STYLES OF LOVING: WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?
WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?
Robert W. Birch, Ph.D.
Sexologist & Adult Sexuality Educator
"Lust is what makes you keep wanting it,
even when you have no desire to be with each other.
Love is what makes you keep wanting to be with each other,
even when you have no desire to do it."
John Ciardi, in a 1978 New
York Times article, wrote, "Love is the word used to label the sexual
excitement of the young, the habituation of the middle-aged, and the mutual
dependence of the old." Is this what love is? Do the young fall in lust
and call it love? In our middle years do we call a feeling of comfort and
familiarity love? Is love in our golden years just a feeling of mutual need
for emotional and physical support?
In the book Love and
Limerence (1979), Dorothy Tennov states, "Human beings have had difficulty
differentiating among: 1) sexual desire, 2) liking, in the sense of friendship,
3) affection and 4) love, in the sense of concern for the other person's
welfare." I would add as a fifth confusing feeling the dependent need to
be loved, for there are those who believe they love another on the sole
basis of that person loving them.
In our society, we talk
and write and sing so much about love, but it remain a mystery. Plato,
the Greek philosopher, wrote, "Love is a grave mental disease." Renowned
psychiatrist Karl Menninger, however, wrote, "Love cures people - both
the ones who give it and the ones who receive it." This leads me to ponder
the question, is love both the illness and the cure?
To love and not be loved
in return is very painful. To desperately need and not be needed can be,
for some, emotionally devastating. Robert Kalich, in 1981, wrote, "Loving
a woman who doesn't love you back is like bouncing a basketball without
air in it." Rejection can lead to feelings of depression, to a devaluing
of one's own personal worth, and to a wide range of emotional and physical
symptoms. Are these devastating feelings the result of unreturned mature
love, or are they the consequences of an immature dependent love and the
erroneous belief that one has no value unless loved by another?
When a lover leaves, the
sense of intense loss is fueled by the irrational belief that one can never
love another person as much as the love felt for the one who has gone.
Desperate, dependent, destructive "love" has been viewed as an addiction
in many of the popular books of the '70s and '80s, such as How to Break
Your Addiction of a Person by Halpern, Women Who Love Too Much by
Peele, and Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places by Diamond.
Others warned women about making bad decisions in matters of love, as in
Women, Foolish Choices by Cowan & Kinder, and Men Who Hate Women
and the Women Who Love Them by Forward & Torres. Cassel, in Swept
Away, warns women not to fall into lust and then excuse themselves for being
sexual by convincing themselves they must have been swept away by love.
Is love blind? Do we enter an altered state
of awareness when we fall in love and misperceive our loved one? This would
appear to be true, at least according to Dorothy Tennov who has coined
the word "limerence" to identify the early stages of attraction and infatuation,
during which we see no faults. In limerence, one will be blinded by the
feelings and rush headlong into a relationship with someone who is still
a relative stranger. In limerence, one cannot sleep, cannot eat, and cannot
concentrate on anyone but the object of this powerful attraction. (Others,
e.g., Krenshaw in The Alchemy of Love, would see this altered state
as being induced by biochemical influences not readily available to conscious
awareness.) Limerence might be the precursor to love, but according to
Tennov, it is not love.
If, in the course of basking
in limerence, love develops, the feelings will have permanence. However,
if there is limerence and no love, the feelings will fade into indifference
or dislike. Tennov gives limerence from six to twelve months "shelf life."
What remains is the true test of the relationship. Statistics tell us that
with a larger percentage of marriages occurring less than a year after
the couple met, divorce is likely to occur. The concept of limerence is
a good argument for dating well past the one year mark before committing
to the legal contract of marriage.
Liv Ullmann, in a 1977 McCalls
is quoted as saying, "I felt as though the clouds were not on the horizon,
but under my feet." It was surely limerence that had inspired a description
of such romantic euphoria. In a more cynical mood, John Barrymore once
said, "Love is the delightful interval between meeting a beautiful girl
and discovering that she looks like a haddock." Such an interval is exactly
what Tennov had in mind when she wrote about limerence. This blindness
imposed by a state of limerence is also expressed in the 1955 comment by
Maurice Chevalier when he said, "Many a man has fallen in love with a girl
in a light so dim he would not have chosen a suit in." One wonders if he
was talking of love, limerence or just plain lust. (In addition to possibly
confusing love, limerence and lust, note how forty plus years ago, grown
women were referred to as "girls." Political correctness had not yet made
its entry into our way of thinking and writing.)
