A one-way ticket to a toxic relationship

Many people are addicted to the ups and downs of romantic love. They are in it for the feels, so to speak. And when the feels run out, so do they. Many people get into a relationship as a way to compensate for something they lack or hate within themselves. This is a one-way ticket to a toxic relationship because it makes your love conditional — you will love your partner as long as they help you feel better about yourself. You will give to them as long as they give to you. You will make them happy as long as they make you happy.  This conditionality prevents any true, deep-level intimacy from emerging and chains the relationship to the bucking throes of each person’s internal dramas.

Mark Manson

What does she see in him?!

It happened years ago, but I've never forgotten it. I was singing and speaking at a small Midwestern college. During an informal seminar in one of the dorm lounges, a couple came in late.

I couldn't help noticing something odd about them. The girl was very attractive, close to cover-girl standards. The guy looked as if he had just walked off the set for The Nerds. He was short, wore thick horn-rimmed glasses and a plaid short-sleeved shirt. He was definitely a candidate for getting sand kicked in his face.

But the strangest thing of all was that these two were obviously in love. What could she possibly see in him? I asked myself. Suddenly I realized — she was blind.

But what did she see in him? Everything. Everything that's important about who a person is, what love is, and what a real man is. She saw everything she needed to know about him.

Blessed are the blind, for they can see people as they really are. Woe to those who can see, for they will constantly be tripped up by the image.

John Fischer, Real Christians Don’t Dance!

Love and Death

In the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, a reporter who, confronted with living the same day over and over again, matures from an arrogant, self-serving professional climber to someone capable of loving and appreciating others and his world. Murray convincingly portrays the transformation from someone whose self-importance is difficult to abide into a person imbued with kindness.

But there is another story line at work in the film, one we can see if we examine Murray’s character not in the early arrogant stage, nor in the post-epiphany stage, where the calendar is once again set in motion, but in the film’s middle, where he is knowingly stuck in the repetition of days. In this part of the narrative, Murray’s character has come to terms with his situation. He alone knows what is going to happen, over and over again. He has no expectations for anything different. In this period, his period of reconciliation, he becomes a model citizen of Punxsutawney. He radiates warmth and kindness, but also a certain distance.

The early and final moments of “Groundhog Day” offer something that is missing during this period of peace: passion. Granted, Phil Connors’s early ambitious passion for advancement is a far less attractive thing than the later passion of his love for Rita (played by Andie MacDowell). But there is passion in both cases. It seems that the eternal return of the same may bring peace and reconciliation, but at least in this case not intensity.

And here is where a lesson about love may lie. One would not want to deny that Connors comes to love Rita during the period of the eternal Groundhog Day. But his love lacks the passion, the abandon, of the love he feels when he is released into a real future with her. There is something different in those final moments of the film. A future has opened for their relationship, and with it new avenues for the intensity of his feelings for her. Without a future for growth and development, romantic love can extend only so far. Its distinction from, say, a friendship with benefits begins to become effaced.

There is, of course, in all romantic love the initial infatuation, which rarely lasts. But if the love is to remain romantic, that infatuation must evolve into a longer-term intensity, even if a quiet one, that nourishes and is nourished by the common engagements and projects undertaken over time.

The future is open. Unlike the future in “Groundhog Day,” it is not already decided. We do not have our next days framed for us by the day just passed. We can make something different of our relationships. There is always more to do and more to create of ourselves with the ones with whom we are in love.

This is not true, however, and romantic love itself shows us why. Love is between two particular people in their particularity. We cannot love just anyone, even others with much the same qualities. If we did, then when we met someone like the beloved but who possessed a little more of a quality to which we were drawn, we would, in the phrase philosophers of love use, “trade up.” But we don’t trade up, or at least most of us don’t. This is because we love that particular person in his or her specificity. And what we create together, our common projects and shared emotions, are grounded in those specificities. Romantic love is not capable of everything. It is capable only of what the unfolding of a future between two specific people can meaningfully allow.

