The Stepping Stones of Love...Part I
March 19, 2020
The content for this article is taken from one of my favorite Self-Realization Fellowship magazine editions from 2016, which may still be available online on the organization's website (link is in red). The write-up is by Bruce Brander. It's a thought provoking narrative and I just couldn't resist including it on my blog.
I've only taken bits-and-pieces from this inspirational piece; however, the entire thesis is worth reading. It's filled with wisdom and insightful antidotes for the confusion with what the world calls love. So enjoy! And be sure to read my thoughts on the topic in The Stepping Stones of Love Part II.
Romance and Selfishness
The author calls romantic love eros. This type of love is often steeped in selfishness, lust, possession, and impulses. He writes that "many social scientists look harshly on the kind of love that rises so hopefully then ebbs as reliably as the tide, leaving many partners stranded on an emotional desert island." Sociologist Pitirim Sorokin, who founded the Harvard Research Center in Creative Altruism in 1949, considered modern romance an egoistic, low-grade love born of acquisitive desire.
In Brander's article, he quotes other renowned psychologists like M. Scott Peck who says "in some respects, the act of falling in love is an act of regression to an infantile state." Psychoanalyst Eric Fromm called modern romance egoism á deux or selfishness in both. Behavioral psychologist Dorothy Tennov, who analyzed 100s of couples concluded that romance is so far from real love that she coined another name for it limerence - the state of being infatuated or obsessed with another person, typically experienced involuntarily and characterized by a strong desire for reciprocation of one's feelings but not primarily for a sexual relationship.
Tennov goes on to say that "the statistical time span of limerent feelings is between eighteen and thirty-six months."
Brander goes on to write that 'social scientists dismiss romantic love as a commercial product, prepackaged and publicized by mass communications.' Other analysis label romantic love as - addiction, morbid dependency, perverted love, erotomania, destructive passion, and deficiency love.
However the writer himself doesn't cast such a disastrous shadow over romantic love's foibles or "eros." He writes:
"Eros in its classic sense, is the urgent longing that leads human beings to reach out for something to make themselves more complete. This yearning for self-fulfillment - whether it seeks a person, a project, or union with divinity, is hardwired into us. Eros , as a stimulus for personal growth, also has been seen as a builder of cities and the impetus for the rise of civilizations.
Reaching out for a person can prove similarly creative, provided we meet certain conditions. The 5th century Christian theologian St. Augustine, who knew romantic eros well from his younger years, advised that the tendencies of eros, while fully natural, must be guided by knowledge, kept under control, and combines with virtue."
I completely agree with this interpretation of romantic love on a number of levels. But it gets better. Read on!
Moving From Selfish Love To Higher Love
The writer continues to discuss other phases of love:
"Marriage specialists tell us that most couples whose marriages endure have succeeded in moving from eros to the kind of love that ancient Greeks named phila. This bond -best described as deep friendship or camaraderie, seeks to give as well as to get, to exchange, to swap at least 50/50, maybe more.
As eros lovers want the other person, philia lovers want the other person's 'well being.' While romance is passionate and insecure, philia is rational, peaceful, stable, and can bind two people more intimately than romance ever did.
All the world's great lovers have aspired to the rare kind of love that the Greeks called agape. Often likened to God's lover for his creatures, agape is found among us as an emotionally healthy mother's love for her baby, which she gives without any calculation of what she will get in return. Agape love is not an 'affect' in the sense of being affected by somebody, as Erich Fromm puts it, 'but an active striving for the growth and happiness of the loved person, rooted in one's own capacity to love."
The Three Stages Of Love
During this section of the article, Brander accentuates the various stages of love. I've shortened the actual text without deviating from its essence.
"Eros love, or romance says "I want, I need, and therefore I love. Eros romance is love at the beginners' level."
"The phila stage we see operating in children as early as age five. They sense the principle of giving as well as getting. They speak continually on fairness. Philia is the love natural to their levels: a swap that promotes justice, an interplay of rights and duties, more or less equal self-seeking and self-giving"
"And agape? The very idea of a love that gives with no strings attached might throw a scare into lover-level lovers. Yet, anyone can do it - not all at once, but in time, with practice, with an eye firmly fixed on the well-being of others."
Growing In Emotional Maturity
Now the author engages in a summary of love and how we can grow and learn from its ethereal affect.
"Growing, then, becomes the key to success in love. We ascend the scale of love and grow emotionally - just as we grown physically and intellectually - day by day, one intentional effort following another.
Anyone who follows the Steppingstones of Love progresses from emotional infantilism to maturity from self-absorption to freedom from the self's demands, from hunger to fullness, from spiritual poverty to inner wealth. As de Botton (a Swiss born British philosopher and author) suspected, the multilevel thing called love appears to be a matter of maturity after all."