results from a temporary pseudo-union. 'Pseudo' because it is the inter-locking of two projections, not the fusion of two people. By contrast, falling out of love is the process of the ego-boundaries snapping back: we realise that we and our beloved have different expectations, wishes, needs and timing. After sufficient contact with reality the projection has dissolved. At this point we have the opportunity to begin loving in a real sense.
Professor Mortley points out that the high divorce rate in Western society is less a symptom of widespread disillusionment than an expression of our tremendous idealism about love and marriage. Convinced that if they can just find the right person they really will live happily ever after, many people make two or three trips up the aisle.
Dr Candida Peterson suggests that contrary to the romantic belief that certain people are "meant for each other", the choice of partner may be one of the least important factors in deciding whether or not a relationship will endure.
Family therapist Hugh Crago analysed why people choose the partners that they do. On one level we unconsciously choose a person who has qualities we lack. This is what is meant by "opposites attract". At a deeper level we also seek someone who is the same: "Nearly all of us, with uncanny accuracy, seem to recognise and hitch ourselves up with a person who is our true equal."
At The School of Life they write that we fall in love with the person that we do, not by chance or due to unknown causes, but because of three factors. Here is the gist of what they write:
The most distinctive aspect of our instinct in love is its particularity. Why, then, do we fall in love with particular people, and not others? We can identify three components:
One of the most powerful forces within love is the instinct for Completion. We are, all of us, radically incomplete: we lack a range of qualities in our characters, psychological but also physical. We recognise this incompleteness and experience an attraction whenever we enter the orbit of someone who possesses a complementary quality. We seek – through love – to make good a defect and to complete ourselves.
The second instinct that drives us in love is the instinct for Endorsement. We have a lot of issues and feelings we are lonely with, misunderstood for and that most people don’t get or are uninterested in. We are powerfully attracted to people who seem to understand the lonely aspects of us. We love them for their ability to endorse fragile, isolated, offbeat traits. They ‘get’ us – in contrast to the legions of the insensitive who cannot. We don’t have to explain very much about ourselves. They just know. They read our souls – and so we don’t have to spell out their contents in the normal, arduous way. Our love is a dividend of gratitude for being magically understood.
Thirdly, the way we approach love as adults is highly shaped by how we experienced love as children. We will in adulthood be attracted to people who remind us – more or less unconsciously – of the people we loved as children. Some of the qualities we find most attractive in adults are those that were once manifest in our caregivers of childhood. The affection of our partners can end up tinged with a feeling of Familiarity. In their arms, in an emotional sense, we come home.
Familiarity can also work through the Recoil dynamic, formed by challenging past experiences with a parent. Instead of being drawn to an adult who reminds us of a parent, our instincts may turn emphatically in the opposite direction. Something in our younger experience was so difficult that any sign of similarity between a parent and a prospective partner becomes deeply off-putting. We are attracted instead to the opposite.
Love is inexhaustible: there is no reason why a woman can't love her husband and her child, or five children for that matter. What does get divided is love's expression, which requires time and active giving of oneself. I also think it is possible for a man to love two women, though this leads to problems.
There are numerous forms of pseudo-love: sexual infatuation; pride of possession; pride of creation - including of one's children; sympathy; fear of loneliness; egotism a deux (enlarging the egotistical unit to two people); the team concept of marriage; loving the other through identifying with them; adoration at a distance.
Dependency is another form that is often mistaken for love. Scott Peck points out that, "When you require another individual for your survival, you are a parasite on that individual." He defines dependency as the inability to feel whole and function adequately without the conviction that one is being taken care of by another. Loving another person in the way one loves a pet is another form of pseudo-love described by Peck. He cites numerous cases of US servicemen who married Asian war-brides. They had idyllic marriages until their wives learnt English, when the marriages began to fall apart: "The servicemen could then no longer project upon their wives their own thoughts, feelings, desires and goals and feel the same sense of closeness one feels with a pet." The same applies to mothers who only love their children while they are small.
