Wednesday, February 3, 2016

What Love Is

"What the heart gives away is never gone. ... It is kept in the hearts of others." - Robin St. John

*note:  I’ve been very excited for this month, because one of my favorite holidays is Valentine’s Day. I’ve been reading these three books about love since last summer, and I’ll be sharing their insights for four weeks. In a brief overview, The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, a marriage counselor for over 40 years, is about the different ways we receive and show our love. Why We Love? by prominent anthropologist Helen Fisher, Ph.D examines love from a biological and chemical level, and focuses a lot on what’s happening in our brain. Lastly, The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm, renowned psychoanalyst and social philosopher, is a classic that explores the deep complexities of love. The topics for the month will be broken into: What Love Is; When Love Begins; What Love Does; When Love Ends.

            I take love very seriously. You know how there are those people who say they are in love with every person they date? Well, I’m not one of them. In fact, every guy who has ever told me he loves me, I’ve tried at first convincing him that he doesn’t. If not immediately, then some point shortly after. I believe that I’m lovable, but I just think that people use that word very loosely, so I have a lot of trouble believing anyone who says it to me. At least at first. For me, love has to be proven and shown, not just said.

            I know everyone defines love differently. One of my closest friends and I have had an ongoing conversation for months about whether she is in love with her boyfriend. He said it to her a few months ago, and like me, it’s a word she takes very seriously. Once said, you can’t take it back. During the course of our conversations, we both kind of figured out that there are many ways to love someone, and even different levels for that love, which is one of the things I’ll be focusing on for this post.

            Why is love so important to the human existence? Why has there been songs and novels written, battles and wars fought, and art created all for the sake of love? To start with, Chapman points out that “the need to feel love is a primary emotional need” that is seen in all ages. Among childhood needs, “none is more basic than the need for love and affection, the need to sense that he or she belongs and is wanted” (pg. 20). But why is this need so vital to our lives from birth until death?

            To answer that question, Fromm examines our deepest anxiety, which is separateness, or the fear of being alone. This isn’t the kind of alone, where you get lonely once in a while. This is the deep-seated fear of complete isolation from anyone who could ever care about or love you. This anxiety spurs on a lot of our bad choices, like staying in unhealthy relationships, or even seeking out ones that are bad for you. It’s not that we can’t be alone; it’s that we crave unity and intimacy with other people at all costs.

            Fromm goes on to conclude that, “The deepest need of man, then, is the need to overcome his separateness, to leave the prison of his aloneness” (pg. 9). We seek this out in three different ways. The first is the search for what Fromm calls “orgiastic union,” which is simply sexual intimacy. He says that when we only search for sex, the relief of loneliness will be temporary. If we continually search for only sex, it could become like an addiction, living from one high to another. Conformity in any social or cultural aspect is another way to try to overcome separateness. We start to crave to be just like everyone else, so we won’t feel so far apart from them. Lastly, creative activity, which is a union between artist and object can also fill the void, but not completely.

            “Fusion with another person,” which is love, is the only way Fromm says we can overcome being alone. Love brings people together in a way nothing else can, whether it’s between mother and daughter, husband and wife, or friends. It is the only lasting thing that can truly rid us feeling alone, which is probably why psychologists believe it is one of our deepest needs.

            In order to explain what love is, I first have to explain what love is not. Above all, love is not selfish. This claim makes me think of a friend who for a year told me he loved me, but he was very selfish, and I couldn’t believe it was really love. When he finally stopped caring about me, and decided to live his own lifestyle without me, I knew it wasn’t love. Yet, months later, he contacted me again to tell me that it was love, and implied that he possibly still does love me. I’ve learned that I really don’t have the right to tell someone else how they feel. So, maybe it could have been love, but it wasn’t mature or healthy.

