I Can’t Get Enough of Your Love

The more you give, the more I want.

Posted Nov 27, 2010

"I can't get enough of your love babe
Some things I can't get used to
No matter how I try
Just like the more you give, the more I want"
Barry White

What does it mean not to get enough of the beloved? Does it mean that the relationship entails a scarcity of love or an abundance of love? And if the latter, how can the spring of love be endless?

Having enough means having as much as is required or wanted. Not having enough may be due to scarcity—i.e., what is available is insufficient—or due to an abundance—i.e., that an inexhaustible amount is available. In the case of scarcity, we can speak about never receiving enough from a certain person; in the case of abundance, we can speak about never having enough of a certain person. Love that is dying concerns scarcity, whereas genuine love involves abundance.

It is relatively easy to explain the circumstances in which scarcity arises. One might have a notion of an ideal lover who is kind, wise, handsome, rich, and caring with a great sense of humor, while actually, one's lover is simply mediocre in most of these aspects. Thus, a woman may love her husband, but nevertheless, be dissatisfied with his intellectual shallowness. In this sense, intellectually, she never receives enough from him. Since (almost) no one is perfect, it is a common phenomenon to feel that one is not receiving enough from a partner in one or several realms.

It is harder to explain how lovers can feel that they can never get enough of their beloveds since the beloveds have so much to give and might be giving their all. This seems to imply the demand for an endless supply of goodies, while the opposite seems more common: The more familiar we are with someone, the more that our experiences with them could become boring, as change is absent.

The situation of not having enough of someone surely depends on the qualities of that person, as well as on the taste of the beloved. What kinds of activity can be perceived as offering an endless source of interest and value? I suggest it should be an activity whose value lies in the activity itself and not in achieving an external goal. When the value lies in the activity itself, it will always remain valuable to pursue it together—unless it loses its value due to overuse.

Aristotle distinguishes between extrinsically and intrinsically valuable activities. An extrinsically valuable activity is a means to an external goal; its value lies in achieving that goal. Examples of such activities are building a house, paying bills, cleaning the house, and attending job interviews.

In an intrinsically valuable activity, our interest is focused upon the activity itself, not its results. Although such an activity entails results, it is not performed in order to achieve them. Listening to music is an example of an intrinsically valuable activity: We listen to music because we value doing so and not because of a certain external goal.

An intrinsically valuable activity is an ongoing activity that does not seek to achieve an external goal: It is a never-ending process. Thus, if a painter considers painting as essential to her life—as a part of her individual identity—she cannot "finish" painting. She can merely stop painting from time to time, or finish painting a particular picture.

Similarly, if we consider (as does Aristotle) that intellectual thinking or moral behavior is essential to our human identity, we cannot say that at a certain point in life we "finish" these activities; we can say that from time to time we stop performing them. These activities are profound in the sense that they are essential to what we characterize as flourishing human life.

When we say that we cannot have enough of a certain person, this may mean that we consider that being with her is an intrinsically valuable activity. Just as we can never finish listening to music or engaging in intellectual thought, and hence we can never get enough of such activities, so we cannot exhaust all the various possibilities of being with our beloved, and hence we can never have enough of her.

In characterizing an intrinsically valuable activity, two main criteria may be used: (a) the agent's attitude is that of considering the activity to be valuable for its own sake; and (b) the activity involves optimal functioning, using and developing the agent's essential capacities and attitudes in a systematic manner over a sustained period of time. The first criterion is subjective, and the second criterion is more objective. A profound, intrinsically valuable activity is one that fulfills both criteria. The great value and contribution of intrinsically valuable activities to one's well-being and flourishing is one aspect that differentiates it from obsessions, which are so harmful to us.

The above criteria are relevant for considering being with the beloved as an intrinsically valuable activity. Being with the beloved should have its own value unrelated to external benefits, such as getting richer, increasing one's status, or having frequent orgasms. Being with the beloved should also involve the optimal functioning and flourishing of each person. If those criteria are met, the lover cannot get enough of the beloved; if the criteria are not met, the lover cannot get enough from the beloved.

What makes us consider that there is an intrinsic value in listening to music, painting, intellectual thinking, and being with our beloved?

For one thing, these activities must be profound and have a certain degree of complexity so that we do not become bored with them and so that we are able to find more interesting and enjoyable facets in them constantly. If music were to repeat itself monotonously, it would stop being interesting; if painting were to consist of merely copying the same lines, it would become boring; if intellectual thinking were to deal only with the same problem, it would stop being intellectually challenging (see here).

In a similar vein, the beloved should be a person with whom you like to be, someone with whom you enjoy engaging in a variety of physical and mental activities. Thus, the value of going to a movie together does not stem mainly from the quality of the movie, but from watching it together. You enjoy being with the beloved just as much as, and often even more than, you like doing the intrinsically valuable activities.

Intrinsically valuable activities are not exclusive, in the sense that the agent can be involved in several intrinsically valuable activities. Thus, the intrinsic value of listening to music or engaging in intellectual thinking does not imply that we should do nothing else but engage in these activities. Similarly, the intrinsic value of the lovers' togetherness does not mean that they should be together with each other all the time.

In a thriving relationship, the importance of significant personal space cannot be exaggerated. The existence of such a space enables each lover to engage in intrinsically valuable activities that are mainly done by the agent alone, such as writing or painting.

One implication of this view is that it adopts the self-validated rather than the other-validated model of romantic relationships (see my books, Passionate Marriage and In the Name of Love). The other-validated model is based on the anticipation of one's partner's acceptance, while the self-validating model relies on one maintaining one's own autonomy and self-worth.

While romantic love involves both types of attitudes, the self-validated model is by far more important in a healthy relationship. Indeed, a sense of satisfaction with the self has been found to be the strongest predictor of life satisfaction.

The shift in emphasis from the other to the self should be distinguished from egocentrism or self-centeredness. Attempting to nurture your capacities and genuine needs while at the same time developing a loving, equal relationship with another person is not necessarily egocentric—especially not when you wish to nurture the other's capacities as well.

The above considerations can be encapsulated in the following statement that a lover might express: "Darling, I love you so much that I cannot get enough of you, but sometimes I just want to be on my own."