We all know the feeling. When we least expect it, we fall in love. Our hearts pound and we only have eyes for that special someone. We’re ecstatic and alive in the presence of our loved one. When we’re apart we experience agonies of longing. We obsess about every detail of our time together and our nights are full of dreams of togetherness. This is love 1.0.
If we’re lucky, the one we fall in love with is “a keeper.” We hope it’s “love” we’re feeling and not “love addiction.” In my article “Is It Love or Love Addiction?” I offer twenty-one ways to distinguish the two. Love nourishes our lives, love addiction leaves us feeling depressed and can even cause our hearts to function improperly. If it’s love, not love addiction, we experience of comfort and joy of Love 2.0 as we build a life together.
But even the best relationships have trouble in Stage 3 when we go through disillusionments. We may wonder “Who is this person I’m with?” The things that used to be so endearing to us now feel like irritations that drive us up the wall. We wonder where our loving partner went and why they’ve turned into Mr. Hyde or the Wicked Witch of the West. Many people bail out of relationships during this stage, but it’s really love 3.0.
We want to believe that our love is real and everlasting when we fall in love in Stage 1 and we start a life together in Stage 2, but if we’re honest with ourselves we realize that we haven’t fallen in love with a real person, but with the hopes, desires, and illusions we project onto them. We aren’t seeing the whole person, but the ideal that captures all our dreams of that perfect mate that will love us like we’ve never been loved before and make up for the wounds we have experienced in our past love lives, going back to the family we grew up in. We’re, inevitably, disappointed and often feel betrayed.
If we’re smart, we hang in there, go deeper, and learn to love the real person we’re with and allow ourselves to be loved for the real person we are, with all our excesses and deficits, bumblings and stumblings, courage and cowardice. We learn to heal the wounds from the past and find joy in being with a partner we can grow to love more fully through the years. We are ready for Love 4.0. I call it Real, Lasting Love.
Most people don’t understand what real, lasting love is all about. I know I didn’t. I married young, right out of college, based on the chemistry I felt and knowing “she’s the one.” The marriage lasted ten years, but didn’t survive Stage 3. I remarried soon after to the hot number I met at Harbin Hot Springs, but that one didn’t last long. I finally decided there were things about love I didn’t know and I’d better learn. I did some serious therapy, read the best books I could find, and dealt with my traumatic childhood. I met my wife, Carlin, and we’ve been together now for 36 years. We’ve discovered some surprising things about love.
1) Real love begins in disillusionment and incompatibility.
Most of us remember the things we loved about our partner at the beginning. Carlin was the first woman who had ever gone after me. I had always been the pursuer, but she made it clear she was interested in me and I loved it. Later in our marriage she seemed preoccupied with other things and I felt she no longer cared. We began to drift apart. I became disillusioned and it seemed we had less and less in common. But instead of leaving, we went deeper. We went through the hurts and losses and realized that most of our unhappiness was coming from comparing our present lives to the ones we imagined in the first two stages of love. As we committed to our own healing and getting to know the real person we were living with, not the projected lover we had thought we were with, real love began to grow.
2) Falling in love is not a good reason to get married and falling out of love is not a good reason to get divorced.
If we’re over the age of 14, we know that falling in love is not a good reason to make a life-long commitment to a person. But many of us still long to go back to the falling in love stage. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard clients tell me, “I still love her/him, but I’m not in love anymore. I need to leave.” Variations on the same theme include, “The chemistry just isn’t there anymore” or “we’ve grown apart and we’ve lost that loving feeling.”
Marriage and family counselor, Diane Sollee, captures my experience with this witty quote:
“To get divorced because love has died, is like selling your car because it’s run out of gas.”
Too many couples split up when what they need to do is learn to refill the gas tank.
3. Love is not what you think.
I always thought love was a quality that lived inside a committed, healthy relationship. Once I found the right person and we became a couple, I thought love was a stable quality that was part of the very fabric of our lives. It might fade a bit through time, but it was, somehow, built in.
Another way I used to think about love was that it was a third entity that moved in with us when my wife and I declared our love for each other. I had a vague idea that there were things we needed to do to keep love alive, but it was more like “when love is in the house,” we’ll be fine. In this view, love is a magical and mysterious being that comes when she wants and leaves when she wants. If love leaves, the relationship either becomes “loveless” and the couple becomes “housemates” rather than lovers, or you accept that love is gone and you go looking for another lover who will join with us and we create a new threesome: You, me, and “Love.”
4. Love is the emotion of connection.
But the new science of love tells us that love is an emotion that is generated during certain kinds of interactions. As Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D, author of Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think Do, and Become, says, “Love is not a category of relationships. Nor is it something ‘out there’ that you can fall into, or—years later—out of…Although you may subscribe to a whole host of definitions of love, your body subscribes to just one. Love is that micro-moment of warmth and connection that you share with another living being.”
This means that love is an interaction, an exchange, that comes into being, then disappears again. It’s much more ephemeral that we once believed, but it is also much more nourishing.
5) Love is like food. You can’t go long without it and you need it at least three times a day.
I began to see that love comes from feeling seen, heard, cared about and supported. It can flourish when we feel safe, but it shrivels when we are afraid. It’s nice when we remember and celebrate the “big love” days—our wedding, anniversaries, birthdays, etc., but it requires continual nourishment. It’s not just telling our partner every day that “I love you,” but demonstrating over and over again, each and every day that there is an emotional connection, a bond of intimacy.
It is expressed in those everyday exchanges and can be as simple as, “Carlin, could you get me a glass of water when you’re up?” With the loving response, “Sure, I’ll be glad to.” And it can be lost in simple discounts, “Can you pick up a carton of milk when you’re out?” And a dropped the ball response, “Damn, I forgot,” when you get home.
I’ve learned to look for those opportunities for those micro moments of emotional connection at least three times a day. We’ll die just as surely when our hearts are not fed as when we are starving from lack of food. What are you doing to feed your relationship every day?
I look forward to your responses. Please share the day-to-day moments of love you’ve experienced.
Originally posted on Men Alive
Photo: Getty Images