“Loving” versus “Being in Love”

September 6, 2007

Historically, I would have said being in love is the single most wonderful and important thing. It’s an arbiter of chemistry. However, some may argue being in love is an ephemeral sensation that is not sustainable. Perhaps loving and respecting someone are more important.

Here is the perspective of two of my close friends.

Being in love is ephemeral by friend A:

“At times I wonder if the sensation of being in love is a chemical imprinting phenomenon. The coveting, jealousy and exclusiveness might stem from the nature driven side of sex for reproduction- the desire to perpetuate ones offspring at the exclusion of competitors. This may sound unromantic but I think questioning the basis for behavior is at times important to evolve either into or beyond a state. All that you say resonates to be sure, yet too often have I seen madly passionate in-love individuals burn out of their passions. “Quick to light, quick to burn” I believe the old adage goes… And with it yes- the pain and fear…

Be assured in this I am not at all questioning our desire to feel in love; we all have this aspiration. I question only for myself, since this kind of irrational passion has changed for me and with it the feeling of being in love. I agree love and respect – are a given. Now rapture for someone must extend to a sense of great potential for that person as an individual and as a partner. Coveting and jealousy have evolved into deep feelings of contentment of knowing that you are watchful of and watched by someone. I can’t quite approximate the sensation with language but I am aware of the rare quality of person from whom I seek to give and receive that type of attention; their vision and affection becomes integral to one’s evolution, not simply supportive of it. I recall in one instance, years ago, that he and I were unable to make eye contact- we did not seek rapture in each other because the collective aura was too overwhelming, the brilliance and joy too blinding. We could not look at each other without seeing a future- and yet that feeling didn’t last. Was it meant to? Are all states of “being in love” eventually replaced by a deep mutual love, respect, affection, and (if lucky) persistent attraction. Perhaps those amazing couples- the Dan and Avery or Ted and Veronique of the world have insight.

I disagree with the comment that fraternal or familial love is a less personal alternative. The dedication of parents to children and vice versa is so deep. I cannot find substitutes for any people I love dearly, including my parents. Some families simply tolerate each other, and for others one could scarcely draw breath without knowledge of their co-existence in the world. I think there are many loves; some more virtuous perhaps than others but no highest form.

There was a study I chanced upon which compared the ability to be in love with an ability to have great faith, even religious faith. If your faith in yourself is a gauge of sorts, I am sure you will have no problem 🙂 For myself- I have faith in very few individuals, but in those cases that faith is very deep.”

Being in love is foundational by friend B:

Without a doubt, love and respect are centrally important. Without respect and trust you have nothing, maybe just some hormones.

BUT: there’s something Freud called ‘the over-valuation of the love object,’ and I think that’s essential. That’s the phenomenon of believing your love object is incredibly special, even if rationally you know that all people are imperfect. Your beloved’s eyes shine brighter, their remarks are cleverer, their smile is truer, their insights are more insightful, their comfort more comforting – generally that the world is a better place simply because they, apart from all others, are in it. Your life is a better and finer thing because that person is sharing it with you.

You have to feel that no substitute is possible because of the ineffable uniqueness and specialness of your loved one. And that feeling of eminence is partly delusional, and partly based on the lock-and-key-like fit of two unique yet compatible personalities coming together as they deepen their mutual understanding over time. To me, that set of feelings is “being-in-love,” and I believe no relationship can survive without. Without that feeling, you’re constantly aware that the world is full of adequate substitutes. I also believe that this sort of being-in-love is not ephemeral but foundational, even if it goes through fluctuations and phases.

Love,’ on the other hand, is by comparison a relatively non-relational way of caring for someone: it means that you care about and are committed to someone else’s happiness and wellbeing around equally to your own, and are willing to put in work toward achieving that. This sort of love is altruistic and relatively selfless *but* it doesn’t draw you to someone and make you want to inhabit some kind of private or exclusive sphere. That love you could have for a mother and a brother and humanity in general. It’s non-possessory. Does that make it a ‘better’ sort of love, higher, more virtuous? Perhaps, but also more tepid & impersonal, and lacking in any compelling sense of why you give love and effort to one person and not another.

In-love love is exclusionary, jealous, protective, devoted, involved, inspiring, and covetous (among other things). The flip side of being in love is the potential for real hurt and loss. And nearly everyone becomes more loss-averse and risk averse over time, as well as – more detrimentally – more self-protective and resilient. There are benefits, yet it means one build walls on all sides. So over time there’s a gap between one’s conceptual view of being-in-love and one’s ability to do it – or, really, to allow it.

The fact that it becomes harder or rarer doesn’t make it less real or less important.

Current Conclusion:

As I get more experienced I find myself willing to compromise less and less. I know what works for me and even more so what does not.

As for love, I have never been has hurt as when I have been in love. Similarly, I have never unintentionally hurt someone as much as when that person was in love with me and I was not (despite wanting to be). For that, I cannot apologize enough.

Despite my outward rationality and coldness, I am a romantic at heart. And, as an eternal optimist, I continue to believe in the quintessential importance of being in love.

What do you think?

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