I was looking at my facebook feed tonight and saw this question from an old friend that I knew back in my Circle of Hope days.
People seem to have two opinions on love/marriage. One says you basically pick someone decent, or hopefully awesome, and make it work. The other says there is a more romantic love, like a soulmate or a shared destiny. Love at first sight, or passionate love that just happens and feels naturally right. The two mentalities seem to be sure the other is wrong. I know that both exist, and I doubt that one can become the other. And I don’t mean the thing about passionate love becoming dull and then you have to try harder. Please, share;)
This really made me think and I posted a response that I want to expand on here. I will give part of my response in italics followed by a deeper explanation.
Love to me is not something that is simple or easily described in the either-or false dichotomy you mention, but is something that involves a spark that flares, dims, and flares again as we journey through life together.
This Physical/Emotional vs. Intellectual dichotomy is framed in a very Western Modernist understanding of the world. My experience shows me that real love requires both-and synergy rather than either-or competition. If you only have one side of this and work at putting down the other, you actually build the seed of relational destruction by withholding part of yourself from the relationship. This withholding violates the intimacy needed to deepen a relationship beyond surface attraction or effort.
Love at first sight is not love because it involves no knowledge of the other person. It is that basic biochemical response to a set of cues that causes attraction. Love is something much deeper than attraction, it is a bond of mutual knowledge and respect that draws us into deeper and more intimate knowledge of someone other than ourselves.
The basis of a love that goes deeper than attraction and has staying power is a knowledge of self and other that respects the boundaries that exist between personalities. How many times have we heard from friends who were divorcing the expressed sentiment “It is like I never knew them.” The difficulty with love at first sight is that it is seen as the destination to be reached, immediately followed by “and they lived happily ever after.”
The passion is a beginning, but if it is not followed up with gaining intimate knowledge of the other through a process of mutual respect that does not seek to make another an extension of ourselves then the passion will ebb and the dull cliche will come to pass. Every relationship takes work to maintain and grow. There are no exceptions.
Love at first sight can lead to ennui and boredom or it can be the spur to get us to do the work of building the relationship. If we see initial attraction and falling in love as the destination, we cease to strive for the relationship. We feel that we have reached the destination and can now coast through life, but true love that goes beyond passion requires the daily labor of love to flourish.
The opposite danger is when we confuse the labor and the love and see love as only the journey and not the destination. When we see love strictly in terms of the work we do to produce it the danger of comparison comes up and since we cannot see into the other’s head we automatically assume that we are doing more work than the other and bitterness creeps in. At any given point in a relationship one person will be doing more work than the other to maintain it, and that is entirely OK as long as no one stays in one or the other too long.
I have seen way too many “love at first sight” and “love must be earned” divorces that happened when the passion dimmed or the labor became overwhelming, usually when the presence of children causes the relationship to require more grace and has less energy for anything other than changing diapers and tiredly passing out, hoping the kid sleeps for at least 4 hours. True love is when the passion goes beyond mere physicality and blossoms into the mental, emotional and spiritual.
The truth is that love is both the destination and the journey. It involves our whole selves, not separate pieces in competition with each other. The constant wrangling over what is most important to a relationship lasting misses the point of what love relationships are about: Two people coming together to share a journey of growth that honors and develops what is best and helps us confront and overcome what is worst in ourselves and each other. This requires full engagement and exploration of our physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual selves. So, the next time someone asks the question “Do you believe in love at first sight or that you need to find someone acceptable and build love?” maybe we just need to give them a simple yet frustrating “Yes.”