“Love is nothing but a joy accompanied by an external cause” –Spinoza
“There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.” – Nietzche
“Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.” – Aristotle
The month of February is all about relationships. Everywhere you go there are supermarket shelves stocked with heart-shaped candies and stuffed animals to be given to our beloved. For some, it is a month of companionship, of recognizing that special someone who suffers through our constant nagging and fluctuations in mood. For others, it acts as a constant reminder of the lack thereof being filled with Ben and Jerry’s pints and obnoxiously expensive chocolate packs. As we welcome February, it is impossible to talk about the new month without mentioning this major theme: love.
WHAT IS LOVE? (Baby Don’t Hurt me)
Above are definitions and comments about love from some famous philosophers. Love is an enigma. And in an effort to explain this enigma, scientists have studied the brain in order to gather as much information about the phenomenon as possible. Oxytocin and vasopressin, produced by the hypothalamus and released by the pituitary gland, are the hormones most closely associated with romantic love. Concentrations of both chemicals increase during intense stages of romantic love.
However, it’s important to note that love does not have to be inherently romantic. Love can be interpersonal. Interpersonal love is simply a strong bond between two individuals. It can be in a variety of settings such as working together in an organization, being siblings, or being peers who live in the same residence hall. However, intimate relationships take it a step further. An intimate relationship is an interpersonal relationship that involves physical or emotional intimacy. When we think of love, we usually think of the latter.
Let’s be honest, the science behind the cause is anything but riveting. Besides, even if we absorb all the information the internet has to offer about the systemics of love, we still may not have an ounce of knowledge regarding how to navigate love in a digital age.
CONNECTING THROUGH A SCREEN
Instagram. SnapChat. Tinder. Bumble. Hinge. The list goes on and on regarding the means in which we can meet new individuals in today’s world. Not only this, but social media platforms have created an avenue in which we are able to communicate with (and entertain) a large number of companions simultaneously. How has this affected our perception of monogamy?
Let’s look at present-day relationships like our approach to cars. Imagine you just purchased a new car. The smell of fresh leather, and the sun glistening off the polished top coat instills happiness and pride within you. In your first few months of driving your newly acquired toy, there is no better feeling. Yet, that excitement wears off. That once-new car begins acquiring dents and scratches. The leather begins to smoothen and the smell of sweat and last week’s takeout begins to overpower the car’s interior. To top it all off, new models are being released every year with new features, amenities, and designs. How are you meant to stay excited about your vehicle?
You don’t stay excited. Excitement is a fleeting feeling. Yet, you can actively choose to still take care of your vehicle and cherish the memories that you have created within it. Comparing a significant other to a material object like a car is an exaggeration. But this principle can still apply. That is, when that initial butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling fades, it doesn’t mean that the magic of the relationship has to fade. It simply evolves. It matures. Beauty becomes less defined by appearance and excitement, but more about the feeling of safety and comfort. There’s something infatuating about the time it takes to read/write a single novel rather than reading or writing 1000 blog posts.
“LOVE IS THE SECRET SAUCE OF A FULFILLING AND SUCCESSFUL LIFE. LOVE OF SELF, LOVE OF OTHERS, LOVE OF LIFE”
Love doesn’t come without battles though. Learning to navigate another’s mannerisms, internal conflicts, and expectations can be tough. The COVID-19 pandemic only exasperated these issues. But, love, in the context of cultivating a successful personal relationship, is a choice. And while the pandemic has created issues of connection and isolation, the pandemic has not impacted our ability to make choices. We grow closer to those we care about because we actively decide to be. This is a hard realization: that love takes effort.
Rom-Com films have warped this perception that love is something that smacks you in the face. And maybe it does. But love doesn’t stay without work–like a fire that demands constant kindling. Maybe that’s the big takeaway from The Notebook. Not that Noah and Allie stumbled in each other’s path, found love at first sight, and that we, too, should be chasing for this excitement our entire lives. But the fact that Noah spent countless years building the house he promised to Allie, and, even as dementia took hold of her mental processes, Noah continued to stay by her side and remind her of their story. That is the less glamorous side that people often refuse to accept. That is work.
Take a moment and reflect on those relationships in your life that have failed.
For the most part, we display this self-serving bias and blame the failure on the other person’s actions or character. Maybe they were too overbearing. Maybe they didn’t listen enough. I argue that we should cast just enough criticism on our own shortcomings throughout the relationship. Maybe it was our own self-doubt which created barriers between allowing others to intimately get to know us. Maybe we fell short on our commitments because we didn’t prioritize this person. We all act in healthy and unhealthy ways. Having unhealthy tendencies does not make us toxic; the refusal to correct these unhealthy behaviors does.
Maybe your failed relationships are a product of the pandemic.
Isolation and disconnection can have significant effects on our personal relationships; thus, in turn, our own mental health. If you are struggling to connect right now, our team wants you to keep a couple of things in mind:
- Look deeply into the areas of relationships that you are struggling in and look deeply at the causes. Learn new ways to communicate and keep putting yourself out there because if you don’t, the only thing that’s guaranteed is that you will continue to feel disconnected.
- You have to give in order to receive. Show other people the values and qualities that you embody and believe in order to feel reciprocation.
- Get out of your own way. Stop thinking and start feeling it.
If you are feeling isolated,
- Learn to love yourself first. You are never really alone when you are good with yourself….and you know what? When you have achieved complete love of self, the rest of the world will show up in your life.
- Know that you are not alone. We have all been there, and sometimes I am still there. However, do not let your brain and attitude compound a negative situation to where you allow yourself to feel helpless. Try to still your mind and focus on creating an ideal outcome for where you can improve the relationship with yourself to bring yourself out of isolation.
Love can take many forms. Platonic love. Romantic love. But, arguably the most important yet often overlooked, self-love. Always remember to check in on yourself. Your feelings and experiences are valid. You are worthy. With proper self-love, we are able to combat negative experiences and prevent outward projections of our own self-doubt onto others. This will only foster closer and more intimate relationships within our personal life.
The quote to the right is from the novel Perks of Being a Wallflower. I enjoy this quote because I do believe it is an accurate commentary on human existence. We become receptive to only the kind of love we feel we deserve. If we believe that we deserve chaos and inconsistency, then chaos and inconsistency become a part of how we define love. However, if we begin loving ourselves, cherishing ourselves, and being honest with ourselves that we deserve a healthy relationship, we will not stop to accept anything less.
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