This Thing Called Love

Did you celebrate Galentine’s Day this year? February 13th has been set aside for celebrating your gal pals. Friendship is an incredibly important part of a healthy support group, and it so often gets overlooked in the media.

Similarly, family relationships (blood or otherwise) are necessary for having a healthy mental support structure. Fiction tends to minimize these relationships unless they fall into specific tropes: controlling or absent parents, in-laws causing friction, siblings held up as an example (positive or negative), eccentric aunts and uncles, siblings in competition for resources.

The updated Frozen, with cameos from Cinderella and The Blue Fairy

One of the most popular films that breaks this custom is Disney’s Frozen. The relationship between sisters is stronger than that with any potential romantic interests. Ultimately (spoilet alert), the power of True Love’s Kiss comes from a sister rather than a convenient prince.

By itself, “love” is another of those weasel words—like rose, dog, snow, beautiful—words that can mean so many different things that it communicates very little. This is clear in the dictionary definition of love.

  • noun
    • noun: love
    • plural noun: loves
  • An intense feeling of deep affection.
    • “Babies fill parents with feelings of love.”
  • verb
    • verb: love
    • 3rd person present: loves
      • past tense: loved
      • past participle: loved
      • gerund or present participle: loving
  • Feel deep affection for (someone).
    • “He loved his sister dearly”

So, in English at least, the meaning of the word must be established by modifying words or phrases, or inferred from context. 

Types of Love

Not so for the Greeks. Some of these are more familiar than others, for example, Eros. Particularly at this time of year, the “love” that is celebrated with flowers, cards, and gifts is almost exclusively Eros.

Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss by Antonio Canova
  • Eros — Romantic Love—illustrates sexual attraction, physical desire, and a lack of control.  It is powerful, passionate, and can fade quickly. Relationships built solely on Eros love tend to be short-lived. 
  • Ludus — Playful Love—is defined by flirtatiousness, seduction, and sex without commitment. The focal point of this love is on the experience rather than attraction or feelings.  Ludus is evident in the beginning of a relationship and includes elements of play, teasing, and excitement.
Owning a country has often been cited by relationship experts as the glue that holds a marriage together.
  • Pragma — Enduring Love—is evident in couples who have been together for a long time.  This type of love continues to develop throughout the years and portrays synchronization and balance. This type of love can only survive with constant maintenance and nurturance. 
The Robber and His Child by Karl Friedrich Lessing
  • Storge —Love of the Child—describes the unconditional love that (ideally) parents have for their children. It is defined by unconditional approval, acceptance, and sacrifice.  It helps a child to develop through attachment, encouragement, and security.
Grandparents often add cookies to storge!
    • When it is between friends, this type of love is sometimes referred to as phyllia.
    • Aristotle defined phyllia in Rhetoric as “wanting for someone what one thinks good, for his sake and not for one’s own, and being inclined, so far as one can, to do such things for him.”(1380b36–1381a2)
No one can ever match the selfless love of a dog
  • Agape — Selfless Love—Agape love is representative of universal love.  Greek philosophers felt that this is the type of love that people feel for other humans, for nature, and for a higher power.  This love can be most easily expressed through meditation, nature, intuition, and spirituality. Agape love can be used interchangeably for charity and care for others.
  • Philautia — Self Love—is linked with confidence and self-worth and is necessary for a sense of purpose and fitting in.  Philautia can be unhealthy and linked to narcissistic behaviors and arrogance, or can be healthy in the sense that we love ourselves before we learn how to love others. Greek philosophers believed that true happiness could only be achieved when one had unconditional love for themselves.  
The myth of Narcissus and Echo illustrates unhealthy extremes of philautia and mania
  • Mania — Obsessive Love—Stalking behaviors, co-dependency, extreme jealousy, and violence are all symptoms of Mania. Clearly, this is the most dangerous type of love.

Triangular Theory of Love

What is the Triangular Theory of Love? As with so much of human behavior and emotion, psychologists have studied love.

Renowned psychologist Robert J Sternbergat Yale University,first put forward his Triangular Theory of Love in 1985. 

The three main components that Sternberg says lie at the heart of most human relationships are passion, commitment, and intimacy. These are the three simplest forms of love – passion alone brings infatuation, intimacy alone equals liking, and commitment alone means empty love. Depending on how these three combine, they form the seven types of the thing we call love. 

