Q: How do you know you are in love with someone or just infatuated with them? pt.2
Last week was infatuation, this week is its serious big brother–romantic love. In our discussion of romantic love, we will be trying to zero in on a version of love I have deemed Optimal Love. Optimal Love is based on M. Scott Peck’s definition of love in his book The Road Less Traveled. Yes, you’ve heard of him before and this won’t be the last time I talk about him. His definition of love is, “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”
Love is complex
First off, there is one thing we need to get straight: Love is complex. It is never simple and never easy. The task of fully loving another person in a mature relationship is by no means a cake walk. The coming together of two minds, bodies and souls in a passionate union is going to be a little messy.
The idea of love has been romanticized in every facet of media. Bands like Iron and Wine sing about the grandiose melding of “corresponding shapes, like puzzle pieces from the clay.” Movies more often than not oversimplify love and try to serve it to their audiences in a neat little package; think of any Hallmark movie ever created. In reality, this idealistic view of romantic love that is offered to audiences is not always practical.
Love is selfless.
Optimal love is selfless. I’m sure you’ve heard of the cliche, “If you love something, set it free, and if it’s truly yours, it will come back to you,” or some bullcrap like that. As much as I despise that saying, it holds a kernel of truth. Optimal love looks towards the spiritual growth of the beloved and self more than anything else. The attempt to love optimally can be seen when you put the growth of the beloved before their wants and desires.
I say focus on their growth and not their wants because we shouldn’t always give in to the desires of our beloved, just like we shouldn’t give in to all of our own desires. Your partner might want you to walk them to all of their classes or sit with them during every chapel or even text them multiple times a day pouring out epithets of their beauty, does this sound familiar? Despite these things being what your partner wants, it’s not what will help them grow as a person. Above all else, an optimal love is selfless and prioritizes the spiritual growth of both parties over anything else.
Love is not a feeling; it’s a choice.
The optimal love that should be strived for in any romantic relationship requires an enormous amount of effort as well. It is a continuous choice that you make, day in and day out. It’s not easy to put in the required effort of love, but it’s something that shows the true mark of a mature relationship. Love is not a feeling; it’s a choice.
It’s easy to spend time with a girlfriend and boyfriend when you ‘love’ them, but what about when you wake up next to your spouse of 15 years and your third child is screaming bloody murder at 4 a.m. in the morning? Will the feeling of love still be so readily available? Or what about when the brand new puppy has puked for the eighth time on the carpet and now it’s your turn to clean up the small mound of bile with bacon bits mixed in? You think that feeling of ‘love’ will be there? Most likely that eager feeling of ‘love’ will be slow to appear. This is where the repetitive decision to choose optimal love comes into play.
Love embraces independence
Peck states that the “true acceptance of both party’s individualism and separateness is the only foundation where a mature relationship can be based and real love can grow.”
The pursuit of optimal love requires a strong basis to form a relationship on. It’s common for two people in a relationship to get so caught up in the idea of being in a relationship that they lose sight of their autonomy as human beings. Yes, it’s crucial to be there for your partner and care for them, establishing and maintaining a solid line of communication is the best way to do this, but it’s not necessary to hold their metaphorical hand and wipe their metaphorical butt for them. They are adults who can take care of themselves.
Often we don’t even realize that we are stunting the growth of our beloved by denying them the access to this individualism and separateness. Imagine a couple that sets their alarms for the same exact time every morning. They fall asleep facing each other so that the first thing they see when they wake in the morning is the other person. They use the restroom together, shower together, eat breakfast together, drive to work together, work in the same office together, eat lunch together, take their lunch potty break together –you see where I’m going with this? There are a lot of people I love in this world, but I would never want to spend this much time with someone, ever.
You can’t measure the love between a couple by the amount of time they spend together. Say it with me now, quality over quantity! Optimal love between two individuals is not displayed by the number of instagram posts transmitted or the amount of text received. The obsession of a partner is not a sign of a healthy relationship, it’s the sign of one that is doomed.
Peck emphasizes this when he affirms that “two people love each other only when they are quite capable of living without each other but choose to live with each other.” Here we see again this idea of choice. Optimal love is an active choice by two consenting partners of a relationship. Love is not only a noun but also a verb. Optimal love is an arduous endeavor that requires constant effort.
Alfred Tennyson tapped into something universally human when he affirmed, “‘Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all.” These musings resonate deeply within us over 150 years later. Is he right? Maybe. I honestly don’t have an answer for you despite this one: Love hurts. It’s a fact. Is it worth it? It’s up to you. If you are approaching the subject in a mature way, then it is bound to take effort to harness and maintain this optimal love I have been harping on. It won’t be an easy task and trust me, you’ll mess up plenty of times along the way, but it’s the attempt that counts. It’s the undertaking of the task that really matters.
In the process of trying to apply this love, we stumble across small glimpses of it working. Some would describe these glimpses as shalom, eternal peace, a strong sense of being heard and understood, etc. It’s the feeling we get when we actually feel like our spiritual growth is being prioritized. Whatever you want to call it, these quick glimpses reveal to us what it truly means to be loved and fully cared for.
So at the end of the day, I say go for it. Try loving another person. It won’t always be easy. It won’t always be fun. But the rewards that are reaped from a romantic relationship based in optimal love are invaluable. Take a chance and text that boy, reach out to that girl, but remember the optimal love we just talked about. Don’t forget about the caliber of love you and they both deserve. As always, feel free to submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org to possibly be featured in the next installation of Stupid Cupid.
By: Brennan Ernst