(This was originally posted by me on Blogger on 3/15/14)
This morning on the way work I found myself growing more and more annoyed at the love songs on the radio. This is not unusual. It is not that I don't like love, or don't believe in love or don't appreciate romance. I do. Very much. I am in love and I often bewail the fact that time and work and various commitments leave me so little time to wallow in it. But our popular culture does love a disservice by presenting it as just a feeling. We can't blame the young folks because this has been going on for centuries.
Love is not all flowers and feelings and pining and wanting and needing. Some of that is chemical addiction, which is not love. Love is work. It is work between two people. Recently I read an article about unwed mothers- having been one, it is a subject that interests me. The researcher had interviewed several unwed fathers and asked them why they didn't stay with the mothers of their children and these fathers said things like "She wasn't the ONE". These guys were looking for some pie in the sky, lightening bolt "love" to commit to. And a baby just wasn't enough of a lightening bolt to make it worth their while. The reporter gave the impression she though these little deadbeats were sweet little romantics waiting for the "right" girl to settle down with. But you can't cling to a lightening bolt. Never once was the fact that this ridiculous notion of "love" that our popular culture has instilled in our children (to their great disservice) bears little resemblance to the love that a couple must cultivate in order to make a marriage last.
Not long ago, someone asked for a spell to help her fall in love with the father of her child on the Witchipedia's ask a witch page. She received a few responses, some of them attacking her for not being her own person, for not being true and honest with herself. I thought this was totally out of order and misguided and completely under the influence of the pop culture definition of love. I think this person was being honest with herself and very practical. Assuming the guy in question is a decent guy; willing to work to take care of his family, cooperative and not abusive, then she could do worse than cast a spell on herself to help her love the man who fathered her child. I speak from experience when I say that sharing a child with someone you don't love is a pain in the ass while sharing a child with someone you do is a great joy.
But now that I've tossed out this pointless rant, how about a point? If love isn't this lightening strike feeling you get when you see "The One", what is it?
Love is the work people do together for the benefit of the relationship.
It is not the feeling. That is a chemical reaction designed by nature to encourage you to have sex and make babies (I realize that there are many folks who feel this reaction for the same gender and aren't going to make babies with them. I don't think the hormones know that.) When you have moderately good sex with the person who sparked your lightening bolt, or even just pleasurable making out, your body releases more hormones that make you want to be around the person more and have more sex with them. These chemicals produce similar reactions to addictive drugs. So in essence, at this point you are addicted to the person.
These feelings are not love. They are sexual arousal (lust if you like) and addiction.
Love comes after. In many cultures, and for much of our own cultural history, we didn't get to pick or in some cases even meet our life partner before the commitment was made. First we worked at getting along, then came love, and lust and etc. If we were lucky. If we knew what we were doing. If our mothers educated us properly.
Love takes work. Even when two people in lust and addiction get married, they WILL fall out of lust and addiction and back in and back out again until death or divorce. Which happens first depends on how hard BOTH parties are willing to work at the relationship. How much love they put into it.
But the good news is, if you like the lust and addiction feelings, love leads to more of them. The more work you do for the benefit of the relationship with your partner, the more positive memories you accumulate. The more positive memories you accumulate, the more positive associations you have with the sensory input you receive when your partner is around. That is, the more positive feelings you get when you smell them, see them, hear their voice. The more positive feelings you have toward that person, the more physically attractive that person becomes. The more physically attractive the person is the more likely you are to feel lustful in their presence, the more you feel lustful, the more sex you will have, the more sex, the more of those awesome addictive feel-good hormones, & etc.
The truth is, you can love anyone if you set your mind to it, assuming they are willing to put in the same commitment. I know that's not romantic or exciting, but there it is.
Once upon a time when I was 19, I confessed my undying love to a boy of 18. And said something very wise that I thought was the stupidest thing I ever heard. He said, "I know that you think you love me, but you don't. Because love takes two and I don't love you. It's impossible." (Followed by various apologies.) I didn't understand what he meant then, but I do now. And now I wonder how he knew that already. It was evident he lusted and liked having me around, but he wasn't ready or willing to do the work it took to make a relationship with me work. At least he was honest.
When someone says to you "You aren't the ONE" that is what he or she is saying. "You are too much work, and it's not the sort of work I am into." Or perhaps they are saying "I was really hoping to find someone who would do all the work for me." (And yes, these relationships can work if that's what you're into.)
Now there is all kinds of love. There is love between best friends, and love between family members, especially between parents and children. All of these require work. Work of different types, but work just the same. It is interesting to note that holding and nursing an infant releases the exact same addictive feel good hormones as having awesome sex does. It is easy to want to be near your baby and hold her and nurse him and play with her. It is not easy to want to be near a 13 year old girl who thinks you're stupid and ruining her life. That takes work. Love is the work.
I love my husband. It is hard work. I am a bitch. I think he does more work than me. I love the sound of his voice, and I love his face and his belly (if only my belly were so flat and sexy). But there have been times when I just wasn't into him and had some struggle to get back to where we need to be. And I suspect he's been there too, though he'd never say it. Because love isn't about what you feel right this moment. It's about the entire relationship from beginning to end and we promised it would end when our lives did. Hopefully at the same moment.
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Comments, questions, criticism?