Throughout time the idea of love has confounded psychologists, philosophers, romantics and skeptics. What is love? Is it, like Tina Turner claims, “a second hand emotion?” Is love, pure as Paul claims in Corinthians:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
We live in a society where the divorce rate is over 50%, where the idea of love is brandished around in greeting cards and songs, but little understood. I’m thinking about this after a three month process of breaking up with someone after 16 years, going through a divorce, moving to a much smaller apartment, and making decisions involving kids and the future.
Lest anyone feel sorry for me, the process was amicable, the right course of action, mutually agreed upon, and we remain friends. That adds poignancy to the question, however. At some point in our discussions we had to deal with the question that maybe being able to not hate the other person and just co-exist was as good as it gets. “There are lots of miserable people staying together,” one of us said. Perhaps the idea of love is deceptive.
We still decided to separate – the lack of a deep relationship had yielded stagnation and wasn’t good for the kids. We realized that mutual annoyances and distance/disagreements were casting a pall over the household that was bad for everyone. Yet once we did think we loved each other. Did we? Was it an illusion?
Romantic love is often separated from other forms of love. I have a love of life, a love of humanity, a deep love for my children. Parental love is unconditional, romantic love tends not to be. Love of others, life and humanity is almost always filled with conditions – I love my fellow human until the bastard cuts me off in traffic. We’ll profess love for others and the sanctity of life until there’s a war and then people even rejoice over dead civilians.
Romantic love is said to have stages. For about four months we enjoy the “halo effect,” a sense that the other is the best thing that ever came into our lives, not noticing the faults and channeling our desire for love and connection into a belief it’s there. What we don’t know about the other, we fill in with our imagination of what an ideal should be. And with each side trying to impress the other, both play the part of the other’s ideal, reinforcing the halo.
Then reality bites. People spend more time together, they let their true selves show. Soon disappointment sets in, resentment over differences, and walls are built. Love becomes conditional, the other needs to change how they behave, or if they don’t, their habits irritate. At that point love can go two directions. It can fade due to the building of walls and hidden resentments, or the couple can try make it work. The important question: how do you make it work? How do you know if love is fading due to choices made in the relationship, or some kind of deep incompatibility?
I think the answer is to let go of fear and embrace acceptance. That doesn’t mean it will work, but one will learn more quickly if there is real incompatibility and be able to avoid falling into a delusion.
Fear prevents us from showing our true selves to others. Early on, we’re afraid perhaps of losing the other. So we hide things, don’t admit true feelings, push aside annoyances, hide bad habits, and aren’t fully honest. We’re afraid the other will judge us for our past, and thus we might rationalize not opening up by saying the past doesn’t matter, rather than discussing ones’ full self and experiences. Fear causes us to create an image for our lover or mate, and not be true to ourselves.
The mirror image of fear is not accepting the other for who he or she is. That lack of acceptance, of course, creates incentive for the other to hide part of themselves. Love requires accepting the other person as they are. If love is there both people will change in some ways and in fact grow together over time. That can’t happen without acceptance. Without acceptance walls form and people will grow apart rather than together.
To be sure, this kind of ‘unconditional love’ isn’t possible for all couples. But if they are open, honest, and accepting, they can find out early that it just isn’t right for them to be together and they won’t fall into the trap of fooling themselves by thinking it’s good and then wondering what went wrong. They can recognize early the reality of their incompatibility and not let it destroy their ability to be just friends. And if they find out that they really do fit and “get” each other, they can build a path to a long term loving relationship.
Or that’s my theory. Obviously, I haven’t made it a reality. I’m trying to learn from my mistakes and not let go of the belief that true long term love is possible.
My blog posts may reflect more on my personal situation rather than politics in coming weeks because with all this going on politics has seemed rather boring. I’m really doing fine – it’s emotional at times, and I stopped blogging for awhile just to handle all the change. But life is about change, and our quality of life reflects how we respond to change.