STYLES OF LOVING
Two books, Loving Styles
by Rosenman (1979) and Styles of Loving by Lasswell and Lobsenz
(1980), presented an interesting perspective on the various way people
feel, but indiscriminately call love. These authors argue that there is
no one kind of love, no single constellation of feelings, but rather at
least six distinct styles. They make the point that we love in different
ways and that each of us has developed a unique combination of these different
styles. In the English language we use the word love very broadly
(and my modify it by adding an adjective, such as brotherly love, parental
love, platonic love, etc.). In the Greek language, however,
there six different feels are identified: Storge, Agape, Mania, Pragma,
Ludus, and Eros.
like stor-gay) is friendship love. A storge lover says of the loved on,
"He/she is my very best friend." This love is based on common interests,
similar values, mutual goals and compatible personalities. Storge loving
builds slowly is is not complicated by sexual chemistry. Sex is not important
in the development of the relationship and is not the central to it. Although
this style of loving lacks excitement and passion, it brings a great sense
of security and stability. Of all the styles of loving, storge loving between
friends is the most lasting.
The agape lover is
giving and forgiving. Agape lovers believe that loving someone means putting
the other's welfare above their own. Bill Murry described it on a 1980
Night Show with David Letterman, when he said, "If you really love
someone you try to do for them what they don't know they need done." Too
much giving and forgiving, however, can approach the level of martyrdom,
and resentment might begin to build. Lopsided self-sacrifice and too much
forgiving of bad behavior can lead to feelings of being taken for granted
and of being abused. Many agape lovers who have gone to extremes have remarked,
"I'm sick of it. I give and give and never get back. I overlook everything
and feel walked on. I'm burned out and just can't give any more." Agape
lovers thrive only with an appreciative partner who gives in return.
Mania loving is being
madly in love. This high energy loving adds excitement to a relationship,
but too much madness leads to possessiveness and jealous. It is as thought
the intense mania lover is never sure that the loved one will not leave,
and they must cling tightly. Partners of mania lovers might initially be
thrilled to be loved and needed so intensely, but they are likely to end
up feeling rigidly controlled. Mania love does not allow a partner to grow,
as the mania lover feels at risk when they are unable to control their
partner. Too much mania becomes oppressive, controlling and ultimately
Pragma love is practical.
Often it is like falling in love with your head, not your heart. A true
pragma lover goes out with a mental shopping list of the qualities required
in a prospective partner. The list is usually very practical, including
such things as the ideal partner's social status, occupation, material
possessions, and level of income. A man who buys an expensive car to attract
women is shopping for a pragma lover. The father who gives his daughter
the advice, "It is just as easy to marry a rich man as it is to marry a
poor one," has given a pragma message. Indeed, the first thing that attracts
her to a man might be his car.
The pragma message can be found in an old
English proverb, dating back to 1670, that states "Who marrieth for love without money
hath good nights and sorry days."
Ludus lovers are
the game players. The love the singles bars that become their playground.
Ludus lovers will come on strong, being well practiced in the art of seduction.
However, it is very difficult for a ludus lover to make a lasting commitment.
It is ironic that the ludus lover is most likely to end a relationship
when it is at its best. Since it is the pursuit and not the conquest that
is exciting, commitment holds no attraction. As a relationship becomes
secure and the initial passion fades, ludus lovers become bored and will
often begin a new relationship even before ending an old one. By overlapping
relationships, the game player can guarantee the continual excitement of
a fresh pursuit.
The sixth style of loving
is Eros or erotic love. Eros lovers are typically romantic and
value intimacy, both emotional and physical. They are likely to believe
in love at first sight and will talk of feeling a strong physical attraction
to their partner... a sexual chemistry. Sexual behavior is likely to occur
between two eros lovers much earlier in a relationship than between two
storge lovers. While the ludus lover might push for sexual relations early
in a relationship, it is a matter of conquest and scoring, but the eros
lover's desire to be sexual is to connect and to share the intimacy of
mutual sexual satisfaction.
If we accept the assumption
that what we typically call "love" is really a combination or mixture of
at least six different styles of loving, we can begin to understand why
some relationships are destined to fail. An agape lover might burn out,
a mania lover can hold too tightly, a pragma lover might never feel
emotionally filled, and an eros lover might fall in love with a ludus lover
and wonder how such a perfect union could end so abruptly. We can also
understand why two people can each profess love for the other, but neither
will feel loved. It certainly seems true that love is neither a singular
nor simple emotion that we could ever hope to define in a simple definition.
We each love in our own unique way and respond best when loved back in
a similar style.
Love is a celebration of
two lives bonded together by mutual caring, compassion, and concern. Consideration,
compatibility and open communication enrich both lives. Mature lasting
love is characterized by mutual respect, and is never critical, demanding,
or restrictive. Mutual growth is supported, both as a couple and as individuals.
Dorothy Parker wisely has said, "love is like quicksand in the hand. Leave
your fingers open, and it stays. Clutch it, and it darts away."
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