Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Love Boat. Soon will be making another run.

“I was always hungry for love. Just once, I wanted to know what it was like to get my fill of it -- to be fed so much love I couldn't take any more. Just once. ”
Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood

The one thing we can never get enough of is love. And the one thing we never give enough is love.
Henry Miller

I’ve always struggled with love. In retrospect I think it started while watching The Love Boat as a kid.

My mother always told us that couples could not share a bed together unless they were married, and I had no reason to doubt this. And yet, on the show, couples would often arrive at the boat an unmarried couple and wind up in bed together. During these moments, my mom would jump in front of the screen, block the scene, and tell us that the couple got married during the commercial.

That seemed. Weird to me. Is that how it all worked? A cruise and then marriage and then whatever happens in bed? All in quick succession like that? It all seemed a little too easy to me. Later, an older cousin set me straight on the whole thing.

But the damage was done.

But now then, what IS love?

I was recently challenged to answer this question. Sometimes I get these requests from a website or a magazine. Once in a great while, even a TV show. But in this instance?

It was a kid writing for his High School paper.

And somehow, that made me actually put some serious thought into it. He seemed very sincere.

The Ancient Greeks posited there were seven states of love-

Storge- Love we have for our family and children.
Philia- The love between good friends.
Eros- Sexual Love. Desire. Can be all consuming.
Ludus- Playful love. Flirting, teasing, fun, lighthearted love.
Agape- Love for everyone. Selfless love. Self-sacrificing love.
Pragma- Mature love.  A deep understanding that develops between long-married couples. Pragma is about making compromises to help the relationship work over time, and showing patience and tolerance.

So let’s start there. Love is family, friends, lust, play, and mature commitment.

That’s a pretty good list. Seems like whenever I watch a show about ancient times, everyone is either naked or killing each other. Not too much different than TV about modern times come to think about it. But their list provides a good starting point. 

Jumping forward into the 20th century, a psychologist named Robert Sternberg focused more on romantic love. He found that there were three triangles to love consisting of intimacy, passion, and commitment. He discovered that few couples truly reach and maintain all three of these states, and the diagram below shows some of his descriptions of love when a piece of the triangle is lacking.

And importantly, he introduces the concept of intimacy, which Sternberg describes as “feelings of closeness, connectedness, and bonding in loving relationships.  It thus includes within its purview those feelings that give rise, essentially, to the experience of warmth in a loving relationship. “

So good. We’ve got a new player in the game. Eliminating the Greek’s family and friend’s love, and combining it with our 20th-century additions, we now have passion, play, intimacy, and mature commitment.

One important component not yet mentioned is the concept of vulnerability. But this can also be confusing to people. If we take the word vulnerability at its standard definition, we read, “The quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally. 

That doesn’t sound so good, does it? Love can go wrong. Make us hurt. Leave us feeling too exposed and helpless. Perhaps the best description of this helpless feeling comes from Neil Gaiman, who writes,

“Have you ever been in love? Horrible, isn't it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest, and it opens up your heart, and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up. You build up all these defenses. You build up this whole armor, for years, so nothing can hurt you, then one stupid person, no different from any other stupid person, wanders into your stupid life… You give them a piece of you. They don't ask for it. They do something dumb one day like kiss you, or smile at you, and then your life isn't your own anymore. Love takes hostages. It gets inside you. It eats you out and leaves you crying in the darkness, so a simple phrase like "maybe we should just be friends" or "how very perceptive" turns into a glass splinter working its way into your heart. It hurts. Not just in the imagination. Not just in the mind. It's a soul-hurt, a body-hurt, a real gets-inside-you-and-rips-you-apart pain. Nothing should be able to do that. Especially not love. I hate love.”

Woah! Do I really want to feel something that “turns into a glass splinter working its way into your heart?” That sounds painful!

But perhaps there is another side to vulnerability. The wonderful teacher and writer Brene Brown describes vulnerability as, “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.”

But also that “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

So that sounds pretty amazing, I would strongly encourage anyone to watch the following video if they would like to learn more about this beautiful woman and fantastic concept. It could be 20 minutes that changes your life.

But back to our list. Now we have passion, play, intimacy, mature commitment, and vulnerability. It’s a fine list, and one that I think most people would do very well to embrace.

But just one more thing.

One of the best things I ever read about love wasn’t from a psychologist or romantic poet, but from a Hasidic Jewish man who didn’t know his wife very well when they got married. He had all the requisite butterflies during their brief courtship and thought he had found the Ben Affleck, romantic comedy, happy ever after he was looking for.

But he was wrong. That wore off pretty quick. It often does.

What he discovered was that love wasn’t a feeling or an emotion so much as it was an action that we need to revise and update continually. Very much a verb and not a noun. Here is his article for your further consideration.

So in our final tally of what love is, we have passion, play, intimacy, mature commitment, and vulnerability that we need to manifest through action and demonstrate to the person that we love.

That’s as good as I can do today kid. I’m not even sure you’re asking the right person. I’ve been messing this up since the other guys nominated me for “best kisser” on Valentine’s Day when I was six.

But Godspeed on the battlefield.