All posts tagged Love

With the Decline of Romantic Love, the Rise of an Enduring Kind

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Head over heels. Love drunk. Moonstruck. Every generation has a term or phrase for that feeling that’s near impossible to accurately verbalize but undeniably experienced—the feeling of being “in love.” The state is so powerful that those of us who observe friends falling down this rabbit hole of passion take special care to ensure they’ve met their daily needs, almost as if they suffer from an addiction: “What, you haven’t eaten today? Have you slept? Um, why don’t you let me drive.”

As we approach Valentine’s Day, stories abound on the topic of romance—the kind that promulgates romance as a forever-after fantasy. What gets kicked to the curb in the midst of love poems and sweet-nothing sexting is the downside, if that’s what you want to call it, of this impermanent high: romantic love is wonderful AND (spoiler alert for those experiencing it for the first time), it will fade. The good news is that’s okay, because there is more love to come, just a different kind.

I recently spoke to Dr. Jerry Noloboff, a professor at Flagler College who has taught a seminar on “The Psychology of Romantic Love” for the past 15 years. He does equate romantic love to a sort of dependency:

“Romantic love is a state of intoxication with a special person. It is an out-of-control falling feeling, a feeling that you’ve found a part of yourself. But, the thing is, there’s a time limit on it. It is a perishable.”

I imagined Cinderella, in her glass slippers, reverting back to her true self—wearing rags for clothing—and sitting dumbfounded next to her horse, dog and mice pals. This, I realize, is part of the problem—that the Cinderella syndrome runs thick in my blood, that I expect the fantasy to remain, happily ever after.

There is no shortage of theories (from evolutionary psychology, Jungian or psycho-analytic perspectives) on why we fall in love. Dr. Noloboff relayed the myth of a two-headed creature, with four arms and four legs that was split in half due to its threatening power, and that falling in love with someone is reuniting with our lost half.

But though we may fall deeply in love, we may also fall deeply into trouble; not all romance is good for us. One widely-accepted view posits that we experience selective perception, only seeing in our lovers what we want to see (and not the negative) because, for some reason, probably subconsciously, they help us address personal issues buried within our psyche.

Romance rouses the soul but its decline is as natural as the sun setting. Over time, our relationships with our lovers become more utilitarian (“Did you take out the trash?”, “Can you please fold the towels this way, and put them on this shelf?”) and that experience tends to supplant pillow talk.

This does not mean that our lives become bereft of affection. Love evolves from the romantic phase to a more substantial, secure and enduring kind. Dr. Helen Fisher, an authority on evolution, expression and the chemistry of love states in her book Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love:

“…the fire in the heart does tend to diminish as partners settle into the daily joys of togetherness, often replaced by another elegant circuit in the brain: attachment—the feelings of serenity and union with one’s beloved.”

Dr. Noloboff, who has been married to his wife for 37 years, highlighted the benefits of transitioning to the more secure phase:

“Our life’s purpose is about personal growth. In a long-term relationship that moves out of the romantic love space, there’s more opportunity to learn about yourself through an extended reality. When we learn to trust the other person, we are more willing to take risks, to be vulnerable. This enables you to grow.”

The focus of this post is not to discourage those currently “in love” from living in the moment or longtime partners from rekindling romance, because such experiences are the honey of life. But for those of us who have settled into security, it’s nice to be reminded that our evolved relationships are still healthy, still loving, without the intoxicating quality of dazzling fireworks.

photo credit: HAMED MASOUMI via photopin cc