Love is an ever so sought after, ephemeral and intangible emotional state. A state so highly coveted because of the powerful properties loving someone and receiving love in return can induce—including incredible physical strength (the mother who is able to lift a car just long enough for her trapped child to escape), a sense of profound wellbeing (as seen in the case of romantically attached couples), competence (as true love in friendship tends to build a person up so that they feel they can accomplish their heart’s desire) and security (as seen in families where unconditional love abounds). Love, when done correctly unequivocally outmatches the euphoria of any other human emotion or, for that matter drug induced emotions.
The only catch is many, including married, single and divorced, feel it is an arduous or even futile journey to find true romantic love with another. People feel this way when they hold an idealistic notion of what love is, while simultaneously building walls to prevent love from entering their lives.
The ancient Greeks used language to differentiate types of love. Agape refers to selfless, unconditional love—that is loving freely, without expecting to earn a dividend on what has been given. Eros refers to passion, desire and longing. Philia refers to love in terms of loyalty and family—this includes enjoying hobbies and pursuits, where there is an ethic of equality and back and forth involved. And finally, Storge refers to when the fondness taken from love brings an unusual kind of acceptance and tolerance.
These various states of love can be experienced as separate entities with different people. And oftentimes, people find it easier to love in a kind of bifurcated way, i.e. sexual fulfillment with a lover who is uninvolved in their life in any real way, attachment love with their children, commitment and security with their spouse, and emotional intimacy with a friend. Supporting this idea is the fact that emotional states of love are often experienced in different regions of the brain. Sexual chemistry lights up the dopaminergic reward systems while security and commitment are more frontal lobe functions that are less impulsive than romantic passion. Similarly the hormones that increase women’s tendency to attach and bond are released during childbirth but also during sexual intercourse, so that sometimes people become attached to lovers even when they may not experience any emotional intimacy or other states of love.
It is the blending of these states with one romantic partner that leads a person to feeling deeply in love. Romantic love, sexual chemistry, unconditional acceptance and friendship can be experienced with the same person, but some put blocks up to not allow themselves to have this fully encompassing love experience.
For many who are single, divorced, or even married, it is less threatening to bifurcate their experience of love. Instead of showing their full self to their spouse or love interest they tend to outsource romance, friendship, sex, acceptance, to the person best suited for that particular job. By doing this, they keep their fear and insecurity at bay. As the saying goes ‘don’t keep all of your eggs in one basket,’ people who love in this patchy manner feel safer knowing that if someone on their love team disappoints, they have the rest of the team to lean on.
The problem with this approach is that a person never gives themselves the opportunity to truly feel in love and loved. Instead they may be unhappy in their marriage, bemoaning how a spouse disappoints them, and ready to embrace another who can better address their needs. Or, they are perpetually single and cynical about love, never really believing it attainable so that a self-fulfilling prophesy manifests whereby they have fragmented experiences of people without ever really being known, cared for or accepted.
Whether you are married, single or divorced, the merging of unconditional love, passion and friendship with the same person is possible and is within your reach. Perhaps doing this has seemed daunting to you in the past. Here is how to turn your perception of love from skeptic to romantic.
1. People who see themselves as whole beings typically communicate their entire selves to their romantic partners and, similarly, are better able to appreciate all aspects of their partners. Work on seeing yourself and others as whole people, not just service providers for one particular need. Build awareness of yourself—who you are emotionally, sexually and as a friend. Then carefully notice what you communicate about yourself to your partners. Notice if you only communicate about your emotional needs, and leave out who you are professionally. Do you short-circuit to sex so quickly that your partners do not get an opportunity to know the other aspects of who you are? Similarly, notice if your romantic partners are only letting you in on one aspect of themselves or their needs. If you feel they do not speak about anything other than going out and having fun or only talk about work or sex, try to see if you can direct the conversation to other topics. If it continues down this road, consider moving on to someone who can let you in on their full self.
2. There are countless rationalizations used in our culture to justify fear of closeness and being fully known through merging friendship, attachment, sexual chemistry and acceptance. Such rationalizations include “men always cheat,” “married people never have sex,” “humans can’t be monogamous,” “long term relationships always turn into a roommate situation,” “never trust a man,” “women can only emotionally connect with other women,” “men don’t understand emotions.” These and countless other excuses only support the desire to stay in a state of fear in terms of commitment and true intimacy. These kinds of statements can justify a person’s tendency to outsource their needs to the highest bidder. Do not play into such conditions as they are self-defeating and categorically untrue. Instead of generalizations and rules, judge each romantic partner as an individual.
3. Remember that closeness is scary for many, maybe even for you, and push yourself to be your full self in spite of this fear. At a minimum, at least be with someone with whom you can discuss how hard it is for you to be your full self with another. If you are not afraid of closeness then notice if you tend to date people who are and recalibrate this tendency in yourself.
4. Believe that having it all in love is not only possible, but it is possible for you. Instead of allowing yourself to sink into cynicism, push yourself to believe in whole loving and welcome those who are able to see you as a whole person. Keep this idea at the top of your mind through making a mental checklist of the types of love you want to experience with a partner. When with your spouse or date, consciously notice and label in your head when you experience a sense of friendship, sexual chemistry or emotional acceptance. When you do not experience these things with a particular partner, give them an opportunity to please you through letting them know what you need.
As I describe in my book Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy—Why Women Settle for One-Sided Relationships, many grow up fully equipped to form fulfilling relationship, but many don’t. Fortunately, those who don’t can learn to alter their behavior and choices in ways that enormously improve their prospects for love and healthy partnership. One important element in doing this is to reconsider if falling in love is all that hard and if you put up walls to prevent it from happening.
Keep the discussion going, click here to follow Jill on Facebook or here to follow Jill on Twitter @DrJillWeber. Jill P. Weber, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and author of Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy—Why Women Settle for One-Sided Relationships