Just a brief blog to wish everyone a happy Valentine’s Day whether you are together, single, or even if it’s complicated.
Comedians have long made fodder of how guys can never get this one right but in general, the celebration of holidays and remembrances can set us up to fall short of some idealized expectations.
If you are graced with being in a loving relationship, it is worth remembering how lucky you are. Compared with so many others, you have something to cherish and nurture.
Unfortunately, the idea that partners need to embody diametrically opposed ideas is a set up for failure…we want someone who is kind- but not a pushover, affectionate- but not clingy, sexy- but not objectifying, smart- but not belittling, committed- but not jealous, the list of opposites goes on an on…
There are two fundamental problems with romantic love: it is unrealistic to expect one person to embody all the paradoxical things we want because we literally want lists of opposites listed in the paragraph above. The second problem is even more troublesome: we don’t really excel at wanting what we already have as the core of Buddhist thought teaches us.
In Greek , there are five common words for love that embody different aspects described in this article: https://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/the-ancient-greeks-6-words-for-love-and-why-knowing-them-can-change-your-life
Eros is erotic or sexually libidinous love. This mysterious force can be triggered by beauty, hormones, neurotransmitters, and many other things and tends to wane after we have evolved past the infatuation “bicycle built for two” bonding phase of the initial few months of a relationship.
Philia is camaraderie or a deeper type of bonding that happens between friends.
Ludus is playful love like flirting or dancing.
Agape is selfless love or charity given to all. It is a sort of unconditional acceptance you give to yourself and others in your life.
Philautia is self-love and is perhaps the most important of all. Although narcissism is unhealthy, loving kindness towards yourself is the wellspring of all other forms of love. Someone practicing this kind of love examines the wounds of their childhood and integrates their shadow self to experience themselves as perfectly imperfect yet blessed. Only through resilience and wisdom can we keep improving from generation to generation, from relationship to relationship, and from day to day.
When a person holds narcissistic delusions about their own importance they project negative feelings and traits onto others, cause damage to relationships, and create bad vibes. People can cause so much damage to their partners, children, and others because they externalize blame. As the alleged Chinese proverb says:
“he who blames others has a long way to go on his journey. He who blames himself is halfway there. He who blames no one has arrived.”
So is there a way to optimize our love relationships? I think the most important thing is to work backwards from the list. If your eros love is waning, then perhaps you need to start by loving yourself (philautia) in a healthy way by setting boundaries yet remaining open to your partner. True intimacy is not lack of separation but rather coming together despite individuality. Focus on being charitable and accepting of your partner as in agape. Be a friend and confidante, as in philia. Don’t forget ludia– to be playful with date nights, gifts for no reason and learn to speak the “love languages” of touch, affirming words, gifts, service, and quality time described in the best-selling book, the five love languages.
When I was practicing OB-GYN, I would always marvel at the rare blissfully happy couples. They managed to do something wonderful and that is maintain a delusion of their mate as special despite many years together. It seems that despite frustrations, temptation, boredom, and complacency, they were entirely convinced that a future together was not only inevitable but eminently desirable.
In contrast, I recall a funny encounter of an elderly man being hen-pecked rather harshly by his wife in a Ralph’s parking lot. When an onlooker frowned at the abuse then smiled at the old man in sympathy he replied, “It’s been like this for fifty years!”
If you are accepting of yourself and have understood the unhealthy aspects of pair bonding perhaps demonstrated by your parents and the unrealistic aspects of romance depicted in Hollywood romances, then you can achieve the satisfying love relationship – the pragma of true comfortable intimacy that I so seldom witnessed in my patients.
As I transitioned to longevity and telomerase activity medicine, I found one sign to be most reliable of a good relationship. Despite there being many couples in whom one took TA-65 and the other partner did not, the ones who did it together were happiest. Why? Because they literally didn’t want to live an extra day without their beloved. Secondly, despite there being one person who was more a believer, the partner trusted the other enough to go along.
To learn more about love and intimacy, watch this interesting interview I did last year with Viraja Prema:
Here’s hoping you have someone who is trying to be their best self with you, is going to hang in there through sickness and health and for richer and for poorer, and who wants to love, honor, and cherish you.
Of course, there is one common denominator in all the failed relationships and it is …. you. This is not to say that you could have “fixed” the others you were bonded with. Most people get spiritually “stuck” at a level of their greatest traumas and they were never meant to finish their journey at your side.
I leave you all with one of my favorite love songs; it is from the late Jeff Buckley’s one and only album, appropriately titled, Grace. This is a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. If you have someone that checks enough of your silly boxes, who is strong enough to bend, and who has survived enough damage to see well in the darkness, then don’t let go. As the song lyric from “My Funny Valentine” goes: “Each day is my Valentine’s day” and likewise, everyday can be Christmas if you wish. And I’m also sure you can give thanks on any Thursday of any month.
Holiday’s and remembrances are a way or ritualizing but hopefully not trivializing some very important values. Go ahead an call your mom and dad too! They would love to hear from you.