Todd May writing in the New York Times

You Complete Me

One of the most memorable scenes in the movie Jerry Maguire climaxes with the main character telling his estranged wife, “You complete me.” Many people understand the line to mean "I'm not a whole person without you." As if a person is like a machine missing a critical part until the "right one' comes along.

But you could also hear it as a statement of realization that "I finally see how we fit together." Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Or better yet, like two great works of art. The paintings or sculptures or rugs are beautiful on their own, yet together they create a new, compelling and intricate tapestry of vibrant colors.

Stephen Goforth

Lasting Love

Lasting love is a passion that grows. The more we know the person, the more deeply we love him. There are a few who are struck like lightning. The minute they see someone they hear violins. This usually happens only in the movies. As one writer has suggested, it has to be “love at first sight” in a show that only has two hours to run.

Surveys continuously support love by growth. The overwhelming majority say they did not “fall in love” all at once. They met a person and found him attractive or interesting. Whatever caught their attention made them want to learn more. Possibly they met the person again or went on a date. At any rate, something started to grow. The person became more interesting.

Some people are frustrated because falling in love wasn’t like a divine revelation or a heart seizure. Consequently they even wonder if it is real. Such “falling” is a romantic dream that most of use have never experienced. But love which takes time can be the most enduring kind.

It is a question of expectation. Those who expect love to be automatic and instantaneous are often disappointed. It is more realistic to expect love to grow into full bloom as you live together in marriage. Then, rather than looking for an ideal experience, both lovers expect to change and grow.

William Coleman, Engaged

Separate Identities

Although the act of nurturing another’s spiritual growth has the effect of nurturing one’s own, a major characteristic of genuine love is that the distinction between oneself and the other is always maintained and preserved. The genuine lover always perceives the beloved as someone who has a totally separate identity. Moreover, the genuine lover always respects and even encourages this separateness and the unique individuality of the beloved. Failure to perceive and respect this separateness is extremely common, however, and the cause of much mental illness and unnecessary suffering.

Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

Love Hurts… Really!

Heartache can have the same effect as someone spilling hot coffee on us. Imaging scans show the same parts of the brain light up for physical pain as when you are separated from a loved one or have a broken heart, say researchers at the University of Michigan. They asked 40 people who had a recent unwanted romantic breakup that gave them feelings of rejection to look at a photo of their former partner to think about the relationship. The brain scans taken during this, and other, similar situations were compared to scans when subjects were given a slight pain. The similarities in the brain scans suggest a close connection between our minds and our bodies. The painful emotions that come with feeling socially rejected can scar us in more than one way. The sting of heartbreak and rejection can literally makes us physically ill. Our social well-being is a critical part of maintaining a healthy life.

Is there someone you’ve cast aside with a harsh word, or a loved one on whom you have regularly dumped your negative attitude? It’s not that far removed from poisoning or hitting that person because in the end the results can be similar.

Details of the study are in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Stephen Goforth

Successful relationships cannot survive on love alone

My friends often look at me like I have two heads when I say this: Love is the easy part. That’s why it can’t be enough. We’re programmed from a young age to believe in this idea of love conquering all things, but love alone can’t really do much. Yet we allow it to dominate and often decide whether our relationships flourish or flounder. Love without commitment, love without honesty, love without a promise — all of these are inadequate when it comes to pursuing meaningful relationships. Someone who loves you can hurt you. Someone who loves you can betray you. Someone who loves you can walk away.  Expect more than the simple stuff. Find the ones willing to go the extra mile. 

Alex McDaniel

the alter of desire

In the courtly legend of Tristan and Iseult, Tristan is not really in love with Iseult. He is in love with love itself. And so is Iseult. Their violent passion is forged into a god.) Read about it in DeRougemont's provocative Love in the Western World.) 

Worshippers at this alter of desire try to avoid the guilt that comes from obedience to raw emotion by treating Eros as if it were an overwhelming power, an irresistible force. They have “fallen in love.” Love is an unexpected experience beyond their control. Romance crept up from behind and pushed them into this ditch. Devotees at the alter of desire are helpless but to fall under the power of love. Certainly the victims cannot be held responsible for obeying this unexpected urge, can they?  

