What to do when you fall out of love

by | March 17, 2014

True love was lost when the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a poem about Valentine’s Day in 1382.

Saint Valentine, whom the day is named after, undoubtedly turned in his grave to see his legacy so cheapened by the frivolous romantic festival.

You see, Saint Valentine was a man who truly knew how to love.

When 11 percent of courting couples in the U.S. get engaged on February 14th, and our divorce rate is 40-50 percent, you know something is wrong with our idea of love.

The truth is that we in the West have been misled by the word love itself. Consider these definitions from Dictionary.com:

  1. a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.
  2. a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.
  3. sexual passion or desire.
  4. A person toward whom love is felt; beloved person; sweetheart.

No wonder we believe in “love at first sight” and the concept of a “soulmate.” No wonder we use the word so casually: “I love ice cream.” “I love sunsets.”

How can we truly love when we don’t know what love is?

The ancient Greeks distinguished between six specific varieties of love, which philosopher Roman Krznaric explained in his book, The Wonder Box: Curious Histories of How to Live:

  • Eros: This is sexual passion and desire — the “falling madly in love” variety where we lose control of our rational mind and give in to the erotic demands.
  • Philia: This is essentially friendship — the deep bond shared between siblings and brothers-in-arms, what Anne Shirley called “kindred spirits.”
  • Ludus: This refers to the playful affection between children or casual lovers. Flirting is a form of ludic love.
  • Pragma: This is mature love, referring to the deep understanding that could develop between long-married couples. In a pragmatic relationship, there is give and take, compromise, patience, tolerance, commitment.
  • Agape: This is selfless love, love offered without obligation or expectation of return, which extends altruistically to all human beings. Early Christians used this term to describe the divine love of God for mankind.
  • Philautia: This is self-love, and it can manifest in two forms: 1) in the negative, it is selfishness, 2) its positive form is the security of accepting ourselves, which then allows us to love others. As Aristotle put it, “All friendly feelings for others are extensions of a man’s feelings for himself.”

As useful as it is to distinguish between these varieties of love, I think the Hebrews captured its truest definition.

The Hebrew word is for love is Ahav, which literally means “I give.”

Rabbi Daniel Lapin, in his book Thou Shall Prosper, explains:

“One of my teachers…used to gently tease his students by asking them, one by one, on Thanksgiving if they liked turkey. He was waiting for the one unwary student who would innocently respond, ‘Oh, I love turkey.’

“Then [my teacher] with blue eyes twinkling, would pounce. ‘No,’ he’d say. ‘You don’t love turkey — if you did, you wouldn’t eat it. You actually love yourself.’

“He would add that, many times, when a young man tells a young lady to whom he is not married, that he loves her, he means it just like that student who thinks he loves turkey.

“The ancient Jewish model of love does not mean ‘I take from you,’ it means ‘I give to you.’ To love others does not mean simply to feel gushing emotions welling up in your heart; rather, and more important, it means to give to them, to serve them.”

Saint Valentine would have applauded the lesson. He earned his sainthood by spending his time comforting and healing the sick and crippled and epileptics. His love for people was manifest not by his feeling for them, but by his giving to them.

This is why the concept of a “soulmate” is so misleading and destructive: In a soulmate we look for what we gain from a relationship. A soulmate is such because we get everything we want to satisfy our desires from him or her.

The concept of a “soulmate” is nothing but a microwave for marriage. “Love at first sight” is a myth because we can never truly love whom we have never served.

In the 1950s, psychologist Erich Fromm distinguished between “falling in love” and “standing in love.”

It’s so easy to fall in love. It’s infinitely harder to stand in love — to do the dishes after a long day, to give a massage when you’re aching to roll over and fall asleep, to get up in the middle of the night to attend to a crying child, to forgive a harsh word.

In short, standing in love means to focus more on giving than on taking, to mature from juvenile eros to seasoned pragma, and ultimately to selfless Ahav.

As I am writing this in the early hours of a Saturday morning, Queen Karina sent me a text message: “I love you.”

I responded, “I love you, too. But not as much as I should.”

The measure of our love isn’t how much we feel. It’s how much we give.

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