Ask anyone how they define love and they will give you their version of romantic love. This is not surprising, as our culture bombards us with a plethora of stories by which to base our definition for love.
Romantic stories make good novels and movies. Many rely on them to escape reality into a world of phantasy and excitement. But these stories don’t really tell us much about the depth and breadth of experiencing true love. They focus on the beginning experience of attraction which has more to do with lust.
The Bliss Bubble
It is easy to feel loved when a romantic relationship is in its infancy. Very few realize this is a hormonal time when the body releases dopamine and norepinephrine. The body releases dopamine when we do things that feel good, while it releases norepinephrine in partnership with high levels of dopamine when we are attracted to someone.
Once the body has released these hormones, lovers find their partners to be irresistible. Spending time with them becomes paramount in their lives, and so do their carnal urges. These feelings of attraction and desire can be so strong in the human brain that they can eclipse common sense. However, as time goes on, this hormonal release subsides in the body and normal brain patterns return. This is why I call this temporary period at the beginning of every relationship the Bliss Bubble. When the bubble finally burst (this can happen as quick as ninety days or last as long as two years), the reality about your chosen partner becomes apparent. This is when love becomes a conscious choice.
Love is a daily decision
One does not have to be old to understand love’s true meaning. Experience in love relationships and being open to their lessons are the main factors behind our perception of love. While it is true that the heart wants what the heart wants, only our decision to continue loving someone remains after the initial attraction has subsided.
I married my senior year high school sweetheart when I turned twenty-one. She was my first girlfriend, and I felt lucky to have a woman attracted to me. When the bliss bubble burst, and we discovered we had little in common, we stayed together because of our religious beliefs about marriage. Our union lasted twenty years, but it collapsed under the weight of our lack of interest for each other.
A few years later, I met my second wife. My approach to love remained the same, attract a beautiful woman and then do everything possible to hang on to them. Predictably, this relationship met the same end. I can see now how my view of love had not grown; I was still putting all of my love marbles on the basket of attraction.
My experience is not unique. I know many sexagenarians who still search for love in the same manner they did as teenagers. Like me, they failed to learn that, after lust, there must be substance to keep the relationship alive. Even then, it takes a daily choice to remain committed to a partner.
Fundamentals of a deeper love
I am not dismissing the importance of physical attraction in love relationships; it is important, but it is more the calling card that introduces couples to the physical, mental and spiritual intimacy they will need to remain together. Two people can remain physically beautiful for the rest of their lives, but their sexual attraction alone will not sustain their relationship if they don’t possess the following things;
1) Shared core values. It is important to have a partner that shares your beliefs about life and the world. This guarantees the mutual support for one another. For example, if you believe we have a role in helping the needy, but your partner sees the poor as lazy people who just look for handouts, it will be very difficult for the two of you to respect each other’s opinion. this disrespect will spread to other things and, without respect, the relationship is doomed to fail.
2) Common interests. While it is very important that each member of a couple be their own person, if you don’t have activities you share and bring you together, you will grow apart.
3) Trust. Fidelity is important in a relationship, but faithfulness alone should not define the limits of trust. Trust means you know your partner has your back. When you are down, they are there to help support you, when sailing troubled waters, you know they will work with you to keep the boat afloat.
4) Acceptance. That two people become one when they commit to one another has been proven to be false. The fact is that you can only be the person a Higher Power created you to be. This is your destiny, another cannot force you to become what they want you to be, nor you them. The best relationships I know of are the ones where each partner supports the full development of the other. They understand that our spirit evolves, and they make room for that to happen, even when they perceive it to be a threat to the relationship.
5) Friendship. While I am aware physical attraction diminishes over time, the sense of companionship and friendship between two partners can blossom into something powerful that cements the commitment they have for one another. Friendship needs the things I already mentioned, but it also requires that the two lovers like each other and work to spend time together to nourish their union.
6) Flexibility. Change is the only constant life offers, so it is only natural that relationships transform over time. To create a lasting love, both partners must understand they cannot hold the other to rigid standards. Flexibility means giving room for change to happen. This is particularly important during stressful times. These are the periods that call for cooperative problem solving and a willingness to accept new circumstances that redefine roles.
7) Mutual Interest. My experiences have taught me it is not good to be in a relationship where one partner is more invested than the other. Mutual interests are a cornerstone of a solid foundation to any love relationship. It is not fair if you have to make most of the effort to keep a relationship going. The interest to be together should be mutual. Remember, you are a treasure, if your partner does not see you that way, you are not for them nor they for you.
8) Touching. It is easy for partners to want to touch each other when Cupid has smitten them with his arrows, but this can go away over time. It is one thing to tell someone that you love them, but showing them with your touch is much more meaningful. The Mamas and the Papas say this well in their lyrics to the song, Words of Love;
Worn-out phrases and longing gazes
Won’t get you where you want to go,
Touching is more important than words and gazes. The act of touching someone is a commitment. With two lovers, touching is a convincing reminder that you want to be together. When I mention touching, I am not just referring to foreplay; it is also the effort to hold hands, hug, snuggling on the couch. Make it a point to touch each other daily and frequently. Let this be your reminder to one another that you like being with them.
Remember, paying gratitude for your life forward will reward you with much joy and contentment.