What is Love?

What is it about the L word? And the closely related phrase “I love you” — which can be anywhere from the sweetest words ever heard to the absolute kiss of death, if unrequited. People either long to hear it, long to say it or long to feel it. Others will do whatever it takes to avoid it…the feeling or the word. Some are hopeless romantics expecting love around every corner, and others are pained cynics who don’t even believe in love.

Finding love in the second half of life can be tricky. Dating is a vulnerable activity. Falling in love, even more so. Especially when you aren’t sure what love is anymore. No one wants to seem needy or desperate, but we all want that sense of belonging. And for those who have been married before and entertain the idea of doing it again, there is that great quote from Oscar Wilde ever hovering: “Second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.”

You might recall in the very first episode of the iconic series Sex and the City, Mr. Big posits that Carrie’s never been in love before. (For all you knowledgeable SATC fans out there, you can see in her face at that moment all that will ultimately transpire between them.) Completely befuddled, she asks him if he’s ever been in love and he famously replies, “Absofuckinlutely.” Ah, to be so sure.

In Helen Fisher’s must -read book, “Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love,” she writes about the many different kinds of love. She reports that popular among contemporary social scientists is the theory of psychologist Robert Sternberg. He divides love into 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. Sternberg states:

  • Infatuation is composed of passion only.
  • Romantic love is passion plus intimacy.
  • Consummate love is passion, intimacy, and commitment.
  • Companionate love has intimacy and commitment but is devoid of passion.
  • Empty love has only commitment; one goes through the gestures of loving but only feelings of commitment hold the relationship together.
  • Liking is based on intimacy; one feels no passion and no commitment.
  • Fatuous love is often full of passion and commitment, but lacks intimacy.

I believe it’s responsible living and loving to know what kind of love you want and what kind of love you feel. And then the tough part…tell the truth about it and accept that it changes over time. Knowing that the “hot for each other” stage only lasts about 12-18 months, per Fisher, perhaps one considers saying “I might” instead of “I do” in the near term.

Being the hopeful romantic that I am, I turn to the Sufi mystic and poet Rumi who beautifully says, “Love is a river. Drink from it.”

Bottoms up.

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