One of the things that started this journey for me was being told by my wife that she never “truly” loved me. For anyone who has never been there let me tell you, that is NOT an easy thing to hear. Thinking about it, I realized I didn’t even understand what that meant? How can you love someone, but not “truly” love them? What exactly is love anyhow?
Trying to understand love, I found that I had more questions than answers. So if you are looking for a definition of something where do you turn? The internet of course!!!
First I looked at the Merriam-Webster definition of love, and then I looked at the Wikipedia description. Both Wikipedia and Merriam-Webster have a number of things in common, as the words affection, unselfish, devotion attraction and desire appear in both definitions. Both sources also mention different types of love.
Types of Love
Are there different types of love? I love my parents; I love my siblings, nephews and nieces. I love my friends, I love my children, and I love my wife. Are these loves all the same? Or are there actually different types and degrees of love? It seems pretty obvious that there are different degrees of love. I definitely have a different love for my children than I do for my friends, never mind my wife. But it also looks like there are commonalities across all the types of love as well.
Is love unselfish/selfless?
Do I have a sense of affection for all of them? Yes, I definitely do. Is it unselfish? That’s a tougher call. By selfish do you mean am I expecting anything back? Nothing material perhaps, but I think there is an expectation that love will be returned in some capacity.
For parents out there, here’s an experiment for you. Try not showing your children any affection for a few days, maybe a week, and see what happens (I suppose the experiment is age dependent, because if your children are teenagers they probably won’t notice – sigh). But if they are younger I suspect they will start to get confused, and hurt. They will realize something is wrong, and probably get anxious and scared. Alright, don’t ACTUALLY do this, as it would be cruel. But imagine it all the same, and I suspect you will agree with me.
The same happens with spouses. If there is a feeling that the love is one sided it can create a distance and will definitely put stresses on the relationship. So no, I don’t think love is necessarily unselfish. One of the stereotypes of men and women is that men are cold and women have more of a need for affection. Ladies, don’t believe it!!! Guys have the same emotions and feelings that you do. We may bottle them up a bit more, but we all need to feel loved. We all need to know that our spouse cares for us. When we stop feeling it? Well, that hurts, and that’s where all sorts of problems can begin.
A variation on unselfish is the idea of being selfless. I think being selfless means being able to put the needs of another before your own needs. There is definitely an element of that in love, especially when it comes to people who are truly dependent on you (such as children). As a parent, you definitely need to put the needs of your children before your own. And I guess that applies in all relationships. But it is not something that you should do all the time. You still need to make time for yourself as an individual, and be willing to put yourself first sometimes. So in love it seems you walk a fine line between putting the needs of your loved ones before your own when required, but still making time for yourself as an individual. I call this balancing the “we” with the “me”.
How about devotion? I think this one is definitely true of love, there is a sense of devotion. I know that if any of my friends, family members, children or spouse needed me, I would always be there for them. And I know that those people would always be there for me if I needed them. I could call them any time of the day, and they would do their best to support me.
The last item in the common language list is desire. I’m assuming that desire here means physical attraction/sexual desire. This is one that is definitely NOT part of the common thread of different types of love. Hopefully no one desires their parents, children, siblings etc. Because, well, that would be a bit weird. And it just doesn’t seem right. Plus I’m pretty sure there are laws against that in some places. Hopefully they DO desire their spouse or significant other, though I suppose that level of desire can change over time.
Then there’s desire for friends. That’s a difficult one as I believe that is how many affairs start. Lots of relationships start with friendships, so yes I believe people can desire their friends. But doing so puts you in a position that can get you into a lot of trouble. So while it can happen, I strongly advise against it. To take that one step further, I think that BECAUSE it can happen, people should make a conscious effort to not become friends with a member of the opposite sex (or same sex I guess, lets just call it your gender of preference) that they find attractive or desirable. You can be friends with someone, but you need to be conscious that intimate sharing of emotions or feelings puts you at risk for having the friendship develop into something more (especially if your relationship is in a troubled place at the moment). Some people are cool with that, but for me monogamy is a big deal. I would prefer to not put myself in a situation that could develop into something more.
So far I figure affection and devotion are prerequisites of all forms of love. A degree of selflessness is also important, but you need to balance that with taking care of yourself as an individual.
How does a spousal relationship differ from any of the other ones? One of the differences is that is starts with some sort of attraction. A wise woman once told me that relationships often start with lust, and if you are lucky they will develop into love (thanks Mom!!!). Normally this is a physical attraction, but in the world of social media and online relationships, the attraction can also be more in how a person presents themselves in written form. This initial attraction (whatever its form) causes both parties to want to learn more about one another, and this early stage of a relationship is characterized by excitement. You are learning about the other person, and everything is “new”. There is usually an intimate sharing of experiences and beliefs, and this intimate sharing will naturally give rise to emotions.
As a side note, that is why this sort of intimate sharing with a friend that you find attractive is a big no-no to me. It puts you in a situation where things can easily develop into something more. People sometimes say that affairs “just happen”, I say that’s total crap. People make conscious decisions that put them in a position for affairs to happen. You actually want to stay true to your spouse? Don’t put yourself in that position!!! An affair starts at an emotional level before it becomes physical. And in some ways, the emotional side of an affair is harder to break than the physical. Anyhow, enough with the rant. Back to love, specifically love in spousal relationships…
This is where relationships get themselves into trouble. They start with the new and exciting. In the early stages there is no shortage of passion. And let’s face it, desire and lust can make you overlook some of the shortcomings of a relationship that may become evident later. This early courtship stage of a relationship is the way that relationships are portrayed in romance movies and books. But as much as both parties may want it to last, things can’t be “new” forever. So the same characteristics of love that you find in any loving relationship need to bloom. Genuine affection has to be there, as does devotion for each other and a degree of selflessness.
As the “new” wears off, the nature of love changes (look up “stages of relationships”, there’s tons of great material out there). But it’s important that both parties do things to try and keep the romance side of the relationship alive. This isn’t difficult in the early years, but once more time passes, and/or you add kids to the equation it becomes harder. There has to be legitimate effort made to keep things fresh, it is not something that will just happen on its own. A lot of couples likely fail at this, and I will include myself in those guilty of it.
So what does any of this really tell me about love? Well for starters love is complicated, there are many facets to it. I don’t pretend to understand it, but I do recognize that you can’t take it for granted. Love may start with passion and excitement, but to maintain it over time takes effort. People need to recognize that, and be willing to put in that effort to maintain it.