Valentines’ Day as we know it has its roots in an ancient Pagan tradition that pre-dates the birth of Christianity. So indeed it is old – but not nearly as old as the notion of ‘love’ itself. Love has existed forever.
Here, I sit in the twenty first century, looking at the books on my shelf, from various works of philosophy and literature: Greek classics, Dante, Shakespeare, Jane Austin, John Donne, to name but a few… Add into the mix the various work of twentieth century psychology, and it is clear that we are still no closer to a collective understanding of romantic love. It seems as though it is one of those timeless things which decks the halls of “the unknown”, alongside other metaphysical traditions such as religion, ontology, cosmology etc…
As a society, I sometimes wonder if our need to understand, explain, or find reasons for things, can take away from the blatantly unexplainable. And for me, this is where love comes in. Somewhere between the artistic, romantic idealism and the intellectual, psychological theories, exists something that seems to provoke parts of you that no other can. It can feel both amazing and horrific all at the same time; the juxtaposition of excitement and fear. Not to mention the fact that it also makes you behave sometimes, like a crazy person.
There are two other articles on this blog about Valentines’ Day and Love, Attraction And the Five Love Languages, and Is Each Day Valentine’s Day?, both of which I recommend reading if you are looking for ways to help improve romantic relationship. In this article, I am going to focus more on the ‘being’ state of love.
Attraction is the central feature when we first meet, or start dating someone. However, attraction in its many different forms can wax and wane. Often, physical or sexual attraction on its own will not last the test of time and can fade away within months. Equally, just liking someone on an emotional level is also not likely to sustain. But the two together are what makes attraction such a powerful pull on your life. And if both do co-exist, then when we are in a relationship with another, the act of giving ourselves in union, whilst also retaining our own necessary individuality, verges on seemingly paradoxical territory. This, however, is what intimacy is all about.
Opening up and revealing yourself to another is possibly the most scary thing you can do. Maybe because when you really like someone, it feels like you have got so much more to lose. And the fear of this is real. Someone once said to me that she was effectively scared of her partner because she knew he had the power to hurt her more than anyone else: her vulnerability lay in his hands. So trust also plays a big role. If you find trust difficult for whatever reason, fears around intimacy can intensify. Trusting others with your heart or trusting yourself with others, are likely to be the result of past/life experience. It can be a lonely place for people to be, and yet it is only through relationship (which includes intimacy), that such wounds can be healed.
In terms of the ‘sex part’, I am absolutely convinced that often, sex without love is easy. It is an act, albeit an enjoyable one, but one which, without intimate feelings can enable us to stay disconnected from the relational, emotional process. And I think it is probably also fair to say that love without sex can to some extent be easy, because you can avoid going to those deep places: the depths of intense sexuality where we connect in mind, body and soul. This is where real intimacy comes alive – a place of pure uncontrolled instinct and connection. Both persons can be at their most vulnerable, and yet both also possess a magical strength that creates the true intimate moment within the act.
Some people try to put things into boxes, but if we accept it true that love is uncontrollable then this will never work. If you can succeed in putting a lid on something, it surely fails to evoke much of a notion of its full and intrinsic power. And behind even the most caring relationships, there must exist a passion which explodes both positively and negatively. Passion in the latter sense can be difficult to understand, and certainly psychologically speaking, there has been much work produced on how we as people may be attracted to the ‘negative’ attributes of partners, because it reminds us of something from our past, or fulfils some of our childhood beliefs about ourselves (which works against us being in our fully functional ‘adult’ state). I guess there is an argument for saying therefore that passion can sometimes feel dangerous.
However, Fernando Barros says in her article on this blog Attraction and the Five Love Languages, that the “crisis” of love, can be also understood as opportunity. The differences between people and the conflicts it may give rise to, can be a good way to develop oneself. Maybe we reject or ignore our full potential as people, and become blinded to only one path. But, one of the greatest things about another person who loves and cares about you is that through their way of being, they can awaken some of the parts of you that you might neglect or even reject. If you can find someone who really understands you, and can be compassionate and non-judgemental, whilst also helping you break out and fulfil your true potential – then, I think you are onto a good thing.
Finding a balance between passion on the one hand, and stable, commitment can sometimes feel difficult. Maybe they seem at odds which each other. But the one who has the power to arouse passion (both negative and positive), whilst remaining respectful and honouring of your vulnerability and personhood, will be the one who can fulfil and enlighten your soul. The immensity of this can at times feel uncomfortable, but the realness existing between your vulnerable self and your partner’s, creates a true sense of being alive. It is what distinguishes romantic love from any other ordinary love. We all want to feel “safe” in our partnership, particularly if we have had previous unsafe attachments, but actually the feeling of ‘unsafeness’ is the driving force behind the most intimate moments. Intimacy is giving yourself to another – safe because it is safe, yet unsafe because it is so scary. Perfect harmony exists, not in everything being ‘nice’, but in the balancing of opposites.
