What Is Love?

What Is Love?

A reader of this blog shared a Huffington Post article with me last week.

In it, author Sheryl Paul writes:

“We live under a massive cultural delusion about the nature of real love. Propagated by mainstream media, from the time you’re born you’re inundated with the belief that love is a feeling and that when you find “the one” you’ll sense it in your gut.”


“We have mythologized love to such an extent that people are no longer prepared for the realities of long-term relationships. We are taught that it is good not to compromise, not to put up with anything we don’t like, not to sacrifice our own beliefs for anyone or anything. Yet compromise and sacrifice are the cornerstones of marital love.”

Isn’t it possible that the problem isn’t with the opposite sex, itself but rather your expectations of the opposite sex?

She quotes another author, Kate Kerrigan, in an essay she wrote called Marriage Myths, as saying that “the best thing you can bring to a marriage is not the feeling of ‘being in love’, but romance’s poor relation: tolerance.”

Paul, who works as a counselor, says that “it’s a crushing moment for couples when the infatuation drug wears off and they’re left to begin the real work of loving.”

This is all stuff you’ve read here before. I find it pretty much irrefutable.

But for those who want to refute it – for those who say you should never compromise – even though every happy couple in the world will let you know how much they compromise on a daily basis – what exactly are you hoping for in a partner?

And isn’t it possible that the problem isn’t with the opposite sex, itself but rather your expectations of the opposite sex?

In short, great relationships are understanding what you should compromise on. You DON’T compromise on character, integrity, kindness, devotion, and selflessness. You DO compromise on everything else.

Read the article here and let me know what you think I’m getting wrong. You always do. 🙂

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  1. 1

    To be honest, the article sounds a little preachy. I agree with many of the points made, but the tone was so serious and foreboding…. shouldn’t love also be a little fun some of the time?

  2. 2
    Karl R

    Jane asked: (#1)
    “shouldn’t love also be a little fun some of the time?”

    Relationships should be fun some of the time, but that’s not an expression of love. In addition to loving your partner, you should also like your partner, and we like people who are fun (among other things).

    But neither of those is related to the chemistry of infatuation, which is what people mistake for being “love”.

  3. 3

    I fully agree that it is ridiculous to expect someone else to complete you – you have to complete yourself! However, this reads as though we can all just go out and love the next nice person of the opposite sex that we meet. If it were that simple, no-one would be single beyond puberty. Clearly, it isn’t. Speaking to people in my parents’ and grandparents’ generation, they had chemistry to start with too. It is not just us!

  4. 4

    Someone who is always loyal.
    Someone who will remain your friend.
    Someone who isn’t ashamed of showing physical affection – even in public
    Someone whose greatest joy is to be by your side.
    Someone who cannot contain their excitement when you arrive home.

    Someone who … is your dog !

    Seriously, Infatuation is an incredible rush caused by hormones. Its a chemical high and its something YOU experience rather than share. Love is something you DO

  5. 5

    I believe this to be true. All of it. But the men I meet all seem to think it’s all about chemistry. They are single, late 30s-early 40s, never married, few long-term relationships. It’s funny because they are attractive, smart, successful, but hold out for that special feeling. Even if she is not very attractive, emotionally scarred, etc. as long as “it” is there, they are smitten. I just don’t get it. And with internet dating, if the big spark isn’t there on the first date, forget it. It’s really frustrating.

  6. 6

    Fiona that is so true. All this stuff about CHOOSING to love someone? well maybe, but only if you’ve been lucky enough to get swept up in the infatuation stage first…i read somewhere that the rush of hormones that causes will last just about long enough for someone to decide whether or not they actually want to learn how to like, and love, the other person. The feel-goods allow us to literally ”feel good” as we get to know them, and then it’s NOT clinical, it’s not CHOOSING based on a list of criteria, but it is giving us space to FEEL.
    As for chemistry – heck yes. I was to beleive it can develop but the reality is, it can’t. it’s either there or it isn’t. Women can often grow it, guys can’t.

  7. 7
    Karl R

    JM said: (#5)
    “the men I meet all seem to think it’s all about chemistry.”

    As a man, I felt that way aboutall the women I met online, and most of the women I met offline.

    You can’t change other people. But by doing the right thing, you ultimately benefit.

  8. 8

    “the men I meet all seem to think it’s all about chemistry.”

    Women have much more of an issue here than men who are genetically programmed to be attracted to a larger range of females.