            Fromm describes this experience very well in his explanation of symbiotic union. Symbiotic union is what we would normally call unhealthy or immature love, but he claims it’s not love at all. It’s a dependency. He compares it to a fetus and mother. The fetus is a part of the mother and needs her to survive. Her life is enhanced by the fetus. Likewise, symbiotic union is described, “They are two, and yet one. They live "together" (sym-biosis), they need each other... In the psychic symbiotic union, the two bodies are independent, but the same kind of attachment exists psychologically” (pg. 18).

            In these kinds of relationships, there is one who is being worshipped, and one who is doing the worshipping. It’s about one person using another for his/her own needs. They are both dependent on each other in a need-based way. The reason I think of my friend who told me he loved me, is because though he didn’t worship me, he thought very highly of me, and he fulfilled my emotional need to not feel lonely. He would take me out, we would spend a lot of time together, and he was basically a fill-in boyfriend, except that I didn’t like him in that way. We both used each other to fill our own needs, and for a time we both acknowledged it, but that isn’t love. It’s, as Fromm put it, “fusion without integrity,” or as I see it, two people who need and are dependent on each other.

            Similar to symbiotic union is idolatrous love, which happens when one person idolizes the other. The other factor in this kind of irrational love is that the person doing the idolizing doesn’t have a sense of identity. This happens when you lose yourself in the loved one instead of finding yourself. The problem with idolizing another is that they will eventually not live up to your expectations. In contrast to this is projective mechanisms, when you use your loved one to avoid your own problems. The person you love becomes a project for you to fix.

            Fromm explains another form of neurotic love happens when "one or both of the ‘lovers’ have remained attached to the figure of a parent, and transfer the feelings, expectations and fears one once had toward father or mother to the loved person in adult life” (pg. 88). When this happens, “their aim is to be loved, not to love.” This can be evidenced in the classic “daddy or mommy issues.” Lots of unhealthy relationships are caused when one person brings the neglect of a parent into the relationship. It can still be love, but it is an unhealthy love.

            All of these examples are forms of love, but the neurotic, irrational, and unhealthy kind. These are not the right ways to love someone. There is mature love, and there is immature love. Immature love is equivalent to the way a baby loves his parents, “I love because I am loved,” and “I love you because I need you.” Mature love says, “I am loved because I love,” and “I need you because I love you” (pg. 38). Fromm says mature love is a “union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality” (pg. 19).

            Basically, mature love is not when two people need each other, it’s when two people choose to commit to each other. In my life, I’ve often hated the feeling of being needed. Not in the sense that someone needs me for something once in a while, but in the sense that I am only in that person’s life because he or she needs me to fulfill something. I prefer when someone wants me in their life, because then it is a choice. No one is keeping me around because they are dependent on me, but because they choose to have me in their life.

            Aside from the difference between mature and immature love, there is also an array of variances between the way we love different people. Fromm says, “If I truly love one person I love all persons, I love the world, I love life,” because love produces more love. He adds, “If a person loves only one other person and is indifferent to the rest of his fellow men, his love is not love but a symbiotic attachment, or an enlarged egotism” (pg. 43). So, to love one person is to love everyone. I experienced this with my first love. Loving him opened up my heart to loving people in general.

            Fisher explains that the ancient Greeks had over ten words to distinguish the different types of love, but psychologist John Alan Lee reduces them to six because of overlapping ideas.
  • Eros: “passionate, sexual, erotic, joyful, high-energy love for a very special partner”
  • Mania: “obsessive, jealous, irrational, possessive, dependent love”
  • Ludus: (Latin for game or play) “playful, unserious, uncommitted, detached love”
  • Storge: “affectionate companionate, brotherly, sisterly, friendly kind of love, a deep and special friendship”
  • Agape: “gentle, unselfish, dutiful, all-giving, altruistic, often spiritual love”
  • Pragma: “love based on compatibility and common sense”

            Today, many of us might not consider some of these as forms of love. For example, in ludus, the lovers can love multiple people at once, because of how uncommitted and unattached they are. That doesn’t seem like love to me. Mania doesn’t seem like a healthy love, and pragma also doesn’t seem like real love, because “pragmatic lovers keep score; they look for the perks of the relationship as well as its flaws.” True love doesn’t keep score.

