About Love And Romantic Love

By: Michael Grayson Conner, Psy.D

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Love is mostly tender and quiet.
Love is a light that allows people to see things that are not seen by others.

Romantic love is a deep emotional, sexual and spiritual recognition and regard for the value of another person and relationship.

Romantic love can generate many powerful feelings. It can provide a profound ecstasy, and a deep suffering when frustrated. To some people, romantic love is irrational. Romantic love can seem like an emotional storm. 

This paper is really a collection of experiences, thoughts, readings, and the result of my discussions with people falling in and out of love. I began writing on this topic in 1989. I was first inspired to write "About Romantic Love" when I first read a book by Nathanial Brandon on the topic of romantic love.  I revise or add something to this collection of thoughts several times a year. I am most inspired to write when I meet someone in love or someone feeling crushed when their love was lost. 

I have had countless experiences talking to people who believe romantic is followed by disillusionment. These people come to believe that romantic love is a false hope. They began their relationship with romantic feelings. They had dreams for their future. They felt that life was finally rewarding and worthwhile. But eventually the relationship began to fall apart. It was a painful experience. They remember when they were in love. They feel tortured by their inability to see how or why their love was lost.

Despite these experiences, people are still drawn to something they seldom reach. It is a profound longing. A desire that is difficult to extinguish. Romantic love is not something that must crumble when faced with practical realities. Romantic love is not something just for youth.

Before going further, I should talk about the institution of marriage. One kind of marriage is the utilitarian marriage. In this type of marriage there is an absence of mutual involvement or passion. This type of marriage is usually held together by social, financial or family considerations. In a utilitarian marriage the relationship is made tolerable by long separations, community activities and usually infidelity.

The other kind of a marriage is the intrinsic marriage. In this type of marriage there is passionate emotional and sexual involvement. The experience of life is shared. The relationship is considered more fulfilling and interesting than any social activity. In this relationship there is a tendency to avoid activities resulting in separations.

Marriage itself does not create or sustain romantic love. To love someone, and for that love to endure, requires the ability to see that person with clarity. For example, we have all seen how some people will idealize or glamorize their partners. They exaggerate their good qualities, and they ignore and avoid considering significant differences and potential problems. Why do they do this? Many reasons, but mostly because they need to see the person in this idealized way.  People can fall in love with the idea of a person who doesn’t really exist and then hope the relationship will endure.

Most people never learn how to sustain a loving relationship. The reason is simple. Nobody showed them. The mere fact that a man and woman feel love toward each other does not guarantee they will be able to create a joyful and rewarding life. Love does not automatically teach a person communication skills. Love does not teach a person how to resolve a conflict. Love does not teach people how to weave their love into the rest of their life.

For most people who fall in love, a time will come when they sense the beginning of problems. They know that romantic love can produce great joy and happiness. But with time, they begin to feel more alone. They experience self-doubt and they feel the consequence of their unmet needs. They begin to see the other person more like they truly are and not what they needed them to be. They usually begin to find faults in others and they may become jealous, angry, bitter, sarcastic or cynical. Many will separate or remain together in misery. They will often have children and try to raise a family in an effort to revive the relationship or to feel better. Many will have an affair. When they separate or divorce, some will get involved in another relationship too quickly. They try to find some way to ease the pain. They idealize this new person in their life and the cycle starts over. They say to themselves, "I'll never be hurt like that again.

The exact origin of the desire to love is difficult to comprehend, but can be appreciated in many ways.

When a man and woman encounter each other in midst of love they seek intimate contact. In a general sense, love is a response to something we intimately value. Romantic love is the experience of joy in the presence of a loved one, joy in being close to a loved one, and joy in our interaction with a loved one.

Someone we love enters the room. Our eyes and heart light up. We look at this person. We feel a growing feeling of joy within us. We reach out and touch their hand. We feel happy and fulfilled.

I believe we all have a profound need to find things in the world we care about and feel inspired by.

Life is worthwhile - at any age - when we find something worth pursuing.

