For the last few months, I’ve been contemplating the idea of love in relation to psychology and anthropology, and how it applies to relationships. I guess I’m looking to understand what went wrong, and what to watch out for next time (if I bother with having a next time). It’s not something I obsess about, but I have stumbled upon a number of good blog posts that have all really left me thinking and formulating my concepts of what love is and how it works in marriage and relationships. An interesting thing is that I wasn’t doing specific searches for any of these posts which have impacted me, but rather they just happened to catch my eye somehow and drew me in. The other interesting thing (to me, at the place I am in right now) is that they were all written by men. That at least gives me a little hope. I would encourage my readers to read the full, original posts as they are spectacular in and of their own right, and then poke around the authors’ sites for lots more good stuff.
So, I’m beginning with my ending, the ending of my own marriage, and trying to understand what went wrong. Dr. Patrick F. Clarkin, Ph.D, a biological anthropologist and associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, keeps an intriguing blog on biological anthropology (very interesting to me, I’ve thought about nixing biology for anthropology if I were to return to grad school), war and health, and growth and development, and made a whole series on the evolution of human mating behavior a few years ago before I entered the blogging world. Before that turns you off, he explores it in a non-attached, scientific manner, un-opinionated (mostly), and well referenced. The part 5 of the series was what really stuck with me: Pair-Bonding and Human Love. I feel that it has info on love that every world citizen should know: the difference between romantic love and comfort love, the signs of each, and how long to expect them to last. I think that, with a little understanding of these two stages of attraction and love, a lot of hurt and drama could be avoided, and maybe many much wiser decisions could be made.
Let’s begin with Dr. Clarkin’s definition of the two:
“Jankowiak and Paladino (2008: 2,18) distinguish between romantic love (also called passionate love, infatuation, or limerence) and comfort love (also known as companionship or attachment). Comfort love is not necessarily void of passion, but revolves more around long-term attachment, friendship, and deeply interwoven lives. By contrast, romantic love is much more intense, experienced earlier in a relationship, and involves the idealization of another person.”
Though his post focuses mostly on romantic love and the series as a whole doesn’t focus much on comfort love, I’ve given it some thought myself. I personally am a lover of comfort love, and though the high of romantic love is nice, I like the tranquility of the intimate relationship, working life out together as team, and the regular-ness of long-term relationships. I recall that after my first long-term boyfriend and I broke up, I though that I could just jump back into another comfort-love relationship, and it was definitely an adjustment returning to the romantic love stage, which is what is expected in a new romance.
In Spanish, I would define myself as “super-fiel,” which is a better term than what I can come up with in English, which would be somewhere around “ultra faithful” or something. For me it means that when I’m committed, I’m committed. For me, there’s very little gray area there and I am in either all or nothing. Once in the relationship, I don’t waver and have a hard time understanding those that do. That’s not to say that when I’m in a committed relationship that I don’t ever look at other men or never think about them, I can and do – it’s natural – but having an affair is just not on my radar and anything that remotely feels like it could end up as a temptation I steer far away from fast. Maybe my “super-fidelity” is why I like the comfort love spot, I am happy just being in my spot, the dating scene is an up and down ride, and trying to hide the lies of an affair – forget it – not my thing.
My (ex)husband and I had a very intense romantic love stage though, some of the traits of which Dr. Clarkin lists as this (the numbering is my own):
“1 – Obsessive, ‘intrusive thinking.’ 2 – Thinking that the other person is unique. 3 – Prioritizing emotional ‘union’ over sexual desire. 4 – Focusing on positive qualities of the person, while overlooking negative ones. 5 – Increased energy and exhilaration. 6 – A high sense of empathy and altruism toward the person. 7 – Sleeplessness and loss of appetite. 8 – Feeling greater connection to the person during adversity. 9 – Feeling that intense romantic love is ‘involuntary,’ but also temporary.”
Yes, I recognize all of them except “sleeplessness and loss of appetite,” I don’t let much intrude on the amount nor quality of sleep I get. The most interesting trait to me is “feeling greater connection to the person during adversity.” This was really a big thing for me when dating, and one of the reasons that I let my first long-term boyfriend go – we never fought! That doesn’t make sense does it?! But it’s true. I guess it comes down to the whole ‘wanting the guy to fight for you’ thing. Yeah, poop on that now. I just want peace!
Dr. Clarkin also tells us that the romantic stage lasts for 1.5-3 years. Now, lets go back to the third year of my relationship with Chepe, two years into the marriage. I’m pregnant and not feeling very sexy nor sexual as the trimesters pass. By then, my husband and I are seeing A LOT of other changes as well as he has left his native country to move to the US to live with me. His whole world has been flipped upside-down, and mine soon will be with the arrival of my new baby. We’ve got lots of external pressures pushing on our relationship, but we have also maxed out our romantic love stage duration, so what happens?
