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. 151

    nathan – I like that Rumi poem. Also the notion of writers, musicians, and artists being the gatekeepers of love.

    Happy Person and P – good to see two other people who have experience in these parts of the world. Happy Person, if you work in microfinance in developing nations, I’m impressed!

  2. 152

    To Eljem #150

    The Ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything is -42.

    “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Universe” – Douglas Adams


  3. 153
    Happy Person

    Helen: I work in global finance, but not specifically microfinance. I read alot about microfinance, though, because I’m thinking of making the switch. Very into diversity and the conflict issues that arise in diverse environments. That’s one of the reasons I read this blog–the gender wars are in full force on here. EMK’s tag line about learning how men think sums it up for me–though not to get a partner (because I already have one and he’s a heckofalotta cute). I’m interested in how men respond when women put forth certain ideas about their experience. General hostility is a common response, as is attacking a woman’s POV as not being informed/rational, as too emotional or strident, loud, masculine, etc.

    Firms like mine are being forced to change if they want to remain competitive. The smart women and people of color are going to go to workplaces where they are respected as equals–because they can. Given the huge demographic shifts in births (whites in the minority) and marriage (singles 50% of population), it’s unlikely that companies are going to be run by white hetero breadwinners for much longer.

    Guys like Nathan, with the Rumi poem, warm my heart and give me hope that the transition will be less painful for us as a society than it has to be.

  4. 154

    @ Helen.

    There are complex reasons why the role of males in developing world communities are changing.

    But, mainly it is because their labor roles are more sensitive to economic changes(ie. like the decline of caravans, or beasts of burden as manual labor aids).

    It is not a simple question of inherent laziness, and I think any solution to an (admitted) inequity in the division of labor in certain developing world communities *must* address these demographic shifts in male labor opportunities, in ways that are both sensitive(with respect to maintaining their dominant status over women) and proactive(rather than merely looking to empower female opportunities).

    Otherwise we should not act surprised when males continue to distance themselves from what they view as a (feminist) agenda designed to marginalize their status, with respect to women.

    International aid that demands conformity with western gender roles, is succeeding only to alienate male participation, and is thus a doomed strategy.

  5. 155

    @ Helen

    “Paragon: what would those “reciprocal values” be in west Africa? Southern Africa? Rural Asia?”

    Whatever justifies continued interactions between males and females.

    But, it occurs that your are assuming a free rider problem, simply by virtue of the (admitted) fact, that women tend to
    shoulder a higherl burden in their daily workload.

    Of course, given that women in developing communities cannot easily offload liability in supporting their
    own offspring(unlike in western societies), and the fact that there *always* exists a disproportionately larger population of unmated males(without offspring) – this obvious disparity is *exactly* what we should expect(and is not a free-riding
    problem by any meaningful definition).

    “You know as well as we do that these game theoretic trials assume people optimize their choices and are perfectly rational actors in a complex setting.”

    Rationality is *not* an assumption of evolutionary game theory(unlike classical game theory) – which is one of its

    It occurs that if had more than a superficial awareness of these concepts, you would know this already(parsing google hits will not suffice, I’m afraid).

    To make a final clarification, I would like to add that since males and females tend have conflicting reproductive interests(despite that margin where they find necessary agreement), we can assume that male-female interactions are co-evolutionary, with inescapable consequences for reproductive fitness.

    Thus, when these interactions are stable(minimally changing over time), we can assume an equilibrium of sorts(both males and females are contributing *something* of reciprocal evolutionary value to preserve status quo).

    But, when these interactions are perturbed from stability(they are in an acute state of flux), this instability
    implies that selection is operating on evolutionary change.

    If these ‘changes’ correspond with a decline in fitness, then we can assume that some contributing factor of change is frustrating the reproductive interests of one or both sexes.

    If we make some critical observations of western society, we will see both acute flux in male-female interactions(over a
    relatively brief interval of time), as well as trends towards sub-replacement fertility(the demographic economic paradox).