Psychologists have long recognized that both children and adults need something in their environment that is a source of "pleasure." Maybe pleasure is a not the best word, but we do have a need to explore those things which are interesting and exciting.  We search for that which will charm us and bring us in touch with the awe and wonder we experienced when we were children.  We know that children are curious and adventurous. But the most important need of children and adults seems to be the expression of their true nature -- Being who we truly are is important. I first learned about who were are from my friend and mentor Sterling Ellsworth.  He called it our Real Self, our identity and our true nature.

Our Real Self and the nature of people is quit clear when we observe children. Any parent can readily see that children are inherently lovable and capable. And for children to grow into healthy adjusted adults, they need to be treated as lovable and capable beings. They also need to express their lovable and capable nature.

From the moment of birth we begin looking for lights that will brighten our journey, provide us with purpose and meaning, and make our struggle worthwhile.

It is here that we can begin to understand another important expression of romantic love.

Romantic love is a powerful way to express our capacity to love and to be loved. It is a way to focus our energy, our curiosity, and our desire for adventure. Romantic love is a source of pleasure and inspiration and is worth pursuing. Romantic love is a blessing of life. Romantic love confirms our lovable and capable nature.

At the very core of Romantic Love I have observed and discovered a number of important dynamics at work.

Visibility (the desire to be seen)

To live successfully is to put ourselves into the world; to give expression to our thoughts, our values, and our goals. Whenever we express our personality, we make known our values, our intelligence, our sense of life, our rhythm and temperament. Each of us express ourselves in our behavior - - how we act and what we say.  Whatever we express in our behavior can be reflected back by the response and the behavior expressed by others. We see how others respond if we are paying attention. The way they act, how they look at us, the way they speak to us, and especially the ways in which they don't respond.

When we encounter a person who thinks as we do, and notices what we do, and values what we do, we experience a strong feeling of contact with that person.

In loving you, I see in you a part of me that is also you.. I also see in you something that is really  me. And there is you, a person of many qualities-- a person who is a mystery-- a person I am drawn to.

All life - by it's very nature - entails a possibility of defeat. Because of this, we find pleasure and reassurance in the expression of life. Sharing our life and participating in life is reassuring that life is possible. Romantic love is an intense sharing and reassurance that life is possible.

So we find pleasure in the experience of life which endure. We take comfort in the experience of this. This comfort is a greater gift than any explicit words or advice: The sight of a lovable person. The awareness of a capable child. There is something in each of us that finds pleasure in watching the healthy assertiveness in a child make his way into the world. Finding ourselves romantically in love is always associated with a hope that it will endure.

Visibility and Self-Discovery

The agony of not being recognized or seen by others is a source of many problems and insecurities. When we are seen by others, there is always some element of self-discovery available to us. The first time we feel loved, there is an enormous pleasure and excitement in finding someone who sees and values us. A sustained experience of visibility in any relationship that goes to any significant depth will generate self-discovery and expanded awareness.

Visibility and Understanding

The desire to be seen and understood are inseparable. When we are told we are loved, there is something in us that feels joy. And there is something in us that wants to know what others see. The desire for visibility is related to our desire to be understood. For any individual, blind love may help numb or settle anxiety, but it will not answer our hunger to be seen and understood. People who feel misunderstood will often go to great lengths to be seen.

Being visible does not always lead to love. But love devoid of visibility is an illusion.

Visibility and Validation

People often confuse the desire to be validated with a desire to be seen. Visibility and validation are not the same.

We have all known people with low self-esteem. In every case there is an excessive preoccupation with gaining approval and avoiding disapproval. There is an excessive desire for validation and support. People naturally confuse the need to feel good about themselves (self-esteem) with a need to be seen (visibility). The desire to be validated is not healthy when it becomes more important than honesty, integrity, or any expression of our lovable and capable nature.

The desire to be validated is not a sign of low self-esteem. But people with good self-esteem do not run around acting super normal, hiding their faults, showing off, or trying to impress people just to be validated.  The more they take pride in who they are, and the more they act in a way that makes them proud, the more eager they are to be seen for who we are. Self-esteem means confidence in our capable nature, and it means confidence in a loveable identity.

