Kind of a continuation of my post on how language shapes behaviour I’d like to talk about this idea we have of love.
I think how we think and talk about the idea of love… doesn’t really match reality, and it actually causes us a lot of trouble or at least some confusion.
Us humans have a habit of breaking down complex things into simple, easy to digest parts. We take the infinite spectrum of color found in a rainbow and break it down into basic blocks of red-orange-yellow-green-blue-purple. We tend to think of things as either good or bad, when we know there is a large grey area in between… and we do the same when it comes to love… either you love someone or you don’t… it’s like a light-switch without the grey area.
Sometimes it’s useful to break things down into their basic parts… it would be a whole lot less convenient to describe the colour of the sky as 236 parts blue, 206 parts green and 147 parts red as photoshop might describe it… but the problem comes when we forget that there are these complexities… and then we are forced to pick the perfect color for the paint on our walls from the basic red-orange-yellow-green-blue-purple choices.
In the English language we try to break up the concept of love a little bit… we have “don’t like, like as a friend, like like, love, she’s the one” ect… but these divisions still don’t do a very good job in representing how love really works or feels. They seem to be influenced by fairy-tales and hollywood movies, where the main characters are “just friends” until one day they finally realize they are “in love” (how romantic) and passionately declare it to each other.
It seems to be through logic and experience that love actually works like colors, on a spectrum. It begins at 0 and then has an infinite amount of levels all the way up until whatever the maximum capacity for love is.
In other words maybe you’ve just met someone and you feel a little spark and have a bit of love for them at… lets say… 30 points, then after a few dates when you have a solid crush on them your at a 70… then after being together for a while and really falling for each other your at 130… then when your convinced they are the perfect one and you want to be together forever you might be at a 200… then after a big fight about something important you drop to a 160… or after 10 years of marriage when you have grown in different directions you slowly move down to a 60…
Thinking about it in this way… rather than the light switch on or off way… just makes way more sense…
Love and romantic/sexual interest are also completely different things… we all know you can be sexually attracted to someone you don’t love and vice versa… but isn’t the love the same?
Maybe when you meet an attractive stranger in the bar your romantic interest is at 100 but your love is near 0… or for a same sex friend or family member your love might be at a 100 but the romantic interest a 0… and maybe when two long time male/female friends get drunk and something romantic happens… they both had a love of 60 and a romantic interest of 30 for each other…. but the alcohol boosted that romantic interest past the threshold.
Imagine that last situation in the old way of thinking about it… and how complicated it would be:
“oh my god… we were ‘just friends’ so we didn’t love each other… but then we got romantic… so… did that mean we secretly loved each other before? does that mean we love each other now? is our friendship ruined now? can we still be just friends after this happened? is our relationship changed now?”
That kind of thinking is so convoluted and restricted and unnatural… it doesn’t make much sense to me.
When I was in China I used to hang out with these 3 beautiful Chinese girls. Each one of them had boyfriends, so nothing ever happened between us… but if I were to be honest I would have to say I loved them all as friends… let’s say at a 70… but I also had a romantic interest in them all as well… maybe a 60…
In the ‘normal’ way of thinking this might have been a complicated situation… hollywood would say that you can’t love someone and also be fine with being friends at the same time… I would have to either put my feelings aside and just ‘be friends’ in order to prevent the friendships from being ruined… or else I would have to just go for it and confess my feelings and try to win them over…
…This is total nonsense though… Why would it have to be one or another? Why are we programmed to think this way? I was completely fine loving these girls as friends and also being interested in them romantically… why not? I think this concept only seems so strange because of how we try to put the ideas of love into such restricted categories.
The truth is, when you stop your mind from trying to categorize everything, and to fit everything into its box… the alternative seems so much more natural.
I hope it seems pretty obvious at this point that love and romantic interest works more like a spectrum than a light-switch… but how often does our habit of treating it like a light-switch cause trouble or confusion?
How about in new relationships? As this clip from ‘How I Met Your Mother’ shows, we put so much weight on the first time someone says “I love you” and if they say it too soon than its super weird!
How about after a breakup… for a couple that still wants to remain friends afterwards… The question that inevitably comes up at some point “Do you still love me?” is so tricky to answer! This happened with my ex… and the problem is… because I didn’t want to continue the relationship… I had to say “No” even though I still love and care about her a lot. I later then settled with “I still love you as a friend.” but like… who am I kidding? It’s not like she became fat and ugly instantly and I lost all romantic attraction for her… The truth is more complicated… Perhaps I once loved her at a 150, and now it’s more of a 90 or something… and logically I know I don’t want the relationship to continue… but I still have romantic interest in her, and care for her…
… but its obvious how complicated and restrictive and unnatural trying to answer these light-switch love questions can be.
How about love for strangers? I’m a big fan of the idea of loving ones neighbour, spreading peace and happiness and kindness to strangers… The whole oneness we’re all in this world together, love for the human race thing… But like, even writing this makes me sound weird because of the whole lightswitch thing… I’m only talking about like a 5-10 on the love scale… it’s nothing serious! 😛
I was doing a free hugs event in Toronto during the summer. Spreading the happiness of hugs to strangers… But then one guy came up to me and said “Sorry dude, I don’t love you, I only like you.” And instead offered me a handshake. It was fine and all, but it made me realize the light-switch categories in his mind… In his mind its weird to love strangers, but fine to like them… and on top of that… hugs are only reserved for people that you love… hmmm…
Here’s another question Chinese girls like to test me with when we talk about culture and dating. They always ask me… “Is it okay to have sex with someone before you fall in love?” Then I am severely judged by whatever answer I give.
The problem is that the whole question is flawed! First it assumes that love is either on or off… and secondly it assumes that love and sex are interdependent. Large judgements of my character are being made by these girls… when the sad truth is their entire method of thinking is based on false assumptions.
So why do we try to fix these complex ideas of love and romance into little on or off categories… Well like I mentioned at the beginning, humans love to do this in all areas of life because most of the time it useful… but secondly it because of the influence of our language like the last post talked about. In our language its either “I love you” or “I don’t” we’re either “Just friends” or “We’re dating”… The truth is… unfortunately due to our language its hard to talk about love any other way… None of us want to rate how much we love our friends on a number scale… and of course the numbers would mean different things to different people… But the key is to not let the simplifications of our language let us lose sight of the underlying complexities of these things… to not lose sight of reality and the truth of our feelings because of some holly-wood ideas of what love is… and to try our best to stop thinking in these restricting confusing on and off terms…
…and perhaps instead… just honestly and openly follow the true feelings in our hearts… without any restrictions, expectations or rules.