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! 🙂

  21. 21

    I just don’t get how love should be that complicated. I don’t believe you “just know,” and have given all sorts of men a chance (bald, shorter than me, make less money than me, less attractive – all those men had great personalitie, though). It would be nice if more men gave ME a chance, however. I’ve observed two things: a.) men, even the less attractive ones, need to have insane chemistry to give you a chance, and have a feeling that they just “know”; and/or b.) men often don’t feel like having a relationship for years, then suddenly in their early/mid 30s decide they want to get married and the next nice woman that comes along, even if he is not as cool as some of the girls he dated in the past, he’ll marry. It’s very frustrating because as a woman I cannot control this situation and don’t believe in limiting myself to either good timing or instant chemistry.

    I am a big fan of Evan but also find it interesting that he gives this kind of advice when he talks about dating 300 women to find his wife. Sorry, that appears to be an example of someone being WAY too picky and looking for crazy chemistry/ playing around for years until they’re ready. I’d guess that there were women who were just as good a fit for him as his wife that he met 3 or 5 years earlier, but he wasn’t ready and passed on them. I’m only 28 but starting to despair that I will meet a man who shares my fairly simple desire to find someone we can be ourselves with, want to have sex with (no, they don’t need a perfect body or looks), shares similar values about life and is emotionally open to sharing a life together. Achieving something so straightforward shouldn’t have to feel like nuclear physics.

    1. 21.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      @Mia “It would be nice if more men gave ME a chance, however. I’ve observed two things: a.) men, even the less attractive ones, need to have insane chemistry to give you a chance, and have a feeling that they just “know”; and/or b.) men often don’t feel like having a relationship for years”

      This part is true. EVERYONE is a slave to chemistry. I just happen to give advice to women. The same could apply to men.

      “I am a big fan of Evan but also find it interesting that he gives this kind of advice when he talks about dating 300 women to find his wife. Sorry, that appears to be an example of someone being WAY too picky and looking for crazy chemistry/ playing around for years until they’re ready. I’d guess that there were women who were just as good a fit for him as his wife that he met 3 or 5 years earlier, but he wasn’t ready and passed on them.”

      Yes and no. Yes, I dated a lot from 25-35 years old. Yes, I was a blind believer in chemistry. But what you got egregiously wrong, Mia, is that my entire dating coaching platform is BECAUSE I realized the error in my ways and was way too picky. This is exactly what I’m cautioning you against. You don’t have to go on 300 dates to fall in love. You have to date long enough to find a good guy who gets what I didn’t get. The other thing you missed is that my bachelorhood was a matter of playing around. Also incorrect. I fell deeply in love in 2003 at age 31. She dumped me. I fell in love again in 2004. She dumped me. Those experiences ALSO became core parts of my coaching – about the deception of passion (as Karl wrote about in #9). If I had been allowed to marry either of those women, I’d be FAR less happy than I am today. I underwent an evolution in order to discover how to date effectively; that’s all I try to share with you here. Try changing yourself instead of worrying about what men do wrong and you’ll be doing all that you can do to further your love life.

  22. 22
    David T

    @Fiona 16

    You misunderstood me. I said that if *you* are having an off day or are in the wrong mood, *you* won’t feel chemistry towards anyone else. It is your mood and what is going on your life that can stop you from feeling chemistry. Even if these are subtle things like starting to come down with something, or have been stressed out for most of the last 8 hours, it will decrease your ability to be receptive.

    Even in relationships with established chemistry, when someone is sick or going through emotional distress in other parts of their lives, that person will not feel as turned. The love within the relationship and need for emotional support will keep them together and loving (though when someone is VERY ill or VERY upset they will sometimes push away even those closest to them). If you have just met someone, there is no love or intimate emotional support and there will be no click.

  23. 23

    This article has helped me a great deal, I’ve been I a relationship for almos two years now, for the first year and a few months I felt head over heels in love. Then suddenly one day I woke up and this infatuation feeling had gone. I cried about it and felt like I no longer loved the man I had gone through so much with. He’s my best friend and my soul mate, but I don’t feel the inlove feeling. I act on it. I make sure he knows that I love him even when I feel like perhaps I don’t as much now. After I randomly ‘fell out of love’ i searched everywhere to find a way to fall back in love or find out what the hell was wrong with me! Luckily, I found out… You don’t feel stupidly in love forever! I’m happy with my relationship and that’s all I need. I know I’ll be able to tolerate my man for the rest of my life because he’s my best friend first and also my lover. In a way I do wish for the loving chesmistry feeling to return but I don’t need it, Im loyal and a hard worker in this relationship and I don’t want anything to ruin that! Thankyou!

  24. 24

    David @14- I have never not been able to gauge chemistry because of fatigue or a bad mood. Usually it is very apparent up front.

    Sometimes, though, it does take several dates for the chemistry to mature like a fine wine though! My current boyfriend had to win me over a little. I had just come out of a stressful, manipulative relationship so had little patience with men at that point. Also, he was in his late fifties and I was used to dating much younger guys so he appeared old at first. Little by little, though, I noticed how amazingly fit, thin, strong, handsome he was despite some sun damage….

    We have been dating for over four months now and he’s the first man in three years of online dating I could see living with someday maybe. It just keeps getting deeper and deeper with us.