We are not mistakes. Mistakes are how we learn. We are all inherently loveable and capable. We may not be treated that way. We may even come to believe we are not lovable and capable because of the way people treat us. All love endures between people who recognize their lovable and capable nature and that nature in the others.

When we feel lovable and capable we want others to see us as we truly are -- not who we pretend to be. We look to see if they can see and communicate to us their discovery of who we really are. We want people to see and value the identity we were born with and what we have grown to become. We want people to see us and treat us as lovable and capable.

In romantic love, two people see each other in a unique way.. And they experience each other in a deeper and more complete way than any other relationship.

Visibility and Sexuality

We are more than human. We are beings of a specific gender. Contained in every human is the awareness of being male or female. It is an integral and intimate part of our self-concept and our identity. We are not merely human beings. We also experience ourselves as male and female. Our sexual identity is rooted in the reality of our biological nature. Our sexuality is not simply our physical maleness or femaleness. Our sexual identity is the experience of our maleness and our femaleness.

The polarity of male and female generates a dynamic tension. These differences can be complementary and provide a window into aspects of ourselves that were never known..

Our sexual identity is central to who we are. We not only want to be seen by others as a certain kind of human being. We want to be seen as a man or woman. Despite the many differences between men and women, we can compliment each other in many basic, mysterious and wonderful ways.

As far as I can tell, masculinity is the expression of man's belief that the creation of a woman was natures most brilliant idea. And femininity is the expression of women's belief that the creation of man is natures most brilliant idea.

We all carry some male and female aspects within us. In men, the male principle is usually predominate. In women, the female principle is usually predominate. A man knows what it feels like to be a man in a way that no woman can fully understand. The same principle applies for women. The difference in perspective available to men and women when encountering each other represents, at least potentially, a deeper range of knowing our self and another person. In other words, a wider range of possibilities exists between men and women than between members of the same sex. The deepest level of self-understanding for a man requires interaction with the opposite sex. In relating to people who are different, especially the opposite sex, we can potentially experience the fullest range of who we are, who we aren’t, and aspects of ourselves we deny or never realized. The polarity between man and woman generates and accentuates self-discovery and self-understanding.

We have all heard how some people can meet someone for the first time and then experience a sudden shock of recognition.  There is an odd sense of familiarity, a mysterious sense of having encountered the person before - as if the person was already known. These people experience a sense of fascination over this mysterious familiarity and strangeness.  Something is known about this person in a powerful way.

In romantic love we perceive the other as a real or potential source of happiness. Desire is born. And desire leads to actions which result in pleasure and joy. If we are frightened or angered by our differences, love withers.

Fascination, attraction, or passion may be born "at first sight". But love requires curiosity, patience, acceptance and seeing people for who they truly are. This usually takes time.

Our Sense of Life and Romantic Love

A soul mate is a person who shares our sense of life. When we encounter another person, we encounter the presence of that person's sense of life. Sometimes we can quickly sense something about the other person's sense of life, how he or she feels about himself or herself, the joyfulness in their approach to life, or the defensiveness and fearfulness they endure. We can sense in people their level of enthusiasm, optimism, excitement or even their dread with life.

Our sense of life reflects many conscious and unconscious values. It reflects our broadest and deepest attitudes, and is grounded in our conclusions about the world, about life and about ourselves. When we are not allowed to express our lovable and capable nature, and when we are treated as unlovable and incapable beings, we develop a sense of life in which the world is not open to our thoughts, is unconcerned about our feelings, and unaffected by our actions.

Our sense of life can also reflect a strong and healthy self-esteem, a clear sense of value in our life, and a conviction that our world is open to our lovable and capable nature. Or it can reflect the torture of self-doubt, embittered resentment, tragic defiance, complaining resignation, aggressive impotence, a perverse sense of martyrdom, a view of the world that is sordid and senseless, or the anxiety that we may live in a world were we are unlovable and incapable.

There are potential problems whenever a couple have a different sense of life.  It is essential that people in love fully recognize, appreciate and accept differences in their sense of life.  Even when they don't, things can still go well initially - - especially when people put their "best foot" forward.  Eventually the difference in your sense of life will surface with unexpected results.  People eventually stop pretending or begin to notice with time how you really are.

