Monday, February 14, 2011

Living Beyond Cupid's Arrow

Antonio Canova's
Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss
Today, on St. Valentine's Day, we celebrate romantic love. How many songs, stories, legends, and movies have been sung, told and made that center around the notion of romantic love? When it catches us, all is right with the world. But is it realistic to try to sustain the euphoria? Is it natural to try to repeat that initial phase of romance throughout one’s life?

Most people understand that romantic love serves to bond us into a relationship. Much has been written about how romantic love lasts about 18 months – long enough for a couple to commit and have their first offspring. Science might say that romantic love serves a biological and evolutionary purpose - but when you are caught up in it, it is so much more fun than science makes it sound! The problem for many is that life sets in: “the honeymoon is over,” “the magic is gone,” “the passion subsides.” Some may wonder how they can re-kindle the flame; others may leave one partner to pursue another in order to repeat that initial sensation of being in love.

Love and Limerence

In the 1979, Dr. Dorothy Tennov, in her book, Love and Limerence – the Experience of Being in Love, coined the term limerence to refer to that aspect of intense romantic love. Characteristics of limerence include intrusive, involuntary thoughts about the “limerent object” (the object of one’s affection); feelings of elation, buoyancy and freedom; a longing for reciprocation; a fear of rejection; and overwhelming shyness in the presence of the “limerent object.”  Limerence can lead to euphoria or despair.  It all sounds like situations we have heard about in story and song about love potions, love-sickness, the arc of Cupid's arrow, and the tragedy of unrequited love. (1)

According to Tennov, there are three possible bonds in a pairing relationship:

1. Affectional bond in which neither partner is limerent.
2. Limerent-Nonlimerent bond in which one partner is limerent.
3. Limerent-Limerent bond in which both partners are limerent. (2)

It seems that limerence can be magic, wonderful, volatile, or tragic - which brings me back to our celebration of romantic love. What does it all mean? I think most people like to see young people in love – it somehow reaffirms our hope and belief in the upward and loving process of Life. We can take joy in the fact that there continues to be loving, caring, pairing and bonding. The true test of love, however, is not in keeping the euphoria and elation alive. The true test is in the commitment to continue to make a life together.

A Shared Life

One of my favorite movies is Fiddler on the Roof. In that musical drama, Tevye’s solid traditional world is sent spinning as he witnesses one daughter after the other marrying for love rather than opting for the security of arranged marriages. Then there comes that brief, quiet song where Tevye asks his wife, Golde, “Do you love me?” She first takes it as a foolish question, but Tevye persists in asking, “Do you love me?” One senses that Tevye wonders if he has missed something along the way. Golde reflects upon how they have spent their lives together for 25 years, making a family and a home amidst all the drudgery of housework, chores and daily living. She concludes, “If that’s not love, what is?” “Then you love me?” Tevye asks again. “I suppose I do,” she says. “And I suppose I love you, too,” Tevye sings with relief and reassurance. At the end of the song Tevye and Golde sing together, “It doesn't change a thing, but even so; After twenty-five years, it's nice to know.”

Cupid’s arrow was beyond the scope of Tevye's and Golde’s experience, but they found that bonding of love that sustained them in a changing world where they struggled to maintain a minimal standard of living. Nowadays, though statistics show marriage to be on the decline, most of us seem to think we should marry for love. Sometimes that “love” is really a blind limerence not based in reality. Often it is a true romantic bonding that gives an emotional foundation to build upon. Couples who live beyond Cupid’s arrow understand that love is more than a feeling and more solid than an emotion. Love engenders a caring and a respect and a commitment to go through the storms of life together.

Celebrating Love

I took heart the other day when I was out buying Valentine’s Day cards for my wife and my daughter. I was encouraged that the card industry was appealing to so many aspects of familial love and romantic love. There were cards for daughters, sons, wives, husbands, nieces, nephews, new lovers, and long time lovers. I was also encouraged by taking note of who was selecting the cards for purchase. They were young, old, fat, thin, plain and ordinary people. They were ordinary people caught up in the midst of life’s struggles who wanted to stop and recognize the importance of love in their lives. I did not see anyone who appeared to be in the throes of limerence or struck by Cupid’s arrow, but they were regular folk stopping to celebrate the ways that love has touched their lives.

References cited from Wikipedia:

For further reading:

I can recommend three books by Robert A. Johnson. Very readable on the layperson's level, Johnson's writings provide an understanding into the the psychology of relationships by using imagery from Greek mythology:

  • He: Understanding Masculine Psychology
  • She: Understanding Feminine Psychology
  • We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love


1 comment:

  1. Again, another outstanding post Charles. Thanks for all you do.


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