Is It Love?
By Genie Joseph, Ph.D.
Since the beginning of time, poets, artists, song writers, have been trying to explain "Is it Love?" So if you feel confused, welcome to the human race. English language doesn’t make it any easier when the same four letters can stand for how you feel about a romantic lover, how you feel about your favorite ice-cream, your country, your brother, your mother, and your dog. Maybe even how you feel about God.
No wonder we’re confused about being in love is. When you say to your partner “I love you" you have certain ideas in your mind, whether you are aware of them or not, and your partner may or may not have the same ideas. This is because we all come to the table with very different ideas of what “I love you" means. For some people that would mean I am ready to be with you for the rest of my life, to always be faithful, never tell you a lie, or withhold important information. For others it might mean I really appreciate you as a human being and enjoy your company.
The bottom line in a relationship where you are ready to say the “L" word, is that you both need to define your terms. This does not have to be an interrogation, but it needs to be a conversation. People ask more questions about their cell phone plan than they do about how each other defines love. The problem occurs when two people exchange these words – and mean them – but have no clue what each other mean by the words. What happens is that as soon as these words enter the air waves, expectations about each other’s behaviors begin. This is a set-up for disappointment. Because if I say “I love you" and I mean by this that you will be at my beck and call, I am surely setting us both up for failure and resentment.
It is just so important that two people gently, but clearly, explore each other’s ideas of what being in love means in terms of behavior and expectations. That may sound unromantic. But what is really unromantic is dragging a lot of unconscious ideas into a new relationship based on what you learned as a child, or what you are trying to avoid from past relationships. It is the kindest, sweetest, most loving thing to do to help each other understand what you both mean by the words “I love you," before you have to eat your own words.
And remember that love has a range. You can feel a little or a lot. It is also fluid, in the sense that it rises and falls in intensity, although true love can withstand the vagaries of mood, or incidents that displease you. But do not expect romantic love to remain at a constant intensity. Mature love means being able to tolerate ambiguity, even moments of distaste or distrust, or anger or ambivalence, without losing track of the big picture of enduring love.
The ancient Greeks talked about four forms of love, kinship (storge), friendship (philia), sexual or romantic love (eros), and a selfless or divine love they called agape. Each of these are forms of love. Love seems to be essential to keeping the human race going. Love can be very healing. And yet love is the source of much pain.
Begin by doing some soul searching, asking yourself what you really mean by love. Then, after you have done this work of being truthful with yourself about what you want and need in a love relationship, you are ready to trust yourself. If you know what you are looking for in terms of the experience of love, then if it feels like love, it probably is!
Being honest with each other about love makes it even more real!
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