    But to return to the subject of chemistry, being mature and patient, once I gave a man a bit older than me a full month to make his case, ’cause we were very compatible spiritually (which is important to me). I also saw his intelligence, wit, (and he was reasonably handsome) but in the end I couldn’t sleep with him ’cause there was no spark that way with me. It was so hard telling him goodbye. He took it hard. Since then I am less inclined to make it a long, drawn-out process for that reason.

    In my experience true, enduring love matches in or outside of marriage are rare (despite! common interests and values and hard, hard work on each person’s part), but I will advise my son to wait two full years before becoming engaged so he can be well past the “chemistry” phase when he commits.

  25. 25

    [email protected] – I thought your complaint was that women are bailing out after two dates. You can’t put that down to a woman having two bad days or a life crisis. I suppose it is possible but more likely it means she’s just not into you and there is nothing you can do about it. It sucks, it happens to all of us but that’s life. Even when I was in a really bad place when I was sick and when I was stressed out of my mind with work, I was always happy to see/hear from my ex (although he understandably was so happy to hear from a tired, stressed out, sick person). If I am not attracted to a man on a date, it is not because I am having a bad day, it is because I am not attracted. That’s it. He can’t change that and nor can I. If I were really having a bad day, I can see no better way to improve it than a date with an attractive guy that shares the same values. I just have no idea where he is.

  26. 26

    Evan, thanks for clarifying. I guess I’m just super frustrated that I’ve done sO much work on myself and keep putting mysElf out there and all the men I meet aren’t ready for a relationship or have their own issues. I just want my lucky break and I’m exhausted from trying and failing. I know Women who are ugly, or fat, or did not date much, or discardsd men for trivial reasons, and they are getting married and it just sucks that you can do so much right and not get anywhere.

  27. 27

    Mia #21 and #28:

    I’m sorry for your pain. Where are you meeting these men? I can give you a couple of observations about my gender:

    (1) Men are visual. For us, attraction is largely visual, “looks”. While women seem to be less visual than men are, and for them, attraction seems to be more about the “chemistry”, how well you banter and connect. Most of us guys have a physical type and if you’re not a guy’s physical type, it can be hard for the guy to feel attraction. My point is, I think the “chemistry” line that guys are giving you is a gentle let-down. Are guys seeing your picture before you go out with them? (I hope this question didn’t come across as insulting or prying or anything–I have no idea what you look like for one thing. Just trying to help…)

    (2) We men do like to pursue. If you make things too easy for us (I noticed you use the phrase “putting yourself out there”) by being too proactive (e.g., you’re the one bringing up the idea of a second date) then that might be giving us pause.

  28. 28

    It’s like I’ve met you before and I really sympathise with your predicament. My friends (and I to a certain extent) are also 28 and are those guys you describe looking for that magic, and if we don’t find it we’re perfectly happy waiting (i.e. dating casually) for as long as it takes until we do, but it’s only because we want to get the best out of life too.

    It’s the classic paradox of choice: being free to choose whoever we want, one would imagine that we’d make more informed choices. What actually happens is that because we constantly think there might be something better, we can’t make a decision at all. This new paradigm is probably one of the unforeseen consequences of the sexual revolution; the de-stigmatisation of pre-marital sex not only liberated women, but men as well. And some of us are perfectly happy enjoying this liberation.

    If I meet a spectacular woman who blows my mind – great (happened once before), if I don’t – great, I’ll just continue dating casually until I do. I’m assuming at some point (in my mid-thirties as you say) the penny will drop and I’ll realise that this perfect woman doesn’t actually exist and it’s all just an artificial construct in my own head. Unfortunately you’re correct; there’s not a whole lot you can do to change these men but I really wish you the best of luck in your search because you seem like a great catch for someone!

  29. 29

    Michael 17 — I’m very attractive, thin, and don’t pursue– I don’t play hard to get either, Just mirror the guy. I don’t expect looks to get me more than the first couple dates– my experience with men is they are not choosing ltrs on looks and i am often the more attracrive one anyway. For men it’s about chemistry and timing when they are choosing a woman. Where do I meet them? Some online, some through friends, some through work.

    When I said putting myself out there I meant being open and warm. The most recent man was dorky cute and we clearly had a meaningful connection, but he just told me he is not in a place for a serous relationship bc of all the work he has to put in to opening his new business (it’s been covered by the local media and there’s a lot of excitement around it). He said this on our 9th date, after fooling around some but never pushing for sex and always picking me up for real dates, so I give him credit for not being sleazy. We met thru an old mutual friend. I highly doubt this is personal. But how do I have any control over this? It just seems like no guy has any room for me in their lives even though they often admire me a great deal, not Just for looks but sense of humor, quirkiness, independence, style, and sense of adventure. They just don’t HAVE to have me, and thats the bridge I have trouble crossing.

  30. 30
    David T

    Mia, if you made it clear you were looking for an LTR, then that guy was not so great. He was unself-aware or dishonorable if he goes 9(!) dates (what is that? 6 weeks? Two months??) and then says he is unavailable for a serious connection. Props to him for not pushing for sex. I wonder how long he knew this about himself before informing you.

    I would be lying if I said I have never dated when I had doubts I was available for a serious relationship, but I usually manage to understand that (sometimes it is not obvious until you actually start picturing a dating relationship) and let them know by date one or two. Have that conversation sooner. You owe it to yourself.

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