Real Love

Additional Information for Chapter 3, page 32

We use the words “love” “mature love” and “real love” interchangeable in the paragraphs that follow.

Mature love may have all the intensity of emotion, all the saccharine-sweep pleasure of infatuation, but within a context of commitment and friendship. Unlike infatuation, mature love operates in the context of reality, with an actual person. The intense sweetness will occur from time to time throughout the duration of the relationship. The warmth and pleasure of companionship will be there for hundreds even thousands of hours every year. Mature love provides the adventure of discovering your partner throughout a lifetime. Mature love provides the enjoyment of shared interests, the pursuit of passions, the fascination of discovery, the rejoicing and weeping together, the thrill of love making, and the gift of laughter. The most significant difference between mature love and infatuation is that mature love can last forever in the lives of those who experience it. Infatuation fizzles from lack of content. The in-love condition will fade in time because the human psyche cannot maintain that level of arousal. But love can endure. It is indeed, a many splendored thing.

We return to the question posed in the chapter title: Whence love and romance? As just mentioned, the subtitle calls it “a many-splendored thing.” A look at research evidence verifies that position. Without it, no marriage exists in all the richness that it was designed to be. However, when love and romance exists outside of foundational compatibility, the loving emotions will shift in the course of time. And usually, not just fade but revert to their opposites, hatred, anger, and rage or worse. With a foundational compatibility the possibility exists, if properly nurtured, of a love that lasts a lifetime.

Notice the two adjectives that we use to identify love (above). “Real” suggests a genuine substance in the relationship. This contrasts with infatuation an experience that is essentially a mental form of masturbation with an unsubstantiated image. Real love contrasts with the in-love couple who may be so blinded by the intensity of their passion that they haven’t quite yet noticed that she is a Jew and he is a Nazi. By contrast, the word “mature” suggests growth and richness cultivated over time. The mature musician is one who combines perfection of technique with the intensity of emotional expression and musicality. The mature athlete combines the zenith of athletic skill with the wisdom of how best to use it. Assume for the moment that you enjoy watching track and field athletes perform. Would you rather watch a junior high school field day (in which none of the participants have ever trained)? Or, would you rather watch a major championship or the Olympics Games? The parallel is not that obtuse: Junior high schoolers can experience infatuation and falling in love but only those whose relationship has been nurtured over time could parallel the fascination or richness of national or world class athletic performance.

This section is essentially impossible to write. How do I in a few pages provide a pithy, insightful, cogent description of love, a topic that has generated some opinion and comment by essentially all of the 10 billion or more people who have lived over the millennia of human history. It would be no exaggeration to suggest that well over one million books, treatises, poems, sonnets, or songs have been written that celebrated love. I think the best way to conceptualize real love is to cite Yale professor Robert Sternberg’s elegant theory, the Triarchic Theory or romantic love (discussed below). The best way for a reader to comprehend it is to 1) read each of the prescripts that address love (that is, all prescripts in Chapter 3) on this website-the several perspectives provide enough contrasts and parallels with real love that the beginning of awareness may emerge, 2) Read some of the classic books about love-two great ones for starters is Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving and Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages, and 3) apply the principles learned in your own relationships.

I finish with a brief overview of Robert Sternberg’s theory. There is quite a thorough description of Sternberg’s theory under the Reference Icon in this chapter addressing theories of love.

Robert Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of Romantic Love

Sternberg’s triarchic theory of romantic love, as the title suggests, encompasses three components:

  • PASSION
  • INTIMACY (this addresses the area of close friendship and mutual self disclosure, not sexuality)
  • COMMITMENT

With PASSION alone you have infatuation
With INTIMACY alone you have a close friendship
With COMMITMENT alone you live in a prison called “empty love”

With PASSION and INTIMACY you have “romantic love.” Without commitment it cannot pass the test of time.
With INTIMACY and COMMITMENT alone you have what is often called “compassionate love” a warm time-tested relationship that has lost the passion
With PASSION and COMMITMENT you have an unusual relationship that Sternberg calls “fatuous love”. Fatuous means foolish or immature. Fatuous love is often descriptive of the abusive relationship. There is no real substance, no shared interests or passions that the couple enjoys, but they go through a pattern of abuse, then love making, then abuse, then love making in a bizarre roller coaster of human emotion.

Sternberg reserves the term “Consummate love” to represent a combination of all three PASSION, INTIMACY, and COMMITMENT.

Once again refer to the prefix Discussions and Theories About Love in this chapter for a more thorough description of Sternberg’s model.

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