Shattering myths about love and strengthening enduring truths

Beth Rogers Doll
Beth Doll

Love Myths: 

  1. There is a “true love” that binds two people no matter what. Since true love lasts forever, if we ever fall out of true love, it never was true love in the first place. 

  2. This connection is something that is known right away.    

  3. True love never ends, if you have found the right person. 

  4. You should love me. I know best.

Ooh, I cannot wait to get to tearing down these myths. I have the honor of doing therapy with all kinds of couples: straight, gay, married, dating. I help in varying degrees. Sometimes, I simply bear witness to the death of love. 

“True love is something two people feel right way.” Some couples say that they knew they were meant to be together right away, like that electric moment of connectivity that some call “love at first sight.” These couples seem to be describing a mutual, immediate attraction that was physical to start. Right? Have you ever thought someone was gorgeous, and then that person opened his/her/their mouth, and something hateful came rolling out?   

However, these couples found that they were immediately physically attracted to one another, and neither did anything significant to kill off that instant attraction, like burping horribly or saying something terribly rude right off the bat. In a sense, they were lucky.    

Movies do more damage to realistic concepts of love than almost anything else, except pornography. Hundreds of movies peddle that moment when a couple looks at each other and “just knows” that there is a connection. 

Many couples did not instantly desire each other. Many legitimately loving couples “fell” in love after knowing each other for a while. To complicate it, sometimes one person started loving before the other did. That goo-goo-eyed person had to hang out for a while until his/her/their heart’s desire started to feel the heat too! How many people go through this? A lot.   

I have a thought about unrequited love – that is, where one person cares in a romantic way, while the other does not. If I love someone who does not truly love me, can what I feel really be love? I love the way he laughs, the intelligence he shows, his sense of humor, etc. But, he does not have any attachment to me. If I have not been on the receiving end of his loving heart, that means I have not received his style of love. I believe that, if another does not return your love, you cannot know for sure that what you feel is love. I prefer to think of it as a more intense crush. A crush is a way of knowing that you want to be romantic with that person, to know them better, more intimately. But, it is not love. 

Love is a Choice that we make every day. This is only my opinion, so feel free to protest my ignorance, but true love is made out of attraction or friendship, not captured or discovered. True love is an occasionally wavering commitment by a regular person to wake up each morning and love another, no matter what. I am saying that loving another for a lifetime is a choice we make, usually consciously and sometimes unconsciously. At the hardest of moments, we pray for love to last or to come back to us -but still, it is a choice we make.  

Naomi Remen suggests that our society’s rampant perfectionism demands that the people we choose to love be as perfect for us as possible. She goes on to say, “Perfectionism is so widespread in this culture that we actually had to invent another word for love. ‘Unconditional love’, we say. Yet, all love is unconditional. Anything else is just approval.” True love is deciding to love another human being, in spite of their never-ending ability to make mistakes and annoy you. Many people of diverse faiths and religions would say that a higher power (God) allows us to love without fail. That God is love. 

Anyone who has been married or really “serious” for several years probably will get my point here. The person who applied for the job of “Love of your Life” does not automatically wake up each morning and charm your pants off. Just as likely, they wake and say something incredibly snarky with their bad morning breath, yell at the kids for being kids, break a promise they made just like last night, forget something extremely important that day, and complain about something nice you did for them. And that is all before they even get into the shower!   

“True love never ends.” It is painfully obvious that love ends all the time. But, again, it is the naturally occurring result of our choices, both conscious and unconscious. People of all orientations choose to treat each other in ways that are selfish, mean and unforgiving. These human failings cause love to end. If I cheat on you four times, why should I be surprised if you fall out of love? I basically trampled on your love. If I try to control you every day of your life and make fun of who you are, why should I be indignant if you leave after warning me of your unhappiness? How many times do I need to be told that my behavior is a deal-breaker? Sometimes, a person is so painful to love that we must separate ourselves in order to be whole. That is sometimes the only avenue in abusive relationships. 