Nor is blind devotion, as to a guru, master, political leader or dominating husband, a true form of love. It fails, at least in part, the criteria of knowledge, receiving and intimacy. Devotion is unequal, relying on the subjugation of the lover to the beloved. It is fundamentally one-sided, involving projection and worship thereof. We can also see that admiration has a distancing effect. Moreover, you can be devoted to something you don't even know. In fact, being based on projection, devotion relies on ignorance. Those who are totally devoted to a living person or religious figure actively resist finding out the truth about that person's failings. The furore about "The Last Temptation of Christ" illustrates this factor. In my view it is possible to be devoted to God, but not possible to love Him/Her, since God is the ultimate unknown. The Eastern discipline of bhakti yoga is correctly seen as the yoga of devotion, not as the yoga of love.
Peter Hoeg gives us a clue why passionate love can turn into hate, "Deep within every blind, absolute love grows the hatred towards the beloved, who now holds the only existing key to one's happiness."
I agree that romantic love is an addiction, ie a compulsive need that entails dependency. Why are addictions bad? I can think of four reasons:
1) The behaviour is inherently harmful, eg smoking
2) It has negative or destructive consequences, eg sex addiction
3) It makes your life narrow and causes you to miss out on more valuable things, eg TV addiction
4) You suffer greatly when deprived of its source.
In the case of romantic love, the first point does not apply. Romantic love can have undesirable consequences, especially if it gives rise to exaggerated jealousy, possessiveness or obsession. However, these are not typical. As for missing out on something better, what better is there? The real problem is loss - divorce or bereavement are a disaster.
I conclude that romantic love is one addiction that is worth having.
Sacrifice may be a measure of devotion, but not of mature love. Mature love takes into account and balances the needs of both parties. Though, of course, if we love someone we will express our caring by making sacrifices for them when this is needed. Otherwise we would not be truly giving. The old-fashioned criterion of sacrifice is based on placing other people ahead of oneself, on self-denial, ultimately on self-abnegation. Peck writes, "It is true that love involves a change in the self, but this is an extension of the self rather than a sacrifice of the self... it fills the self rather than depleting it." (Note that this directly contradicts Krishnamurti. The two men are exploring love at different levels.)
Making sacrifice into the highest good is tantamount to self-abasement. At best, the elevation of sacrifice as a value is a compensation for the natural selfishness we all seem to harbour. Yet the cure for selfishness is self-love, not self-denial.
It is absurd to say, "Love others, but do not love yourself." Why would you happen to be the only human being unworthy of your own love? Since all people are of equal value it is illogical to put another ahead of yourself.
Amanda Vallis wrote:
If we have contempt for attributes we see in ourselves then it follows we will have contempt for those same things in others, which keeps us from loving and accepting people as they are. If we look for, find and love the beautiful qualities we see in ourselves we are then able to do the same thing with other people.
The illusion, namely, that love means necessarily the absence of conflict. Just as it is customary for people to believe that pain and sadness should be avoided under all circumstances, they believe that love means the absence of any conflict. And they find good reasons for this idea in the fact that the struggles around them seem only to be destructive interchanges which bring no good to either one of those concerned. But the reason for this lies in the fact that the 'conflicts' of most people are actually attempts to avoid the real conflicts. They are disagreements on minor or superficial matters which by their very nature do not lend themselves to clarification or solution. Real conflicts between two people, those which do not serve to cover up or to project, but which are experienced on the deep level of inner reality to which they belong, are not destructive. They lead to clarification, they produce a catharsis from which both persons emerge with more knowledge and more strength.
Victor Frankl writes:
Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of their personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless they love them. Love enables them to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more they see that which is potential in the other, which is not yet actualised but yet ought to be actualised.The superficially untrue statement, "You are love," means that your most essential nature is the faculty or potential to love. This faculty is always there, regardless of whether it is exercised. Loving another person is the act of finding a focus for the faculty of love, of manifesting what is already within you. In the words of Vincent Van Gogh:
There is the same difference in a person before and after he is in love as there is in an unlighted lamp and one that is burning. The lamp was there and was a good lamp, but now it is shedding light too and that is its real function.By far the best treatment of the subject of love that I have seen is 'The Art of Loving' by Erich Fromm, from which I have quoted liberally. As my favourite teacher used to say to the class: "Read it before you die".
I'm impressed that Fromm's criterion is the sharpest characterisation of erotic love:
that I love from the essence of my being and experience the other person in the essence of their being.