Essay on Love



By Stanley M. Bierman, M.D., F.A.C.P. (C2005)

    Love means vastly different things to different people. When one reflects on the meaning of love, we generally think of romantic love, but there is also familial love, brotherly love, and love of sports, platonic love, love of country, and other non-amorous expressions of this elusive emotion.

    Loving someone is certainly an emotion quite apart from merely liking an individual. Some psychologists claim that the only difference between liking and loving entails the depth of our feeling, and the degree of our emotional involvement with another person. On the other hand, it is clear that merely liking someone, or something, does not lead to romantic love. I like Ben and Jerry's ice cream...but I am not romantically involved with a cone of the yummy desert!

    One of the clearest definitions of love comes from the novelist Robert Heinlein who penned, "Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own." Despite its clarity, this description does not hint at the passionate intimacy of romantic love, nor its ardent yearning for sexual, as well as emotional, union.

    Love can be a magical elixir, a prescription for marital bliss; it can be a noble quest, a chivalrous ideal, and a sublime mission. Romantic love can also be a panacea for many of life's pressing problems: a course of intense, heady, enrapturing feeling, that makes us feel good about ourselves, enhances self-esteem, and bolsters our sense of self-realization. Love also means wonderful things such as friendship, a companion to share experiences, a warm smile and kiss, an embrace on a cold night, a bouquet of freshly-cut flowers. But love often places difficult burdens on the parties such as a need to compromise, postponement of pleasurable events because of career demands, the willingness and capacity to say you are wrong (when you are right), and personal sacrifices such as eating the undercooked slice of the barbecued steak!

    Love's allure can evoke powerful, exciting and energizing emotions. For some, love is shaped primarily by intense, passionate desires. Lust, sensuality, and sex are essential parts of love, but certainly not all there is to loving or being loved. This erotic view of love diminishes its durability or its capacity to grow and flourish in the face of adversity. It ignores important variables such as the personal maturity that each partner in marriage brings to the relationship, how they react to being loved and how loyal and trustworthy they are to one another.

    We may all wish to fall in love effortlessly, have love that is unconditional, and everlasting, but we must also be prepared for the challenges that accompany real-life implementation of our romantic expectations. To sustain relations over a long period of time, it takes work (often hard work) and conscious effort to shape and reshape communications and understanding between two people. Some young people are oblivious to this revelation, believing that true love will flourish no matter what obstacles appear in its path. But romantic love does not sustain itself effortlessly, just as passion can dwindle and wither away if neglected or taken for granted. Even the most passionate loving relations have no guarantee of permanence.

    The intimacy and glamour evoked by love leads some to view the emotion through a filter that obscures reality, creating a fairy-tale perception of romance. "And they lived happily ever after" is a familiar cliché viewing love as a passive, inexplicable, effortless event. However, reality dictates that along with romance and sex come inevitable shock waves of power struggles, arguments, disagreements, frustrations, jealousies, and boredom that routinely test any human relationship. It can be a rude awakening to discover how different reality is from the make-believe emotion that love seems to inspire.

    But if love is to mature beyond a wondrous fairy tale, if it is to emerge from fantasy and illusion, if it is to achieve a foothold in reality and flourish, then partners in marriage must face certain painful truths. Inherent in a loving relationship, they must be willing to examine the hopes and fears each of them have about their commitment, to accept their partner's shortcomings, and to develop a framework for discussing, and then coming to terms with changes that will inevitably occur as their relationship grows.