Part III of ‘10 Ideas on Love‘
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3. The Duality of Love – Love as Experienced Feelings vs Love as Expressed Actions
Another reason why we tend to conflate loneliness and infatuation with love is because our ideas of love tend to get mixed together within our cerebral “salad bowl”. Since certain ideas “taste” better than others, they gain predominance within our minds and lead us to favour them over others; one might even say that battered flavour precedes better favour.
Take, for example, the distinction between “love as a feeling” and “love as an action”. While most of us instinctively grasp the duality of love – understanding its internal component to be love as experienced feelings, and the external component to be love as expressed actions – we also tend to prioritise the internal aspect over the external. This leads us to associate love with sensations while considering actions as a mere subset. The danger with such a mindset is that once we stop feeling loved, we stop giving love as well, which tends to perpetuate a vicious cycle.
Love as experienced feelings
It is not difficult to imagine why such a bias has formed. The mass media and various literature bear part of the fault for romanticising love as fireworks without paying equivalent attention to the hardwork behind building these pyrotechnic devices.
Here, reasoned logic surrenders to fairytale laws as you mythologise similarities into preordained narratives written in the stars while reconceptualising differences into complementary jigsaws that match the gaps in your lives.
Blame could also be attributed to the inherently asymmetrical amount of effort involved between “falling in love” and “standing in love”. After all, free-falling into love is entirely effortless compared to the diligence that is required for love to stay. Think about it: caught up in the whirlpool of fresh infatuation and swept around by eddying currents of stolen looks, furtive touches and shared secrets, you lose sight of everything else around you and start to perceive reality through rose-tinted lenses. Your eyes glaze over as you envision your newly entwined lives lifting beyond the realm of the mundane to a magical kingdom of two. Here, reasoned logic surrenders to fairytale laws as you mythologise similarities into preordained narratives written in the stars while reconceptualising differences into complementary jigsaws that match the gaps in your lives.
Unfortunately, the “falling in love” experience has an expiry date – that is, when you hit the ground. Furthermore, we cannot exactly take credit for the kind and generous things we do while we are intoxicated in love. Some believe that the “temporary collapse of ego boundaries that constitutes falling in love” is just “a genetically determined instinctual component of mating behaviour” (Dr Morgan Peck in The Road Less Travelled). Accordingly, the chemicals in our brains that are automatically produced at the start of the relationship to stimulate those emotional highs and to make us do amazing things for one another would eventually run out. To continue experiencing love, we need to put in greater hardwork to re-create similar moments.
Love as expressed actions
The marketing character is willing to give, but only in exchange for receiving something. For him or her, ‘giving’ means ‘giving up’ something.
Erich Fromm, a renowned psychoanalyst, writes in The Art of Loving that the ability to love as an act of giving depends on the character of the person. The marketing character is willing to give, but only in exchange for receiving something. For him or her, ‘giving’ means ‘giving up’ something. “The person whose character has not developed beyond the stage of the receptive, exploitative, or hoarding orientation, experiences the act of giving in this way”. On the other hand, the productive character sees giving as the highest expression of potency. To him or her, “[g]iving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is a depriation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness”.
Apart from the theoretical perspective on love as expressed actions, I believe it is more significant to unpack the practical aspect of showing love. For convenience, I will be adopting the five love languages as posited by Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, in this train of thought. Briefly, they are: Quality Time, Physical Touch, Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, and Receiving Gifts (it may be helpful to consider the mnemonic ‘QT WAR’ to remember them). As with linguistics, there will be numerous dialects to each love language.
Underlying the idea of discovering which love language resonates best with either party is the importance of relatable and optimal expressions of love. Residing within every individual are natural or habitual ways of defining and perceiving love. If we understand our loved ones’ primary or secondary love languages, we would thus be able to show them love, as they understand love to be. In other words, if a relationship is a bridging of two sovereign souls, then loving must mean acclimatising ourselves to a foreign country – to prevent falling prey to occasional xenophobia at moments which depart from our personal expectations and heritages, we must therefore adopt our loved ones’ languages and cultures.
…“deep inside hurting couples exists an invisible ‘emotional love tank’ with its gauge on empty”.
Conversely, fights between couples typically occur as a result of negative feedback towards the absence of love – or more specifically, the perceived absence of love. Chapman posits that “deep inside hurting couples exists an invisible ‘emotional love tank’ with its gauge on empty” and that the “misbehavior, withdrawal, harsh words, and critical spirit occur because of that empty tank”. There may even be occasions where couples clearly and dearly love each other but a mismatch of love languages creates the false impression that they do not. This results in a self-fulfilling prophecy: A mistakenly perceives a lack of love from B; A withdraws from B; B perceives lack of love from A; B withdraws from A.
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.
To conclude on this note, I believe that we have to rehabilitate our notions of love if we continue to perceive it in a quid pro quo manner. While it is true that a relationship involves “give and take”, we should also remind ourselves that it is only truly a gift if we do not expect anything in return. Additionally, if we subscribe to the idea that all ways of loving are equal but some ways are more equal than others, then it would be most remiss of us as lovers if we do not even bother to find out which love language matters most. In Nelson Mandela’s words, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”
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It’s been both heartening and humbling, to say the least, to have received so much support for this series of articles on love. I particularly enjoy the spontaneous conversations with people whom I rarely talk to about such issues. Thank you!