  9. 9
    Karl R

    susan said: (#6)
    “i read somewhere that the rush of hormones that causes will last just about long enough for someone to decide whether or not they actually want to learn how to like, and love, the other person.”

    The chemicals last 1-3 years. That can be long enough to meet someone, marry them, have a child … then discover that you don’t even like the person when the chemicals wear off.

    That’s why people like Evan, Helen (the Helen who is married), Selena, A-L and I put so little faith in “chemistry”.

    As I pointed out to JM, most of the men and women will use “chemistry” to make their decisions. If nobody is looking at the important details (shared values, etc.), then the whole thing can become a train wreck. Furthermore, if you are willing to look at some potential partners where there isn’t an intense rush of infatuation, you’ve expanded your dating pool.

    And if I expect to spend 30-40 years of marriage not being infatuated with this person, why do I have to spend the 1-2 years of dating on a chemical high? It’s hardly the best predictor (or preparation) for the long run.

  10. 10

    Of course Karl these things are important. However, without chemistry, I can’t bear someone to kiss me let alone let them sleep with me so it is an essential ingredient for starting a relationship as much as shared values. I am not suggesting that we should overlook shared values or allow chemistry to blind us – we need both.

    [email protected], although I don’t agree with Karl that chemistry isn’t important, I have learned to avoid getting involved where there is chemistry without compatibility. My argument is that you need both. Basically I apply the test: am I looking forward to seeing this guy and I feel good about it (usually accompanied by feeling safe and secure) or am I excited about seeing this guy and I feel bad about it (usually accompanied by feeling out of control and an impending sense of doom)? If the latter, I have learned to run for the hills as it always ends badly (for me). However, the second date with the no chemistry guy is also enough to send me running because it feels just as wrong as dating danger man.

  11. 11

    Instant “every cell on fire” chemistry will betray you and destroy you. Certainly, if you are over 25 then the man/woman attractive enough to do that to you has done it to others and walked away from them. Modern Africans (Zambians) see romantic love as a disease. Brain scans are identical with obsessive compulsive disorders.

    There are other forms of chemistry that grow more slowly. If sex on a first date with someone who meets your tick list isn’t your requirement you can get there. Being around each other as friends long enough to forget what you look like, how old you are, what language you speak etc so that nothing is left in the way but your style of personal interaction is a good way to go. You need to get out through the door to make this happen.

    The Greeks had a classification of different types of love. Helen (Fisher?), the name escapes me, talks about several endocrine systems that produce some of these various feelings. I suspect that there are more.

  12. 12

    I think the fact that there needs to be some chemistry is assumed and most intelligent adults will get that. But I can attest firsthand to what Evan is saying here. I have been with my SO now for about 4 or 5 months and I admit, I was very unsure about him at first. Instead of writing him off and letting the chemistry develop I paid attention to that still, small voice that said “this is a person of character, decency, and good values so hang in there and see what happens”. We had good conversational chemistry; we share faith. We had agreement on a lot of things. I am pleased to report that as a result of listening to that still, small voice, I am very happy in this relationship and we both are in it for the long haul. The physical attraction has grown for me, but I’m also mature enough to realize that hey, I’m never again going to look like I did at 19 but I have his unconditional acceptance and love and he has mine.

    Peter, I think the one sort of love the Greeks spoke of, and the most important love to have in a good relationship is the Agape love. That is what they called altruistic love. Now, that’s not to say that we completely ignore our needs and wants; but if we purpose to find a good partner, they will meet our needs and we will meet theirs. One of the things I am fully conscious of with Tim is that I don’t ever want to do anything to hurt him. Don’t misunderstand; I’m not with him merely to keep from hurting him. I truly do love him. But I have learned that because it’s without that compulsive dependence and neediness or I am not viewing him through the filter of what we are taught love is supposed to be in our consumerist, drive-by, entertainment culture, I’m seeing things clearly and it’s a very healthy relationship.

  13. 13

    Apologies for the 2nd post here, but I didn’t pay adequate attention to my phrasing, so what I meant to say was, I didn’t write him off; I gave the chemistry a chance to grow and develop. It continues to get better because there is a good balance of chemistry and compatibility thus the relationship can be sustained, rather than fizzle out as quick as it started.

  14. 14
    David T

    I can see a movie when I am in one mood and think it is stupid, or maybe a little funny. . . .or in another mood and my stomach will hurt from laughing so hard for so long.