    From this we can infer that a measurable increase in female sexual/reproductive autonomy is hindering the reproductive interests of a disproportionate number of males(given that the female role as the rate-limiting morph naturally conflicts with the high-rate fitness optima of males) – suggesting that the ‘x-factor’ in precipitating instability, is an acute, systemic empowerment of female sexual/reproductive choice.

    It is precisely what we should expect.

  6. 156

    @ Selena

  7. 157

    Hi, I’m the Anonymous from posts ##73 and 88, who complained she felt like she was sitting on a time bomb. And I’m here to tell you that, last weekend, the bomb went off. Out of the blue, he texted me as I was packing to go over to his place, like I used to do almost every weekend, and said that he needed to meet and talk about us. Upon meeting, he said he needed to see other people, as something was missing and he didn’t know what it was. Last night he followed up via email with a long list of things that had been bothering him for, apparently, a long time, about our relationship. I’m not at liberty to share the list, but I can say that it mainly consisted of minor communication issues that could’ve been worked out over a five-minute talk, if he’d decided to have one. The rest of the list, were two more serious issues, but ones I could compromise on. Except I was always being told that everything was fine and he was having a great time, and since I don’t have ESP, well I had no idea he had any problems with me! My takeaway from this is, next time I meet someone who puts a lot of stock into chemistry and feelings, even if he happens to have crazy chemistry and strong feelings for me at the moment… I’m not going to stick around. How people can make life-changing decisions based on random chemical reactions in their brain, is beyond me. I admit there needs to be some level of physical attraction, but putting chemistry above all things is a disaster waiting to happen.

    I plan to take 4-6 months off dating to take stock of my own life, figure out who I am and what I want to be. I like being a team and being in a healthy LTR, but I have some personal growth to do so I can make a better choice next time. Peace out 🙂

  8. 158

    Sorry for double-posting — forgot to add — my birthday is this coming Wednesday. Granted I do not make a big deal of my birthdays, and said so to him a number of times, but still, to find yourself on the receiving end of a breakup three days before your birthday… makes me feel pretty let-down. Wish he could’ve waited a week, or done it a few weeks sooner. Very odd choice of date on his part.

  9. 159

    Goldie, I’m really sorry to hear that.

    What I would do in your shoes at this point is to completely cut off contact with him. No calling or emailing him to try to point out that you can work out that list of issues you describe. Just no contact, period. Let him miss you. He will figure out himself that many of those issues were trivial, and if the two of you were meant to be, he’ll contact you again.

    Meanwhile, do nice things for yourself. For your birthday, why not buy something you’ve always wanted but have been denying yourself. Treat your girlfriends and children to some homebaked goods on your b-day. Let your “personal growth” include, in large portion, finding out what makes you happy.

  10. 160


    I’m so sorry! What bad timing – maybe he just didn’t feel he could go through any birthday plans with such issues on his mind. Not a good sign to me that you dated for quite a while but didn’t see this coming. He should have discussed his feelings with you sooner. You also mentioned that neither one of you was looking to remarry anytime soon – perhaps he had a time limit on how long he planned to stick around before things got too serious.

  11. 161

    Thanks Helen. I’d originally wanted to go completely no-contact, but he looked like he wanted to talk about it, so for old times’ sake, I let him. I’m cool either way now. If I still had strong feelings, I’d definitely go for no contact. But, after seeing his list, and learning that he’d been harboring this resentment for weeks, possibly months, without telling me anything, I’ve got to say the desire to get back together is pretty much gone 🙁

    For my bday, I already have concert tickets to see Beach Boys with my 16yo. Additionally, I’ve contacted a number of old friends to see how they’ve been (which I’d never had the time for while I was in the relationship) and my schedule for this week has filled up pretty fast. Looking forward to a lot of catching up with a lot of good people 🙂

  12. 162

    Love is chemistry and timing. How many times have I been in the verge of love with amazing connections (physically and emotionally)…but they just got out of a long relationship, they want kids of their own, don’t want instant family, they are still attached…timing has to be on your side too.  You have to both want the same thing at the same time as well as each other.  Once that’s there chemistry should never be let to fade, I believe love lies in equal commitment to keeping things hot and heavy. 

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