From romantic vs. comfort love, we now turn to look at the three stages of love as defined in our next blog post titled “Love Has 3 Stages – And They Aren’t the Ones You Think,” by Bryan Reeves, on The Good Men Project. Mr. Reeves defines the three stages as:
- Stage 1 – “I need you to love me.” In which I feel I need outside love to be validating and fitting into what my definition of love is.
- Stage 2 – “I will love myself.” In which, if you don’t love me per my conditions, I’ll love myself instead, and treat me the way I need to be treated.
- Stage 3 – “I am love, it’s self.” I have discovered an “endless well-spring of love sourced deep within my very own heart.” I love everyone as they are. I am transcendental love.
These stages will make or break your marriage, depending on who is where. I would say that I stepped into Stage 3 somewhere in high school, if incompletely, and completely into it after my first child was born. I made many, many sacrifices, and though I think I resented some of them at first, I learned to do it voluntarily and with a happy heart eventually. That’s not to say that my (ex)husband didn’t make sacrifices, because he did, but I don’t think that he did with a willing heart, and after a while, he just stopped. He never moved into Stage 3, but remained fluctuating between Stage 1 and Stage 2. At this point in our marriage, about 2-4 years in, we fought a lot as he was still in Stage 1, and our fights were never resolved because neither of us felt like we are getting what we needed. Thus, he moved onto trying to fill himself up with his own love since I didn’t seem to be filling his cup right. Actually during this time, I used to say that I was now the “enemy,” as he was always the victim somehow, which, paired with me having the savior complex, was just a disaster waiting to happen! Even so, I loved him and fought for us the best way that I knew how. That’s not to say that I didn’t make mistakes, I sure did, I wasn’t always nice, I didn’t always put him first, but then, I was also trying to survive myself. In retrospect, I think I could have used myself up putting him first and it would not have been enough.
As I said, I believe that I was in Stage 3 love though, and some help understanding this transcendental love stage will come from the last post, titled, “Tolerance is not Enough,” by Julio Lara, on theGoodVader. The impact of this post upon me is still creeping out (but not in a creepy way) as I continue to mill it over. This post said things that I understood, felt, and agreed with 100%, but that had never been put to words before me. It has been like a long “Ah-ha!” moment for me, and has brought light to many areas of my life.
Going back to my marriage, at this time we are now past the romantic love stage and supposedly in the comfort love stage, that’s where I am anyway, fighting to keep the romance alive and the marriage working, to keep it all together. For my husband and I this did involve fights, with him occasionally telling me that he wished he had just stayed in his home country rather than come to the US to be with me. Sometimes he’d tell me that he didn’t love me anymore either. But as a lover of comfort love and someone stepping into Stage 3 love, I assumed that he was just telling me these things out of an angry or hurt place; I still loved him profusely and was willing to fight – and fight I did, for us. He made some pretty bad mistakes, both in and outside of our relationship, but Mr. Lara tells us that tolerance isn’t enough, acceptance is the solution. I’d argue that forgiveness needs to be in there too. I accepted and I forgave, though I don’t think that I always conveyed this into words well and my (ex)husband felt that I resented him, I believe. I think that I did all three, really: I think that in love and relationships (and the rest of life) we fluctuate between tolerance, acceptance and forgiveness. As a person in Stage 3 love though, we let the acceptance rule our daily lives, both with our spouses and with the rest of the world.
So, if I’m so sage about love, how come I’m getting a divorce? Because tolerance isn’t enough indeed. Acceptance, forgiveness, and tolerance fluctuate as I said, and as Mr. Reeves says of Stage 3 love, it is important to move away from people who want to hurt you, but to love them from afar. He also states that in a romantic relationship (or that of any kind) that “we’re also both free to end this dance (the relationship) whenever we feel that’s our deepest truth,” and ending mine did feel like my deepest truth. After a while, I just could not accept what my (ex)husband was doing anymore, I couldn’t tolerate it as part of my life. Does that mean that I hate him? For a while I did, some days I still do, but a part of me will always love him; I did love him so much, I have two children with him, I did so much for him. But I also have to know when enough is enough is enough for me and what I am willing to live with on a daily basis, and he stepped over the limit, so I stood up and told him so. Now, I have two children to protect from the storms of divorce and possibly co-parenting. I have two children with two cultural backgrounds that need to be raised with acceptance to learn to pass into Stage 3 love – including learning to love and accept themselves as they are and the things which they can’t change.
Do I have any plans for next time (if there is a next time)? Well, based on what I’ve written here, I’m gonna go R E A L slow, and date for 3+ years before making a life-changing decicion. As well, I don’t know as I would ever want to get legally married again; I like the idea of hand-fasting and consciously renewing your commitment each year with the very real possibility that your partner may want out. Also, even though I am filled with hurt right now, I’m still gonna love. Just because I feel like an earthquake, it doesn’t mean that I have to treat others badly, rather healing comes from helping to heal others. Martina McBride sings, “Love’s the only house big enough for all the pain in the world.” My love hasn’t ended, my house is big still.
Share your thoughts: What are some other love lessons you have to teach?
All photos via photopin.com. Click on photo to be redirected to photographer’s Flickr page.