            Fisher includes Psychologist Robert Sternberg's insights, who has his own break down of love that may be more applicable to us. He says love has three basic ingredients: “passion – including romance, physical attraction, and sexual craving; intimacy – all of those feelings of warmth, closeness, connectedness, and bondedness; and decision/commitment – the decision to love someone and the commitment to sustain that love” (pg. 96).
  • Infatuation: “passion only”
  • Romantic love: “passion plus intimacy”
  • Consummate love: “passion, intimacy, and commitment”
  • Companionate love: “has intimacy and commitment but is devoid of passion”
  • Empty love: “only feelings of commitment hold the relationship together”
  • Liking: “based on intimacy; one feels no passion and no commitment”
  • Fatuous love: “often full of passion and commitment, but lacks intimacy”

            Most of us seek consummate love and won’t be satisfied with anything less. My best friend and I were talking about these different kinds of love the other day. We were discussing why we chose the relationships we did and why we rejected perfectly nice guys sometimes. For the past year and a half, she’s kept a horrible jerk in her life, because at least there’s passion between them. It’s never boring. She also feels a sense of intimacy, but there is no commitment from him. For me, I realized that I’ve met three guys who fit into my ideal, and I have liked all of them at one time, and all have liked me at a time (not always at the same time). So, why hadn’t I been with any of them? It was a lack of passion from two of them, and a lack of commitment from the third. I think we all desire to be with our best friend, while still experiencing the euphoria and excitement of passion.

            There are so many ways to distinguish the way we love, and Fromm has own ideas. He thinks the basic components to any kind of love are care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge.
  • Brotherly love: “The most fundamental kind of love, which underlies all types of love… the sense of responsibility, care, respect, knowledge of any other human being, the wish to further his life.” Also, love between equals.
  • Motherly love: “unconditional affirmation of the child’s life and his needs… requires unselfishness, the ability to give everything and to want nothing but the happiness of the loved one”
  • Fatherly love: “conditional love;” You can work for this kind of love and do something to acquire it.
  • Erotic love: “it is the craving for complete fusion, for union with one other person”
  • Self-love: “The affirmation of one's own life, happiness, growth, freedom is rooted in one's capacity to love”
  • Love of God: “to long for the attainment of the full capacity to love… the act of experiencing the oneness with God”

            Just to clarify, Fromm’s terms shouldn’t be taken to mean that all mothers and fathers love in that way. He’s just giving a name to the different ways we love each other. For example, motherly love can be applied to anyone who shows love to a more helpless person. Fatherly love can also be deemed as tough love.

            People across time and within different fields have tried to explain what love is and each has had their own opinion. There are clearly many different types of love, and many different ways to love someone. That’s probably why it is said that no two loves are the same. It’s why, if you’ve been in love more than once, you’ve loved each person differently. It’s why parents can’t say they love one child more than the other, they just love them differently.

            I have a friend who firmly argues that love is a choice, and I have firmly argued back that you can’t choose who you love. After reading everything I did, I’ve altered this view. I still strongly believe that you can’t choose who you fall in love with, and you can’t choose to stop loving someone, but you can choose how you love. Fromm says, “love is an act of will, but cannot happen with just anyone, except in brotherly love” (pg. 53). I’ll discuss this idea of choice and love more in my next few posts.

            I think what love, in any form, really comes down to is selflessness. Fromm says, “Love should essentially be an act of will, of decision to commit my life completely to that of one other person” (pg. 52). Love is also a commitment and a promise, “To love somebody is not just a strong feeling - it is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise” (pg. 52).

The 5 Love Languages the secret to love that lasts by Gary Chapman
Why We Love? by Helen Fisher
The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm 

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