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Sunday, July 3, 2022

An analytical approach to love

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I used to believe that if I loved someone enough, pure enough, and strong enough, that it would heal everything broken.

I remember a friend of mine in high school looking up the word love in the dictionary one day. Her boyfriend had told her that he loved her and she wasn’t sure if she should return it. What does it mean? Exactly what am I committing to here? I remember thinking that was a weird way of doing things. I mean, if you’re in love, you should know, right? My assumption was that love is easy, and to say that it should be too; but to her, love was sacred and terrifying ground. So what are the criteria for being in love? And what does it mean when we are? Is romantic love something that I can seek, agree and declare? Is a feeling? A commitment? What exactly does it mean to say “I love you”?

I think the complexity of “being in love” is that it is a shared emotion, with different experiences and expectations, like pain. There are five stages of grief that we all know and accept as true. However, while the stages may be common, the way we experience them is very different. When my mother died, my sister and I grieved very differently. I became busy and distracted. I was thoughtful and sad. She was fine because we understood that we were different people. We did not expect to have the same experience. I think it was one of my other brothers who told me: “we all lost a different mother”, and that brought me peace and freedom in the expression of my pain because I was mourning something different from the others. I think love is the same. Supposedly there are 5 stages of love too: infatuation, commitment, disappointment, real love, and conquering the world with a renewed and unwavering commitment. These stages, like the stages of grief, can provide a road map of sorts, but they do little to help us through the frustration, pain, and confusion that come with shared emotions.

Depending on the person, where they are in life, their beliefs about love and relationship, how important sex is, their inner need for connection (the list could go on and on), their approach to love will vary. Some will take a very cerebral approach, aligning their qualities with their partner’s qualities, making predictions based on what they perceive to be important matches. Others are very chemical in their approach. Love is a reflection of how you feel about your partner: it’s about what needs are met, what emotion is there. The expression and experience of feeling can be tremendously different from person to person. Whatever the approach or experience, at some point, the two of you decide to tie your feelings together with a commitment. This is where things get complicated.

If someone walked up to me on the street and handed me a chocolate bar, I’d get excited. I could just enjoy it, without hesitation or guilt (well, maybe…) because it was a gift. But if I have to go to a vending machine and make a series of choices regarding candy, witness others who may judge me, choose one, when I really want three, and then enjoy it; well, that’s a little more difficult. The desire for sweets is happily followed by the decision to get some, but choosing can ruin everything. Maybe it’s a silly analogy, but I think the same can be true with love. The anticipation of love is wonderful. The idea of ​​it, the decision to do it, are full of euphoria. But the election, well, that’s a different matter. Suddenly you’re standing there giggling, but maybe you still have a craving for peanut butter. So I wonder if the commitment to one’s choice has to diminish one’s enjoyment of it.

If I fall in love with a feeling that falters, must I allow commitment to keep me bound? When is it okay for love to be a choice? To what extent do I let that choice drive my actions? And finally, can love be authentic if it is acted out of commitment and not out of feeling?

  1. I think it’s important to understand that a relationship is not easy. The fact that both people are “in love” does not mean that their expression or experience is the same. For me, it has come to this. If I like who I am in this relationship and continue to respect my partner, I will allow my commitment to override the temporary loss of feelings. The engagement does not violate my sense of identity in any way; it is simply an acknowledgment that feelings are not sustainable all the time. Sometimes I am tired. Or sick. Or overwhelmed. Sometimes my partner is stressed, or insecure, or needs some space. This is where I understand that love, although shared, is not egalitarian, and sometimes it’s important to let commitment fill that void.
  2. I let the commitment direct my actions as long as it is not violating my self-esteem. In my early thirties, I dated an alcoholic. She was madly in love with him. It was one of those relationships where I felt like everything could be perfect if it wasn’t for this “one thing.” He was an exquisite type of torture. I was teaching high school at the time, and I remember having the epiphany that I would hate for my students to see me with him one weekend. He would be drunk. And hateful. I remember thinking that none of them would want that for me. And I realized that I was committed to a love that violated my sense of who I wanted to be. I knew then that the days of my relationship were numbered. I didn’t like myself anymore.
  3. Finally, can love be authentic if it is about a commitment rather than a feeling? This is a tough question. Maybe it depends on the duration. I saw a movie about Stephen Hawking where his wife talked about how it had become an obligation, just a choice she made every day. She showed her love for him through an engagement that eventually made no sense. I believe that many marriages remain intact due to commitment rather than genuine affection. I do not believe in that. However, I think there has to be a mutual understanding that there will be times when love is not the main emotion in a relationship. At that point, it is important to evaluate. People get sidetracked. Have you strayed so far that there is no point in staying together? Have you become part of a routine that brings no joy to anyone in the couple? You can love someone by acting out of commitment instead of feeling for a long time. It is an authentic and real form of love for another person, but does it reflect self-love? If it isn’t, and if it doesn’t seem to be particularly appreciated or needed by a partner, it may no longer be beneficial. Perhaps not for either party. And maybe that’s the most important point.

A high school teacher once asked my class to describe how they knew they were in love. A girl said that you knew you loved someone if you missed them. My teacher, who had been married for quite some time, had a hard time not laughing. I’m sure in the diary she fantasized about staying alone at her house to lounge around in her pajamas, binge-watching television. I remember thinking about what I had been taught about love: she is patient. Guy. Don’t envy. He doesn’t brag. I remember thinking that was what I wanted. But everyone knows that patience is not based on feeling, but on the choice to ignore the desire for a greater purpose. So in that sense, love is rooted in values ​​that transcend sentiment. It is true that it is complicated. Love must be genuinely felt. It must not violate one’s sense of self-respect. And you absolutely must give way to compromise when that is what is required. The bottom line is this: love is not meant to be simple. It is something conscious, living, breathing and making decisions all the time. Commitment doesn’t screw it up, it’s simply an acknowledgment that shared feelings are not equal and must be tied together by something more substantial than emotion. Perhaps most importantly, balancing emotion and commitment in a relationship should not be done outside the framework of self-respect.

I was raised to believe that selflessness was the purest form of love. He believed that if he loved someone long enough, pure enough, and strong enough, it would heal everything that was broken. After two abusive marriages, I am here to tell you that this is not the case. Love is not a magic wand and selflessness is not the measure of your worth. Wherever you are on the path of your relationship, my hope is that you can take a critical look at love, your expectations, your commitment, and your joy. And that you will value everything.

Previously published on Medium.com

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