The triangular part of the theory comes from the fact that you can combine any two of these components to form more complex types of love – each combination forming a different side of a triangle. Combining passion and intimacy for instance, makes romantic love. Intimacy plus commitment yields companionate love, while fatuous love comes when commitment meets passion.

Sisterly love falls somewhere between love and irritation.

And then there’s consummate love, which is the combination of all three components. It’s often seen as the ideal form of love, for by mixing the fire of passion, the comfort of intimacy, and the security of commitment, you can form a healthy, happy, lasting romantic relationship. It’s important to note that this triangle doesn’t have to be an equilateral shape (indeed, the three components are rarely present in equal measures.)  

Friendship is often more committed than dating and more intimate than marriage.

Even consulate love may not last forever – one of the caveats of the Triangular Theory of Love is that relationships can move from one point to another over time – but it is something that can be worked towards, or that you can work to recover. And it’s worth working for – consummate love is a special type of bliss; the kind of connection that sees people continue to adore each other long into a partnership. 

Bottom line: Love is not a unitary emotion. The first association with the word “love” by itself likely to be Eros. But consider the strength of other forms of love.

And then there are dumpster fire relationships…

VERY MARRIED – OR NOT SO MUCH

Decades ago, the title of this book first brought that phrase to my awareness. Legally, of course, very married is nonsense—as are a little bit or sort of married. Legally, either you are or you aren’t. Is being married for a long time the equivalent of being very married? Many seem to think so. Marie Hartwell-Walker wrote “How To Beat the Odds: Tips from the Very Married” and featured a single photo of an elderly couple. Her article lists 13 tips from “long-married couples.”

I’ve paraphrased these tips below.

  • Commit to the commitment, and don’t even consider divorce
  • Give it all you’ve got, 100% from both partners
  • Bring a whole person to the marriage, not someone who expects the partner to make him/her whole
  • Make time for each other
  • Be a team (in duties, responsibilities, and decisions)
  • Learn to engage in friendly fighting: stick to the issues, be respectful, no name-calling, etc.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff
  • Do sweat the small stuff if it’s going to fester and grow big
  • Follow the golden rule
  • Be each other’s greatest fan, especially in public
  • Make yourself appealing
  • Respect each other’s families
  • Make special days special

Becky Whetstone (15 Things the Very Married Have That You Probably Don’t) makes many of the same points. But she also estimates that 12% or fewer of married couples are truly happy. Although neither of these lists specifically mention politics or religion, the Pew Research Center has data indicating that the former is more important than the latter:

  • Among those married since 2010, 39% have a spouse who belongs to a different religious group.
  • However, a 2016 survey found that 77% of both Republicas and Democrats who were married or cohabiting say their partner was in the same party.

Many of these tips, in one form or another, are included in Katherine Willis Pershey’s Very Married: Field Notes on Love and Fidelity. As the title indicates, she highlights another factor often presumed to characterize the very married: sexual fidelity. Many presume—and common sense would tell us—that sexual infidelity will harm a marriage.

Sean Illing’s article “A Divorce Lawyer’s Guide to Staying Together” is an interview with James J. Sexton, author of If You’re in My Office, It’s Already Too Late. Sexton says couples come to his office for “big reasons like infidelity or financial improprieties.” But he also says that people fall in love quickly but fall out of love slowly, so there are lots of little things that precede the big reasons.

At one point, Sexton says Facebook is an infidelity-generating machine.  “It’s a huge factor now, and it’s getting worse every day. I can’t remember the last time I had a case where social media was not either a root cause or implicated in some way.” He says, further, that “…Facebook creates these very plausibly deniable reasons for you to be connecting with people emotionally in ways that are toxic to marriages.” So, he’s affirming that sexual fidelity isn’t the only issue.

Indeed, Jenny Block wrote a whole book praising sexually open marriage. In her opinion, sex isn’t the issue so much as the secrecy and deception that usually accompany a sexual liaison with someone other than the spouse.

That philosophy was shared by a high school friend of mine who, in adulthood, was a sexual free spirit. He was very open with his wife, who gave her permission for him to make booty calls and have f*ck buddies. At one point, she helped him write a personal ad seeking a “girlfriend” and interviewed the candidates with him. They had been married 25 years when he died.

So, sometimes couples set their own rules. Ours is a second marriage both for me and for my husband of many, many years. Before marriage, we agreed to two things: if either of us got sexually or emotionally involved with someone else but it didn’t threaten the marriage, don’t tell; and, if the marriage is threatened, for any reason, we would seek counseling before taking any other action. I realized that I felt very married when I stopped tracking our finances separately, calculating my financial status if the marriage ended.