Ultimately, boredom drives the mystic lovers. Bowing to the thrilling promises set forth in the myth, their romantic excitement builds on short excitations, passionate partings and obstacles blocking the path (obstacles like disapproving relatives or the torn conscience of one of the lovers).  Suffering the intolerable pain of desire unfulfilled, the lovers endure the angst of wanting and not having. Circumstances that force them apart only intensifies their condition.

Their growing passion feeds on the unknown and mysterious. In this savage love, an erotic man sees a woman as a means, a mystical mixture of dreams and sex. He has removed her personhood because he pursues the unattainable. Seeing her as fully human with faults and weaknesses, would remove the mystery. Since the love-potion is weak and passes quickly, new obstacles or adventures must continually rise up in order to keep that “wonderful feeling” immediate and real, covering the beloved's flaws with a layer of sentimentality.

The true culmination of a love like Tristan and Iseult’s can never be marriage. That would put an end to the pursuit, and thus the thrill. A man of passion seeks to be defeated, to lose all self-control, to be beside himself in ecstasy. Marriage, as De Rougemont suggests, is the grave of such sentimentality. To possess her is to lose her. To know her, really know her for who she is, is to lose the mystery in the clatter of everyday life.

Marriage is made up of habit, daily union, and growing accustomed with one another. When a couple marries in obedience to romance, they experience a flatness in the relationship.  The allure of passion is buried underneath familiarity.  Unless they chose to grow in love, they run the risk of once again pursuing unattainable beauty, tempted by the next person who triggers that strong emotion or by pursuing some other adventure and thrill.  One pursuit leads to another and then another, because passion is typically the doorway to no other world but itself. 

This obsession fails to satisfy and always cries out for more. It's can play a single fleeting aspect of a complete and full life, but no more. Giving the false god place it does not deserve eventually consumes it's worshippers, robbing them of the energy and perspective to pursue authenticity. 

Real love involves a decision. To be “in love” is a state of being that can only be endured or accepted. But “to love” is an act.  The lover seeks “to love” by pursuing what is best for the beloved. This "seeking" is not a one-time event, but a pursuit, a habit chosen again and again. In the marriage ceremony, when a couple vows an enduring love, they cannot mean an attempt to maintain some sort of state of perpetual sentiment.  This is not possible. What is possible is a commitment to take action--to make an act of love.. and to do so with each sun rising.  

Stephen Goforth

The Myth of Romantic Love

To serve as effectively as it does to trap us into marriage, the experience of falling in love probably must have as one of its characteristics the illusion that the experience will last forever.

This illusion is fostered in our culture by the commonly held myth of romantic love, which has its origins in our favorite childhood fairy tales, wherein the prince and princess, once united, live happily forever after. The myth of romantic love tell us, in effect, that for every young man in the world there is a young woman who was “meant for him” and vise versa.

Should it come to pass, however, that we do not satisfy or meet all of each other’s needs and friction arises and we fall out of love, then it is clear that a dreadful mistake was make, we misread the stars, we did not hook up with our one and only perfect match, what we thought was love was not real or “true” love, and nothing can be done about the situation except to live unhappily ever after or get divorced.

The myth of romantic love is a dreadful lie.

Millions of people waste vast amounts of energy desperately and futilely attempting to make the reality of their lives conform to the unreality of the myth.

Ultimately, if they stay in therapy, all couples learn that a true acceptance of their own and each other’s individuality and separateness is the only foundation upon which a mature marriage can be based and real love can grow.

M Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

Idolizing Love

We must not give unconditional obedience to the voice of Eros when he speaks most like a god. The real danger seems to me not that the lovers will idolize each other but that they will idolize Eros himself. The couple whose marriage will certainly be endangered by (lapses), and possibly ruined, are those who have idolized Eros. They expected that mere feeling would do for them, and permanently, all that was necessary. When this expectation is disappointed, they throw the blame on Eros or, more usually, on their partners.

CS Lewis
The Four Loves