Writing this article, I have realised that never has the saying: “you have to lose yourself, to find yourself” meant so much. Intimacy and love requires opening up and showing all of the self: the great, the good, the bad and the ugly. A lot of this work has to be done from the individual themselves through growth, development and courage. The healthy relationship comes from a place of full acceptance of oneself as well as the other; the likelihood is that if you are shameful of yourself, you are likely to also be shameful of the other. But maybe also it is through believing that another person could really love you, for no other reason than that – just pure and simple love of one’s being, that we can release our full potential as both a person in our own right, and a person in relationship.
This Thursday, February 14th is a day couples either pointedly mark, or ignore. Of course if you do observe it, presents and special meals can be good in terms of celebrating your relationship. However, maybe for everyone this Valentine’s Day, a rekindling of what your partner means to you, and how they enrich your life, is a worthy starting point. Sometimes, it can be easy to forget the reasons we fell in love with someone, but keeping the intimacy alive with respect, love, passion and compassion, will always surmount all other gifts.
How do you feel when in a romantic relationship? Do you think that you successfully balance the celebration of your love (be it on a special day, or continuously through dates/time spent together), with a deeper intimate connection? Do certain songs, poems, works of literature, remind you of your partner? Please feel free to write in with any reflections. And as ever, if anything has been evoked for you in this article and you want to gain more insight, here at The Awareness Centre we provide counselling for help with issues around trust and intimacy, couples counselling for partners to explore their relationship, and Psychosexual Therapy.
Many people attribute tremendous importance to the notion of romantic love, where they pin all their hopes and dreams. However when this goes sour it is a source of much unhappiness and suffering and many clients enter therapy to unveil the mysteries of difficulties in interpersonal relationships. When we project our stories onto people and look for them to define all our best attributes this is a recipe for suffering. Most of the time, interpersonal relationships will reflect all our worse attributes in order to heal them.
I need to add here that there are many types of ‘love’ and whenever there is difficulty in a romantic relationship it is only but a reflection of difficulties in many other relationships in someone’s lives including the primary relationship. Often when clients enter therapy to talk about romantic difficulties they end up on a journey of self discovery. Often people can let go of an attachment to the notion of romantic relationship and expectations of how love must look or feel like. I believe that every challenge is an opportunity for growth but also that what we believe we know about love and sexuality are a reflection of what we have been fed by society and parental values. Once we unpack in therapy what someone believes their ideal mate is, what sex must be like or what their ideal relationship is- very little of these definitions tend to come from the persons authentic self and most of it are standards absorbed from social conformity. It is my opinion that romantic love is a great gateway to find out one’s stance of being towards authorship and authenticity in one’s life. It can take great courage to take the risk to let go of fears and expectations and unpack all one thinks they ‘know’ about love. Moreover, is a wonderful thing that psychology can’t explain away all feelings from a theoretical perspective. Yet, feeling is healing and it is only when we let go of head-based analytic living that we can have a life more fulfilled with love and authentic relationships. It will be difficult to define the new model of relationships with what was once previously defined in many peoples’s concept of living. To become the authors of one’s life is to create one’s own existence based on the heart and joy. As Kierkegaard stated: ‘ once you label me you negate me’ so why is there still the need to define everything in our discipline?
My suggestion for love is to search inside your own heart and trust your own intuition above all else, specially over what one has been told love is rather than an union with oneself. More often than not, a search for external love reveals a sense of lack or void as well as feelings of abandonment and loss. The old cliche of falling in love with yourself before attracting healthy partnerships is one that will never fall away by dogma!
Fernanda Barros BA(Hons); MSC;MBPps; MBACP(Accred); UKCP(Reg) Counselling Psychologist and Psychotherapist
Thanks Caz, I have enjoyed reading your reflections on love. Here is a quote on this subject that I really like:
“We are all a little weird and life is a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.” Dr. Seuss
Thanks to the two commentators above for your reflections. I really enjoyed reading them.
I guess all I have to say in reply is that I absolutely agree with Fernanda’s call to search inside your heart and use your intuition. It is frankly the only way.
And of course Sandra, I do appreciate the limerick – strangely it probably is true!