A different version of very married is presented in COUPLES IN THE EMPTY NEST: VERY SEPARATE MARRIED LIVES (susanorfant.com). The thesis is that empty nesters have three choices: learn how to be a couple again, divorce, or stay married but lead very separate lives in terms of friends, activities, etc.

And speaking of those who are not-so-very-married: Hartwell-Walker (above) reports that 41% of first marriages, 60% of second marriages, and 73% of third marriages end in divorce. According to “8 Facts About Love and Marriage in America” (pewresearch.org) although the marriage rate has declined, between 1990 and 2015 the divorce rate among adults ages 50 and older doubled, and among those 65 and older, the divorce rate roughly tripled. Although the Pew report just mentioned found that only 23% of the general population consider legal rights and benefits a very important reason to get married, Sexton (above) emphasizes that marriage is a legal contract, and that few people examine that ahead of time.

I can speak to that. Only after I married in New York State did I learn that my husband had the right of domicile—i.e., determining where we would live. If he wanted to move and I refused, he could divorce me on the grounds of desertion. When I took a job and moved elsewhere, we had a commuter marriage only because he did not divorce me on the grounds of desertion! 

Note to writers: know the rights and responsibilities that are included in the marriage contract, because they vary widely by state.

Despite everyone’s best efforts, life can throw all sorts of obstacles in the way of a lifetime of wedded bliss. If one partner develops Alzheimer’s and forgets the marriage entirely, what is the spouse’s obligation or possible response?

If one partner suffers an accident that makes physical affection impossible, is the spouse entitled to seek affection elsewhere? How can a couple keep their marriage healthy and strong if they are separated through geography, incarceration, military deployment, deportation, or some other element out of their control? After two people have been happily married for decades, is the widow/ widower still committed to the marriage when their spouse dies?

Bottom line for writers: there are many potential elements for being very married, but the one absolute is the commitment to remaining married. Consider all the ways you could show your characters’ strong or weak commitment to a marriage/relationship.

LIKING AND LOVING (PART 2)

 
In Friday’s blog, I outlined the factors that influence/promote liking:
  • Repeated exposure
  • Physical appearance
  • Similarity (the more similar two people are on a number of dimensions, the more their liking endures)
  • Reciprocal attraction
  • Relationships that offer more rewards than costs

Oshun, the Yoruba goddess of love

Surprise, surprise: these are the underpinnings of love as well!  And although liking and loving share roots, people seldom confuse the two.  The difference is largely a matter of degree: love is more intense than like.  It’s more personal and more important to one’s well-being.

 

Love comes in many guises. 
  • Love for dearest friends
  • Love for family, one’s children in particular
  • Romantic love

We use the word loosely and often.  We love chocolate, theater, gardening—whatever we feel strongly about.  But no one seriously confuses these feelings with love.

 

Sometimes chocolate is the foundation of love!

Although beloved friends and family are direct extensions of liking, romantic love is in a category largely by itself.

 

Eros, the embodiment of romantic love

A key ingredient of romantic love is arousal.  According to Psychologist Elaine Hatfield (1988, and not contradicted since), emotions have two ingredients: physical arousal plus cognitive appraisal.  Arousal from any source can enhance any emotion, depending on how we interpret the cause of the arousal.
Note for writers: at least part of the arousal from any source (fright, heavy duty workout, viewing erotica, listening to humorous or repulsive readings) will be attributed to a suitable object of affection.

 

Aztec goddess of love and beauty Xochiquetzal

Intense romantic love per se doesn’t last.  Romantic love reaches a fever pitch of obsession—infatuation, if you will—early on.  This is the period of constant calls, texts, letters (whatever fits the time period), exchanging love poems, giving personally meaningful gifts, etc..  For one thing, it gets exhausting!  But a case can be made that continued total focus on one’s partner/mate bodes ill for the well-being of any children they might have.

 

So, according to Professor Robert J Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love, there are seven types of love, defined by the underlying factors of intimacy, passion, and commitment.

Gender effects in liking and loving.
  • Men focus more on physical attractiveness.  Although interested in appearance, women generally value their potential mate’s status/ financial security over physical beauty.  These findings hold cross-culturally and even when someone is seeking a same-sex partner.
  • Age also matters: men value youth more than women do.
  • Men are much more willing to engage in casual sex than women are, and their standards for sex partners are lower.

