What’s Love Got to do with it?

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.

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  1. #1 by Snoring Dog Studio on March 14, 2013 - 7:36 am

    This post was deeply moving for me in that I can relate so well to what you’ve described. I admire you both for taking the step towards change, even if that means apart. My marriage ended after 14 years. Ending it was the wisest thing I’d ever done. Getting into it was the least wise thing. I wonder, too: If people are so afraid of letting their true selves be expressed – and this happens more often than not – then aren’t a lot of marriages a game of false impressions? It’s a sobering thought.

    Be well. Take time to discover a new normal. I wish you and your family the best.

    • #2 by Scott Erb on March 14, 2013 - 7:09 pm

      Yes, I start to wonder. People were shocked when we told that we were divorcing, no one thought we weren’t the image we created. And a few people confided in me tough times they’d had or were having. Perhaps most of our problems in marriages and elsewhere comes from just that – too many of us are afraid to express our true selves, and when one does, too many of us judge rather than accept.

      • #3 by Snoring Dog Studio on March 15, 2013 - 6:56 am

        Yes, Scott. And too many of us are too afraid of knowing when to say “it’s over.” I know I was.

  2. #4 by Lee on March 14, 2013 - 8:03 am

    Wishing you well, Scott. I can tell that as always you are thinking things through so carefully.

  3. #5 by GiRRL_Earth on March 14, 2013 - 8:32 am

    Scott,

    What an amazing post — beautifully written. Man! I wish I could write like this. Wow!

    Full Disclosure: I have been divorced for exactly 1 year and 1 month and my Ex and I are closer than ever. We had a very amicable split — there was no drama, no knock down drag out, nada. Our attorney’s were impressed that we were able to split and not hate one another. Funny thing is, we still love each other, we just couldn’t live together. We both married late in life. I was 35. He was 37. We’re not really sure why we couldn’t reside under the same roof, but no matter — we more devoted now than we have ever been and he has been helping me remodel and old 1915 home I purchased, after our divorce. He’s a great guy and there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for him or him me. Of course this reads like we were very close when we split and that’s not necessarily true. We became closer after having spent time apart. We speak every day and we still hang out and go to the movies, grab a bite, whatever… My co-workers joke that we don’t act like a divorce couple and they are right, we don’t.

    I’m happy to read you and your ex have agreed to remain amicable — it is so much easier to like someone than to hate someone, wouldn’t you agree? I find hating to be very draining. Besides, both of you are setting a wonderful example for your kids.

    I look forward to future posts. You have been missed.

    Best,
    Susan

    • #6 by Scott Erb on March 14, 2013 - 7:05 pm

      Yes, amicable is better and some people are great friends but not able to be living together. Glad you and your ex were clear headed enough to end it without losing the friendship! We didn’t even have attorneys, we drew up the agreement ourselves. We won’t be as close as you two are — that’s indeed rare! (and commendable/impressive) — but we are still friends. And thanks for the compliment on my writing :-) I enjoy yours as well!

      • #7 by GiRRL_Earth on March 15, 2013 - 8:24 am

        Coming from you, that’s a huge compliment.

        My Ex and I were daunted by the process which is why we hired attorneys. Although we didn’t use attorneys on the day of our hearing, there really was no need.

        Divorce sux and it sux when things end. I took a vow never expecting to get divorced. I suppose most do. I mean, who walks down the isle believing they will be divorced in 5, 10, 15, 20 + years? No one, right? On the day of our weddings, we all believe we will be the one couple who can and will stand the test of time.

        I will say this, a couple of years ago I read a quote by Ellen Barkin (she was married to Gabriel Byrne). She said (and I’m paraphrasing), “A successful marriage doesn’t necessarily end with ’til death do us part’. I had a successful marriage with Gabriel.” I’ll never forget reading that and I have to agree. My ex and I had a successful marriage, it just didn’t last.
        :-)

      • #8 by Titfortat on March 16, 2013 - 11:06 am

        Monogamy is not natural to humans, though there are some who find it easier than others. I think the key to pairbonding is understanding that at the beginning and if you choose to go that route…………….communicate, communicate, communicate. :)

  4. #9 by titfortat on March 14, 2013 - 9:19 am

    Hope you continue to do well Scott. If youre ever up our way stop by our clinic and you can have a massage on the house. You may need one in the coming months. :)
    I read a great quote many years ago and I wish the idea was presented to me as a young man. I think it may have saved me many hard life lessons.

    “Love is what is left when after being in love has burned away.”

    • #10 by Scott Erb on March 14, 2013 - 7:06 pm

      I may take you up on that (though I do have my own massage therapist here and have one scheduled next week)! Thanks, and thanks for the quote!

  5. #11 by thalesomiletus on April 17, 2013 - 5:34 pm

    Sorry to hear, but, hey, that’s the progressive divorce culture for you…

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