“You Should Love Me. I know best.” This brings me to something that I get frustrated with – stalking. If someone has clearly told you that they do not want a love relationship with you, no matter how long you have been together, it is their right to end it. If you badger, threaten and refuse to respect their choice, you are being a stalker. Stalking is the opposite of love. It is based on a need to possess or own someone as if they are your toaster. Just because you have been with someone 10 or 20 years does not make them your property. 

Loving someone means that, whether parent, child or lover, we respond to another’s needs when repeatedly spoken in sincerity. We endeavor to be better every day. We give heart and ear to this person’s dreams and hopes, even if it is just a simple desire to sit and talk. We try and try. We apologize when we screw up, and pray to do better.    

Parents, don’t give up on your kids, even if divorce makes it hard to stay connected. Love has a lifespan. That means that there will be times when it is extremely difficult to stick with your child or parent in a loving way. Alcoholism and drug abuse test our bonds every day and in every way. You can feel unloved for 20 years and realize that the love never died, but the other person kept that love hidden inside. How sad that is!  If your substance use problem is testing the love of your partner or family, consider giving them the greatest gift you could possibly give (and it is not found on Amazon): your sobriety.  

Love is the best medicine. Barb Fredrickson is a psychologist who studies love, as it appears in the vagus nerve. Just a quick non-medical explanation of the vagus nerve.  It is a cranial nerve traveling down from the brainstem that helps to regulate our inner nervous system (also called the parasympathetic nervous system, controlling digestion, metabolism) the lungs, facial muscles and throat, the intestines and heart.   

Dr. Fredrickson has a body of research suggesting that people who can regulate their vagus nerve like it is a powerful muscle (called high vagal tone) have better blood glucose levels, cardiovascular health, digestion and better overall health. She discovered that people can increase their vagal tone by meditating on loving acceptance of themselves and others. You can increase your vagal tone too! When you are around others, try to tune into their facial expressions and emotional presentation. Empathize with them, smile more and touch, when appropriate. This is a great remedy for loneliness too. If you do not have a love partner in your life, connecting with co-workers and family becomes very important. Small moments of kindness with strangers are also helpful for “vagal tone.” 

What Takes Away Love? Again, feel free to disagree with me on this idea that I have, but I believe that two things are affect love. The two things are anger and selfishness. As a person who is intimately familiar with both of these not-so-pretty traits, I can tell you that I battle to keep them at bay all the time. When I allow anger to color my view of the one that I love, I inwardly tell myself that this person is inferior to me in ways that are unacceptable. In other words, their faults are intolerable, and why should I have to put up with their faults? They should simply do better, right? Wrong. I need to check my anger. After all, am I the most fabulous person in the world to be married to? No, I am living in a house made of glass - and not that bulletproof kind - that 100-year-old kind that shatters if the wind blows! 

Selfishness allows me to put my comfort ahead of what is good for my relationship. Selfishness allows me to scroll all over Facebook while my eight year old is pleading for my attention. It is hard for me to imagine that looking at pictures of my friends’ photos matters more than holding my child. Selfishness and preoccupation have caused me to fail to show love and interest in long-time friends who need my attention. Don’t forget that selfishness masquerades as laziness. “I am feeling too lazy to turn off the TV and listen to you, even though your face is clearly telling me that you are upset.” 

Enduring truth. Love is what matters the most. We can strengthen our emotional well-being by spreading the good feeling. Random acts of kindness are not just for the other person. We feel terrific when we do them! And the other person feels gratitude and wants to give back to the world. I challenge you to love with all of your heart today - approach every individual (no matter how much they annoy you or what your history is with them) with love and devotion. Then, stand back and watch the serious human chemistry that you have set into motion! Not that rainbow unicorns will gallop into the room. But, you can detect that something positive has been lit up. The person who annoys you will be so much less annoying. And, I would ask you: is it because they are actually less annoying, or is it because showing them regard and warmth elevated them in your eyes? Is it because you opened your mind to their unique worldview? That sounds like true love to me. 

Thanks for letting me pontificate a little. 

Beth Rogers-Doll, PhD, flawed human and psychologist, Agnesian HealthCare 

Love 2.0:  How our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become by Barbara Fredrickson 

Kitchen Table Wisdom by Naomi Remen 

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