Shortly after high school I created a 'Wall of Shame'. I took a picture of every person I dated and pinned them up on a wall in my bedroom at my parents house. Kind of like a bizarre mug shot line up where the common crime for all the perpetrators was dating me. Over the years most of the photos have since gone missing, but I have actively kept up a list of every guy I've ever dated. Even if it was just one awkward 'lets meet for coffee so it's not actually official' date I have them on 'the list' which is sitting comfortable at 30 members. Ironic given I'll be turning 30 this year.
I've come to realize something over the last few months thanks to some major soul searching and reading an incredible book. I don't think I've ever been truly loved.
I'm not saying that in a 'pity the token single girl' kind of way, because the epiphany was actually quite liberating. According to my definition of love, had someone actually felt true love for me they would still be here with me now. There is such a polluted version of love infecting my generation. In my Human Growth and Development class we talk about love and marriage for an entire chapter. Americans value ridiculously superficial traits like attractiveness and money. People throw away marriage vows at the first sign of turbulence and move on to new partners, always convinced that the next one is 'really' the one (this time.)
One of my favorite Psychologists Robert Sternberg came up with the triangular theory of love which labels what type of love you have based on which of the three basic criteria your relationship possesses. The three elements are:
- Intimacy: Do you feel like your partner is your best friend? Someone you can laugh and have fun with?
- Passion: The physical connection between two people
- Committment: The active decision to do stay together, no matter what.
Very rare is the couple who manages to obtain all three of those elements (consummate love.) I've had relationships in the past based on Infatuation, Romantic Love and Liking, but I've never had a relationship that included the Commitment element. While I have dated quite a few guys I've only had 3 serious relationships as an adult and in each one I was the last one standing. They decided to end things for various reasons and I fought to do whatever I thought I could to keep things going. That's just how I was raised. My parents have been together since they were 13 and 15. I grew up thinking that when you say you love someone - you love them. End of story.
My thoughts on love were reinforced when I read The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm. This manifesto on love, whose 121 pages I devoured in one day, is absolutely one of the most life-changing books I've read. I'm convinced any couple getting ready to be married should be required to read and discuss this book's theories together.
- People who expect to fall 'head over heals' crazy in love with someone and stay that way are likely going to be disappointed. Those hormones responsible for the butterflies in your stomach you get when you kiss them and think of them start to die down after about 2 years. According to Fromm people "take the intensity of the infatuation, this being 'crazy' about each other, for proof of their intensity of their love, while it may only prove the degree of their preceding loneliness."
- After complaining to a male friend once about how unfortunate I'd been with picking 'good' guys to date he gave me some amazing advice - don't listen to what they say, but pay attention to what they actually do. I kept falling for guys with big promises of things that never came. I love the metaphor Fromm uses, "If a woman told us that she loved flowers, and we saw that she forgot to water them, we would not believe in her 'love' for flowers. Love is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love."
- There are times that you will not be in love with the person you love. There is a difference in those two terms and I think it is when people 'fall out of love' that they often decide to end things. Without making that commitment to one another to stick it through the shit times your only getting 2/3rds of the awesome love triangle. "If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever, when my act does not involve judgement and decision?"
I love that Fromm emphasizes that there is a skill to loving someone that manifests itself as thoughtful deliberate actions to care for the persons emotional and spiritual growth. Where did this love go?
Does this sound like your definition of love?
What is the most thoughtful action someone has taken to show you how they feel?