Love can be confusing. Perhaps part of the confusion stems from using one word, love, for many different things. Just as saying one is ‘in America’ barely clarifies ones location, saying ‘I am in love’ provides little insight into the speaker’s situation.
In this brief essay, I’ll attempt to split out some of the different stages and types of love. I’ll explore some of their intricacies.
Love is a complex subject. I hope that some of what is true for me is true for you.
The initial stage of love is infatuation. One is infatuated with another. In a rush of oxytocin and euphoria, the object of love becomes an addiction. One must be with them, to feed the craving with their being.
The infatuation is often overwhelming. One may rush to make drastic life changes in its wake. Curiously, it can feel this infatuation is at serious odds with other stages of love for others; feelings of guilt and arguments may follow. Somehow this sudden gust of wind can threaten long standing partnerships.
Often beside early infatuation comes sex. One lusts for the person and becomes sexually connected. With orgasm one experiences a further rush of endorphins. Dazzled by fireworks, staring into their eyes, one may proclaim “I love you”.
A brash statement of love can trouble a British person. Having been schooled for so long in frosty communications (to save any recipient from undue emotion), saying “I love you”, with its millions of implications and meanings, is uncomfortable.
A concept of Love first comes to us through novels and films. There it is neatly packaged into a two hour arc — it begins with a meeting of eyes, and ends with a happy union and contented retirement.
This cinematic love teaches us false lessons. It shows love as one single concept. It frees love of the many uncertainties and anxieties that accompany human existence. In films love is a predestined arrow, in reality it is a maze.
Propelled by headwinds of emotion, an acquaintance becomes regular, and grows into friendship. You find things you like to do and places you like to go. Conversation flows naturally and plans emerge.
It is easier to believe that love is permanent than to consider there are no guarantees against loss. Love inspires magnificent dreams. The immensity of the emotion portends that the one must never live outside this torrent. You chart your journey together as life planners.
One partner loving an additional person can seem threatening. To love someone else is to puncture the veneer of love’s pre-destiny and permanence. It opens questions (perhaps ignored) about who someone should love and why. A relationship is no longer simply the default, but a chosen intention.
Love with multiple people exposes the central economic calculus we like to ignore; that love is a trade. It costs time and energy and returns comfort and support. It is dizzying to consider this economy too frequently.
Considering these options and making a conscious choice may bring greater clarity to a relationship. It may mean you turn up for well-founded reasons.
Love, from choice and not pre-destiny, is no less.
As full-time friends and life-planners, a grand project emerges. You become partners in a joint-enterprise of love, life and family. Every day tasks are divided and conquered. You both start to invest towards a shared future.
Partnership brings its own rewards. You are greater than the sum of your parts. You are more efficient, you can accomplish more. Financial goals come within reach.
Partnership also provides security. Someone can watch your back. Someone can provide for you when you are sick.
Security is valuable in and of itself; it is insurance against the vagaries of the world. It also calms fears about the world. An undue amount of fear can cause an undue need for security.
Relationships borne of fear may struggle to survive. Fears may overwhelm the orbit of partners, pulling each-other too close or driving each-other too far away.
Partnership over time engenders acts of love: commitments and duties, tasks one selflessly takes on to make the world the place you hope it will be. “I love you”, a little daily prayer, is a statement of purpose and position of your heart (and not just the eruption of emotions).
Love becomes a tender note to life. It becomes a dwelling that has stood through storms and summers. It stands undeterred.
As clouds of addiction, lust and oxytocin clear, reality starts to emerge, startling and cool as morning light. Our naked experience is inescapably ours alone; presence in the moment brings us face-to-face with a conveyor of unstructured meaningless experience and anxieties. Stripped down to its bare essence, you are both beasts in the field, committed cohabitants, chewing the cud as suns rise and fall.
Presence in the moment silences thought, but also provokes questions. Simultaneously life is everything but means nothing. We need to answer what this torrent of experience is, but know that there can never be an answer.
To answer these impossible dichotomies, love comes back again. One becomes a sort of scholar of love. Love is now a deep and impermeable answer, shared across peoples and ages. Staring into another’s eyes, and seeing nakedness and kindness reflected, one may rest easy for a night.
The best parts of this article are shamelessly inspired by ‘On Love’ by Alain de Botton, the worst are the author’s own invention. As with love and life itself, this article is by no means perfect.