Monday, June 21, 2010

Relations: Learning to Love

Love seems to be the logical starting point. Though not synonymous, love and marriage are nevertheless very much interrelated and are generally thought of together. Marriage is the natural consummation of love interests. Love is the magnet that brings people together and the cement that holds them together; it is the most essential element in pair unity.

Yet there are perhaps few concepts so misunderstood and abused. In the name of love people sometimes flounder, when they could have intelligent direction; dissipate, when their energies could be spent constructively; exploit, when they could, and should, cooperate. Some people regard love as a blind force that can be neither understood nor controlled. Others see it as an excuse for indulgence or for the satisfying of narrow self-interest. Only a few, relatively speaking, learn the full meaning of the term and are able to use well the full power that love provides.

Nature and Function of Love

Love might be simply defined as any sentiment of attachment that is centered upon any person or thing; it is a pleasurable feeling, in other words, and it is directed toward some object. The love object might be entirely nonmaterial, as when we say that one loves some standard, principle, or cause that he shows a strong devotion for; he can love democracy, for example, or peace, or the Christian Church. Similarly it can be said that one loves a certain type of activity such as swimming, reading, or listening to musical concerts.

Again, the love object might be material though nonhuman, as when we say that one loves ice cream, or new hats, or horses. Finally, the love object might be a human personality. There are many varieties of this latter also: there is self-love; there are filial and parental loves; there are friendships everywhere, regardless of age, sex, or social relationships; and there is the sweetheart love of courtship and marriage. Broadly considered, love exists whenever and wherever people obtain satisfactions from the objects and the activities that attract them.

It is to the narrower usage of the term, to sweetheart love, that attention is now being turned. Though love is of many types, it is only that which relates to marriage that will concern us here.

Common Fallacies

Someone facetiously defined sweetheart love as "an insane desire to squeeze orange juice out of a lemon." We can smile at this analogy because it comes so close to the beliefs and practices of so many. But it is incorrect. True love is neither insane nor is it based upon deceit.
A frequent fallacy is to regard love as an irrational force, mystically and mysteriously operating to shape man's destiny. It has been said, for example, that "love is blind." Though we would agree that some persons are blinded by what they think is love, we contend that real love comes from understanding, not ignorance; and from self-effort and adjustment rather than from any supposed manipulation by the fates.

It has also been claimed that everyone has a "one-and-only," a "soul-mate," who is waiting and searching for him, just as he is in return. Part of this belief is that people are "meant for each other," predestined to get together; and that unless one finds the right person, the one intended, he can be only partially happy. We say nonsense. Given an equal start, there are very likely any number from the opposite sex that each person could be equally happy with--or if not, the reason would be in the matching combinations rather than in the fates. Our position will be discussed more fully in the next chapter; here we would only say that in mature love there comes an intelligent choosing rather than any mysterious searching or intuitive reaching for "signs."
Another notion, which can hardly stand up under analysis, is that people "fall in love," suddenly and completely, whenever the right person comes along. We have heard some people talk about "love at first sight." We have listened to claims that "when love strikes, you will know it."

To all of this we would say that there is a difference between the infatuations and "puppy loves" of romantic youngsters, and the tested loves of mature companions. There may be the beginning of love at first sight, but that is all. Whether that beginning will ever develop into "the real thing" it will take time and testing to determine. Love is a process, not a static fact; we grow in love, not fall. Many have thought, at first sight, that they were in love, only to change their minds after taking another and a closer look. On the other hand, many have thought that they didn't particularly care for the one they were going with, only to find themselves coming to love this person after time and close association.

Sometimes, too, people hold to the mistaken idea that "love is all that matters," that if man and woman are madly in love they should be willing to give up everything else in order to have each other; that if they are in love and marry, they cannot but be eternally happy regardless of everything else. All we can say to this is that other things are important too; things that the head must decide; things that, if favorable, will give love itself a better chance of maturing and enduring. Madness in love is dangerous, for with it people are irrational and impetuous in what they do. Emotional love needs to be tested, strengthened, and controlled by the intellect. Complete surrender to love leaves one open to exploitation by the unscrupulous, and it leads to decisions that may be regretted after the emotions have cooled. A large proportion of the heartaches men and women experience in courtship and marriage are attributable to this attitude of "all for love."

Students of marriage and family very commonly group all these mistaken notions concerning love under the term Romantic Fallacy. The fallacy lies not in the acceptance of romance as an element in love (for certainly every relationship needs some demonstration of affection to serve as a social lubricant, if nothing else), but rather in the belief that romantic love is just about everything that needs to be considered in choosing a mate or in making a happy union. Romance has overglamourized the love concept; it has discouraged rational action and has added mystery and superficiality to the whole thing.

This is particularly true, though not exclusively so, in American culture. It is no wonder that youth are so often swept off their feet by romantic infatuation, for almost everything they do in courtship tends to stimulate and reinforce the idea. The modern novel and the picture show usually depict the struggles and conflicts of courtship, highly flavored with romantic passion, and then end with marriage and the assumption that all conflict is over and that eternal bliss is certain. These modern fairy tales, although they do not say "they lived happily ever after," imply as much. Their harm lies in their overemphasis on romance stimulation and upon the unreal picture of life they paint in the minds of those who follow them.

The popular song, which is given so much attention in the dance hall and on the radio, does very much the same thing; it stimulates the sentiments and builds up the idea that love is all that matters. This is the fallacy or the illusion that so many of our young people are living under. They are often "in love with love," and nothing more; they see their lover through colored glasses rather than with clear vision; they are blinded by romance.

Unless our culture can be made to change in this regard, unless the romantic infantilism which underlies so many of our marriages can be modified, the American family will continue to be in trouble.

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