Our sense of life and our approach to life develops with the first expression of our Real Self.  It matters how our parents respond and it matter how other people treat us.  It matters if parents treat us as unlovable or incapable.  It matters if our parents treat each other as lovable and capable.   When people treat us like we are unlovable and incapable, and when they treat each other that way, life can become a grudging responsibility where people may become no more than objects or a means to an end, and new relationships are formed on the basis of social economics. We may begin to value ourselves not for who we are, but for how we look, what we can do and what we have or own. We may develop a sense of life where we shrink our awareness, blame others, give up their responsibilities, or we may come to believe that life is no longer an adventure in which every moment offers the opportunity to learn. When two people who respond to life in radically opposing ways meet, a potential barrier to romantic love may be formed.

Complementary Differences and Similarities

The second principle involves the "similarities and differences" between people. The most basic similarity is that a man and a woman are both are human. The most basic difference is that people are male or female.

In romantic love, a man and woman must experience their differences, at least to some degree, as mutually enriching, and as capable of drawing out untapped awareness and potential in each other. Their intimacy is an adventure resulting in expanded consciousness and the profound sense of being alive. The key is whether the couple experience their differences as complementary or antagonistic. This will depend on the willingness and ability of both people to appreciate and find value in the other person.

Romantic love offers us the possibility self-discovery through deep contact with another.

If you are in love, you might ask yourself, What part of myself does my lover bring me into fresh contact with? How do I experience myself in this relationship? When I am with my lover, what feels most alive within me?

Rhythm and Energy

Most people possess an inherent biological rhythm that is easy to feel but difficult to describe when you don't know what to look for. This rhythm and energy is deeply connected to whether or not romantic love actually ignites or endures.

Rhythm and energy can be observed in our speech patterns, emotional responses and body language. Closely related is the observation that some people are naturally more or less energetic than others - -physically, emotionally or intellectually. Some people move, feel, think faster or slower depending on the circumstance and their environment. Some people are impulsive or impatient. They may even experience a different sense and relationship to time.

Sometimes two people meet and are on the verge of falling in love. They may have a lot in common and they may be physically attracted on the basis of their appearances.  Yet they can feel strangely out-of-sync with each other. They may even feel irritated and have difficulty accounting for these feelings. The person who is naturally fast and eagerly explore's life may feel chronically impatient with a person who savors life at a slower pace. The person with a less fevered pace may feel chronically pressured.   The person who interprets these differences as personal or intentional by the other will feel frustrated and even angry in the relationship.

Failure to understand the importance of our rhythm and energy, and the effect on relationships, will lead to quarrels and disagreements.  These difference can become antagonistic even though they have the potential to become complimentary.   When couples don't recognize or appreciate their differences, many will become extreme or try to change the other person in order to create a balance. When this fails couples begin to look for faults in each other. As the relationship begins to fail, they may begin to explain their problems in terms of the alleged faults. They remain unaware of a deeper reasons for their discomfort and acceptance of differences.

When a man and woman meet and feel "in sync", there can be an exhilarating experience of harmony and that their relationship is right. Being "in sync" is an experience of knowing the other in a very special sense. Both may resonate to a marvelous kind of rhythm.

Once you are aware of this phenomena, and notice it in your relationships, you can better understand why people are attracted and irritated by each another. Rhythm and energy are the means to explore difference and similarities and to gain a deeper harmony and compatibility.

The Private Universe Of Romantic Love

Another essential principle to understanding romantic love is the concept of "A private universe." Two people in love can create a private universe out of their sense of individuality, their similar sense of life, their differences and similarities, their rhythm and energy, and the capacity to make meaningful contact with each other. This universe can be shared with silent understandings, unspoken words, humorous signals, and focused glances.  Conversations and physical contact become wondrous, exciting and safe.

Romantic love is based on shared sight and is shaped by happiness. Immature love is based on shared blindness, and is merely a fortress against pain.

Romantic love is a sanctuary, and a source of nourishment and energy. Sometimes romantic love is the only point of certainty, and the only thing that is solid and real in the midst of chaos and ambiguity.


Copyright 2001 Michael G. Conner