I read some of the emails allegedly written by the Governor Sanford and his girlfriend from Argentina. A few sentences stood out to me as I read thru them. Gov. Sanford speaks of an emotional bank account full of love. I remember someone else who used this term back when I was a Christian. It got me thinking, is there such thing as a bank account of love? What is love in this context?
Is love a feeling? Is love a commitment? Is love grace, mercy, empathy or unconditional acceptance? Love in the English language simply means a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person. Among other definitions it means sexual affection and intercourse or simply a term of endearment never implying any sex or physical attraction.
Love is a complex issue and one that seems unique to the individual because it is based on their motivations. When we do anything, even love someone, we draw from whatever is stored in our minds and what is stored in our mind is a catalog of information and facts based on our education, experiences and self knowledge. It is these items that form our beliefs about love and consequently our feelings, motivations and eventually our actions, behaviors and attitude.
When we say I love you, what are we saying? In reality, meaning the day to day meanderings of your average person, saying I love you probably means you are important to me even if I don't feel anything so intense as sexual attraction, physical desire or I'm ready to throw myself under a bus for you. It probably is a simply expression of endearment that let you know you are not alone. When you are feeling attraction coupled with trust, I love you probably means I want you to know how good you make me feel. When you are in the middle of passionate sex with someone you trust and are attracted to, it probably means keep going because this feels really good.
How do we really love someone? I Corinthians 13, which is a letter written presumably by the Apostle Paul, tells us many attributes of love from his point of view. The list states that love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. Love never fails.
Please don’t blame divorce on a lack of morals or an evil selfish society lacking in a god. Divorce among Christians is far higher than among atheists. I think this is a good list detailing love, but honestly, these are actions and not feelings or at least the absence of certain emotions like envy, and pride or being easily angered. So in retrospect, the author of this letter is telling us that love is prohibiting certain emotions and acting out behaviors like kindness, trusting, protecting, and persevering.
We can learn just as much by what a person doesn't say as by what they do say. The writer never says love is a feeling of sexual desire or physical attraction. The writer never says love is getting married or having children. The writer never says love isn't possible with more than one person. The writer never says jealousy is a part of love. This last one is ironic considering God is a jealous god, according to ancient Jewish writers (the penalty for straying from God in those days was death). Is jealousy a good or positive emotion in any relationship? In essence, love as defined by this Biblical writer, is mostly, if not entirely, about actions and behaviors or the lack of some of them.
I have to agree with this writer. I find meaningful love to be an attitude, which translates into certain actions and behaviors that facilitate good will toward people or a person. Can everyone love according to this definition? Can a psychopath love according to this definition? Can a mentally ill person or low functioning person love? You be the judge.
If love is the greatest of all commandments, as is attributed to Jesus, then some people can't love because of mental or organic birth defects and some people, meaning psychopaths can love even if they feel no emotion like affection, remorse, empathy or guilt. Do you need emotions to love someone? If so, what happens when those emotions cease to exist in a relationship?
As I am sure that you know, emotions come and go and sometimes for no discernible reason. Do we always feel positive emotions toward people in our lives? Is it possible that positives feelings simply are not love, but the byproduct of our thoughts, and beliefs? Seems to me that love is an attitude created by our beliefs and thoughts and these translate into behavior.
Having an affair isn’t about love in my opinion as much as it is about capturing emotions that make us feel good or escaping boredom, and/or depression. Falling in love isn’t about noble values as much as it is about being physically and sexually attracted to someone. Jealousy isn’t about love as much as it is about fear and insecurity. Sex isn’t about love as much as it is about the feel good chemicals that release in our brain from sexual stimulation and orgasm. We all remember those first pangs of attraction and desire. They are powerfully good feelings and sex can feel similar to them. The best sex, in my opinion, happens between two people who trust one another.
When feelings of good will or emotional attraction no longer exist in a relationship it can usually be boiled down to our thoughts. Sometimes mental issues like organic depression take away feelings, but mostly our belief and/or thinking, is the cause of our diminished feelings. Sexual attraction or just being horny has as much to do with biological cues that seem to be motivated by visual attraction to body shapes, contours and the subtle exposure of those body parts, and of course facial characteristics. Yes, I know, women are often aroused by more than visual stimulation; however studies show that women respond just as much if not more, to visual signs as do men. For women, the next level is often more about the emotional connection which they seem to translate into trust and trust allows for a much deeper form of intimacy that men seem to be in short supply of.
Can you love someone who isn’t physically attractive to you? Can you love a partner who no longer can have sex with you because of a physical limitation? Do you need sex and sexual attraction to be happy, stay married or remain in a relationship? Is sex with someone other than your partner or spouse a deal breaker? If you could not longer have sex would you let your spouse or partner have sex with someone else even if they loved you and didn’t want to leave you? I think we need to ask ourselves these questions rather than stand for ideals and values that may not work.
Considering that about 60% of marriages fail in this country. What does that tell us about the state of commitment, marriage, and our ability to live up to these values? Please don’t blame divorce on a lack of morals or an evil selfish society lacking in a god. Divorce among Christians is far higher than among atheists. Muslims have a much lower divorce rate then Christians. The suicide rate among Muslim countries is also very low compared to the U.S. What does that tell you?
There are many biological components to attraction, bonding and mating. Many different types of chemicals are released during attraction, sex and touch. These chemicals are powerful in that they shape our thinking and influence our feelings. The research shows that it takes about 18 months for all those chemicals to subside and go back to normal levels. In the mean time, who you bonded with, moved in with or married may not be your ideal mate. Unfortunately many people, under the influence of attraction and sex chemicals, didn’t really pay attention to the aspects of their partner that bothered them. Sometimes it’s too late to back out and people stay together often out of responsibility or practicality rather than mutual trust, values, attraction and respect. The love is gone so to speak. Those feelings of lust and sensuality may never come back if there isn’t a deeper connection then those initial chemical markers released during the honeymoon period.
In reading Governor Sanford’s alleged emails to his girlfriend, I see some of the same issues that plague us all. He is stressed, unhappy (even though he has much and attained much), middle aged and wondering if he will ever feel those powerful feelings of sexual attraction again i.e. love. Governor Sandford forcefully abandoned principles and values that he espouses just to be with his girlfriend even to the point of leaving his wife and children on Fathers Day. His actions should tell us something about how powerful attraction is.
I think we all long to feel overwhelmed with those powerful feelings of attraction and sexual desire. They make us happy and pleasure is what motivates the human race according to Freud. We all hope to be unconditionally loved and made to feel secure, but we know that no relationship is perfect simply because we are not perfect. Love is not a feeling of attraction, sexual satisfaction or simply a commitment to some moralistic value system. Neither is love simply a choice. I certainly don't want someone saying they love me simply because they choose to. It's as if choosing to be nice is another word for love. If that were the case wars would cease, divorce would never happen and sex would be boring. Love is as much about an attitude of the mind that respects both oneself and others.
Love is about being honest, secure with simply being yourself, emotionally transparent with people you trust, authentic, kind, open minded, gentle, compassionate, empathetic, reasonable, not giving up and always treating people as you yourself would wish to be treated. It is about reaching deep down and finding what really matters and forgetting about trying to possess another or control them to simply make your life feel safer or secure. In my opinion, we don’t need a back account of love collected by good deeds, we are better off being true to ourselves and authentic with others.