 

Gender differences in mate preferences may be accounted for by social norms and expectations.  The different socio-economic status of women and the level of gender equality within a society is also a factor in what attributes are prioritized when seeking a mate.

Margaret Mead, center

I’ll start with the Mating Gradient.  As long ago as the mid-1950s, Margaret Mead wrote about the propensity for couples in which the men were older, taller, smarter, better educated, higher earning, and of higher socio-economic status than the women.  Decades later, I conducted an experiment in which I had men and women respond to a hypothetical love relationship with either the traditional pattern (as outlined) or the opposite.

As expected, people in the traditional hypothetical relationships were comfortable and positive.
  • When men responded to a loved one who was two years older, two inches taller, better educated, higher earning, more intelligent, and higher socio-economic status, they were surprisingly okay with it!  A typical response was, “If a babe like that loves me, I must be pretty hot stuff!”
  • When women responded to a loved one who was lesser on all these dimensions, they were generally negative.  A typical response was, “I couldn’t respect a man like that.  How could I love him?”

One interpretation of all this is that, traditionally, women are supposed to be taken care of by their mates and men are (perhaps) threatened when of an inferior status.  But the upshot of men marrying down and women marrying up is that, overall, the least marriageable men are at the bottom of the heap while the most capable, successful women remain unmarried at the top.

 

The Sumerians were all equally shorter than the king.

Consider the implications of the traditional relationship.  Feeling constantly inferior leads to depression and feelings of inadequacy.  Feeling constantly superior leads to lack of respect and perhaps a power grab.

 

True friendship is built on equality of hat ridiculousness at Ascot.

There is research evidence that enduring relationships are based on equality.  So how can these things be reconciled?  One way would be for the man to be “superior” on at least one dimension while the woman is “superior” in one or more of the other areas.

 


And speaking of the relationship of respect to liking and loving: Zick Rubin introduced the concept back in the 1970s, published as Measurement of Romantic Love in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.  Rubin created scales to measure liking, loving, and lusting.  Each item was rated on a 5-point scale from “not at all true” to “very much true.”  Examples of these statements are below:
Liking scale items: I have great confidence in X’s judgment.  X is one of the most likable people I know.  I think that X and I are quite similar.  I think that X is unusually well-adjusted.

 

Mitra, an Indo-Iranian god of friendship

Loving Scale items: I would do almost anything for X.  If I could never be with X, I would feel miserable.  I feel responsible for X’s well-being.  When I am with X, I spend a good deal of time just looking at him/her.

 

Frigg, a Germanic goddess of marriage

Lust Scale items: I can’t stop thinking about having sex with X.  The best thing about X and my relationship is that we let our bodies do all the talking.  X’s attitudes and opinions don’t really matter in our relationship.  The best part of my relationship with X is the sexual chemistry.

 

Nanaya, a Mesopotamian goddess of sensual love

A fascinating finding (for me) in a study of engaged couples, was that women both liked and loved their partners.  Men loved their partners, but like—not so much.

 


We tend to like people more when we are in a good mood, and we like them less when we are in bad moods.  As partners stay together over time, cognition becomes relatively more important than passion.  Over time, close relationships are more likely to be based on companionate love than passionate love.
 
 
Bottom line for writersif you’re writing a love relationship, be clear on what kind of love it is!

 

by Chris Riggs in London

Writing Roundup: Toxic Relationships

writing roundup toxic relationships

Are you an author in need of resources for writing toxic relationships? Look no further! Here is a roundup of some of my posts detailing ways in which you can write such dynamics.

Do you have any suggestions for additional posts or questions about toxic relationships? Let me know!

What About Healthy Relationships?

I’ve been writing about relationships, both in terms of domestic violence and sexual assault/rape. But what about healthy relationships?

Define healthy relationships

healthy relationships
Key parts of relationships (click to enlarge image)

As I’ve written before, the term “healthy relationships” doesn’t necessarily pertain to just romantic partners; it can also include family and friends. A handout I received during an event with Hanover Safe Place (see image above) listed the following characteristics as being part of a healthy relationship:

  1. Self-esteem: Feeling positive about yourself before you’re able to take care of partners, friends, and family
  2. Communication: Talking out problems, feelings, and ideas, but also being a good listener
  3. Agreements: Promising to be respectful and follow “rules of relationships”
  4. Connections: Having more than one relationship so as to not remain isolated
  5. Balance: A give and take between the two people in the relationship

Are you in a healthy relationship?