    [referring to men’s response] “with internet dating, if the big spark isn’t there on the first date, forget it. It’s really frustrating”
    There are men AND women who play at dating this way and Fiona is one of them. I went out on two dates with another. We got along had a great deal of fun talking . . . and she told me point blank after 3 hours in a wine bar and one hour more casual get together in a coffee shop that we might be friends, but never anything more, because she “knows” how she works and if she doesn’t feel it right away she never will.

    Chemistry is as much about how a person feels that day as who they are meeting. You could have had a long stressful day at work, or not slept well the night before or be coming down with something and guess what. . you will feel little or no chemistry. Meet the same person while feeling peaceful and contented and the sparks might fly. A good mood does not guarantee chemistry and a blah mood or feeling poorly physically can extinguish it.

    A love relationship needs some chemistry, but if I restrict myself to knowing someone for a handful of hours before deciding if chemistry is there or not I know I will lose opportunities sometimes because I was not in the right mood.

  15. 15

    I have the same experience as JM (5). I find that men are generally the more romantic sex, believing that instant “click” is the best way to predict a good life partner. If anything, I’d say that most women — or, the ones who end up married — are actually quite steely-eyed in picking a husbaand; most I know measure up a guy’s financial prospects, genetic promise (if they want kids) and general compatability and then make a decision whether or not they want him. The smart/conniving ones try to ensure that as many guys as possible believe they have a special & unique click with her… then she winnows down her suitors to the one she thinks (yes: thinks. It’s all a deeply rational process) will give her what she wants most. No wonder I’m still single : )

  16. 16

    David @14. I am meeting these guys twice – even if they are having an off day, they are getting a second chance but if it isn’t there after that, I think it makes sense to get out. Sure I can keep meeting up over and over again with someone that I have no feelings for but what am I supposed to do when he tries to kiss me? Just put up with it and grin and bear it even though I really don’t want to and am fighting the gag reflex? By date three this is going to be an awkward problem so I get out before I end up having to kiss someone I am repulsed by or hurt their feelings (and hurting their feelings is clearly the only realistic option in that scenario).

  17. 17

    [email protected] – I am happy for you but please don’t assume that we can all magically develop chemistry with someone that is a nice guy after a long period of time just because they are a nice guy. I know Evan thinks men tend to have chemistry up front but for women it develops over time. All I can say is that I think there are a lot more women who are just like men in this regard than he thinks. I went on a second date all afternoon with a friend of a friend yesterday – we had a great afternoon. I really like him as a person and we get on well. However, on my way home all I could think was ‘I wish this train would hurry up so he won’t try to kiss me’. Thankfully it did and I could get away with offering my cheek. He of course really wants to meet again. I want to run for the hills. I really like him as a potential friend but I have to get out of this for his sake and mine because I hate the idea of him kissing me. I don’t see that I can just ignore the fact that I am not at all attracted to this man and hope that I will magically feel better about if next week. It is a flashing red warning sign telling me not to proceed.

  18. 18

    A relationship without chemistry is a roomate relationship.

    1. 18.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      @Stacey – Where’s the part where it was suggested that a relationship shouldn’t have chemistry? I think I missed it.

  19. 19

    good for you starthrower, a very sensible approach…except i would still argue that ”conversational chemistry” is a spark by any other name.

  20. 20

    Evan, you have that spot on.

    My former marriage was a PRIME example of this. My ex never chose to love me. He got angry when I’d get sick. He was always angry that I could not drive, even though it had been discussed up front, when we met and started dating. Yet even though he had a chronic illness, I cleaned up after him, comforted him, CHOSE to love him despite all the abuse I got in return.

    Love is a choice; it is a verb. And that is precisely why I am not sure I want to marry again, because very few people that I run into anymore, at least here where I live, are interested in choosing to love. They leave a relationship the minute the sparks are gone, and blow it off by saying, “I woke up one morning and realized, I just didn’t love him/her anymore.” Or, “I needed to find ME again, and I couldn’t do that in a marriage.”

    If I meet a man or my current guy keeps on proving that he will choose to love me in good times and bad, then I’ll marry. Until then, I’m staying single. It’s better than dealing with people who choose not to compromise, choose not to love, choose not to put the marriage/relationship first.

    I gotta agree with Zaq’s comment above about a dog…..you can certainly get that kind of love and acceptance from a pup! 🙂

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