What is “Love” Anyway?

Posted by Michael Dale Kimmel in lgbt 21 Aug 2016

2 cool women togetherI love working with couples: they come to me, wanting to improve their communications, work out problems between them and deepen their love. In couples’ therapy, one of the most helpful things I do is to help a couple examine their definition of love. Specifically, we look at the difference between “Falling in Love” and what I call “Standing in Love”.

Doesn’t everyone want to “Fall in love”? It comes from all those old movies we’ve seen, where everything just comes together and – no matter what hell the two people have been through – in the end everything just falls into place as the two lovebirds kiss and fall into each other’s arms.

Yeah, right. That’s just how it happens, isn’t it?

Illusions of how love works create a lot of suffering, whether we’re single or partnered. “Falling in love” implies that we’re passive and helpless. I don’t think this paradigm works well for anyone. Over time, if we stay in this passive place, we usually get resentful and frustrated. And we wonder why our “love” doesn’t feel good anymore. “What happened to our love”? I hear over-and-over again from unhappy couples.

I think we need a new way to conceptualize love. The idealized movie version of love isn’t realistic, and it gives us crazy expectations that no man or woman could ever meet. This old idea about love sets our relationships up to fail.

Let’s look at what I call “standing in love”.

It takes guts, strength and a lot of impulse control to “stand in love”.   This concept of love emphasizes that we need to be active in sustaining love. It just doesn’t “happen”; to make it work, we have to take a stand.

Ugh, I can hear you say. It sounds like a lot of work. Well, yeah, it does take work. But you don’t need to be a martyr about it. Most relationships, initially, go along quite nicely. But almost everyone reaches a point that I call “when the glitter wears off”.

This is the period when you begin to see your partner for who he or she really is. That façade of the first few months begins to wear away and you see this person as they really are: wonderful at times and pretty awful at other times. And, guess what? They begin to see you this way too.

Many people bail at this phase, and wonder why their relationships never last more than 2 or 3 months. They don’t have the willingness to hang in past the “glitter” stage; they want everything all smooth and easy. Who doesn’t? Unfortunately, this isn’t real life…no matter how wonderful your partner is.

Some of my single clients are confused about the difference between romance and love. They date a lot, meet some great people, but soon discover that they don’t really know what they want. They want romance but settle for sex and then they ask me, “why can’t I find true love?”

I encourage you to spend some time thinking about the role you would like sex to play in your dating life. Rather than fall into bed with someone by default, why not think it out ahead of time? If you want “love” or “romance”, it helps to get clear on what that means to you – and what role sex plays in the picture – before you go out and meet someone. A lot of hook-ups could have been more “romantic” and likely to lead to “love” if our libidos were not in total charge and our mind and heart were encouraged to participate more in the process of getting to know someone.

When you’re in a relationship, don’t give up and let your love collapse “when the glitter wears off”, e.g., you discover that he has bad breath in the morning or that she snores and you can’t sleep. This is when your “fall” into romance is over: you can “stand” in love and see your flaws, your lover’s flaws and work them through together…or you can bail. The next time you’re tempted to talk about “falling in love”, consider “standing in love” instead. Take a pro-active role in creating love in your life by getting clear on what you want from a partner and not settling for less. You have nothing to lose but your passivity.