An article in Psychology Today, written by Alice Boyes, Ph.D., goes a few steps further. It lists 50 characteristics of healthy relationships. By clicking the link, you can read through these characteristics; if you can answer “yes” to most of these statements, it’s likely you’re in a healthy relationship. Remember to be truthful with yourself!

healthy relationships
Relationship questions (click to enlarge image)

There are also questions you can ask yourself about your relationships (see above handout). These questions vary, but include:

  • Do you make decisions together? Give examples.
  • Do you trust and believe them? Do they trust and believe you?
  • Is your relationship built on choices, not pressure?

What to take away

Healthy relationships are built on equality between the partners. One person should not have most of the power in the relationship! Being in communication with one another, giving as well as receiving, and keeping the relationship balanced are all important to maintain a healthy relationship.

Who’s Got the Power?

whos got power
 
A week ago today, I helped staff a Hanover Safe Place information table at an Ashland event. I was reminded that relationships are crucial to a person’s health and well-being—whether that person is real or fictional. Today I’m starting a series of blogs on relationships. I’ve written about relationships before from various angles, but they are worth revisiting.
whos got power
I’ll start with good two-person relationships. Although much of this is phrased for intimate partner relationships, it applies to other close relationships as well (e.g., family, best friends). 
 
As illustrated in the wheel above, good, healthy relationships are based on equality and nonviolence. They include

 

  • negotiation and fairness
  • non-threatening behavior
  • respect
  • trust and support
  • honesty and accountability
  • economic partnership (regardless of who has the money)
  • shared responsibility
  • responsible parenting

 

Note to writers: Too often fictional characters are presented in idealized (and clichéd) relationships based on physical characteristics and/or sexual appeal. Make your good relationships richer along the above dimensions.
 
whos got power
 
Various elements in the power and control wheel apply across types of domination, whether physical, sexual, or otherwise, and across settings (e.g., in the family, workplace, church, or community). These methods include

 

  • using intimidation
  • using emotional abuse
  • using isolation
  • minimizing, denying, and blaming
  • using coercion and threats
  • using economic abuse
  • using male privilege
  • using children

 

Note to writers: The examples presented in each of these categories are especially helpful in making your villains realistic—and varied!
 
As the historian and moralist Lord Acton said as long ago as 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

 

And one more note: it is a maxim of social psychology that the person who cares the least has the most power. Think about it!

Writing Relationships: Why Not Get the Hell Out of Dodge?

Writing Relationships: Why Not Get the Hell Out of Dodge?
In recent blogs, I talked about toxic mother-daughter relationships, toxic relationships in general, and toxic people.Toxic anything is good for writers! But once you’ve introduced these negative relationships and people, you cannot—satisfactorily—leave your reader wondering why s/he puts up with that. After all, there are planes, trains, and automobiles—not to mention boots that are made for walking!

Even if your characters don’t recognize their motives, you—their almighty creator—should know what they are AND should let the reader know.

 

So, why does s/he put up with it? The short answer is, it’s the best perceived alternative! People are very rational creatures, and they always make that choice. The complexity here is in the word perceived. Not everyone sees a situation the same way.

 

For example, the objective reality might be that a battered woman would be better off out of that marriage. But if she doesn’t see that, it ain’t gonna happen. So consider what her point of view might be. Suppose she came from a family with spousal abuse and accepts it as part of the package. Perhaps she fears for her life, or the safety of her children, if she leaves and he finds her. What if he threatened to commit suicide if she leaves and she couldn’t stand the guilt? Maybe she thinks it’s her fault—and/or, her self-esteem is so low that she thinks she deserves it. Maybe she doesn’t see a way to keep a roof over her/their children’s heads and food on the table single. Perhaps she loves him and lets him beat her because for his own twisted reasons, he needs to do so. Perhaps leaving/divorce goes against her religious beliefs. Etc. All of these reflect beliefs or values not universally held—and beliefs or values not universally held often apply to perceptions about leaving a toxic situation or relationship.

 

Additionally, consider the legal constraints on minors, military personnel, prisoners, employees, etc.

 

Perhaps your character is highly motivated to avoid conflict, criticism, gossip, embarrassment, rejection by family or peers—or even fears the unknown.

 

Takeaway for writers

Show the reader your character’s perspective.