Learning How to Love
In my reading about love and relationships, time and time again I was struck by the idea that we have to learn any skill and that learning how to love is just another skill. As Thomas Moore says in his book ‘Soul Mates- Honoring the Mysteries of Love and Relationship’
‘The reason why we have so much trouble with relationships today, maybe our neglect of its study. We expect to find intimacy naturally without education or initiation. When we fail in this area, we assume that we must have some inborn lack. But the fact is we do nothing well in life and that includes intimacy unless we have the schooled imagination for it.’
It would be great if we all learnt this as part of the growing up process within our family of origin but if that opportunity is not available we have to learn how to love positively and consciously during our adult lives. As Alain de Botton says in Love Essays:
‘We start trying to be wise when we realize that we are not born knowing how to live, but that life is a skill that has to be acquired like riding a bicycle or playing the piano.
These thoughts are echoed in the words of Thomas Lewis in A General Theory of Love when he writes:
‘No one expects to play the flute in six lessons or to become fluent in Italian in ten. But while most can omit Ravel and Dante from their lives without sacrificing happiness, the same cannot be said of emotional and relational knowledge. Their acquisition requires an investment of time at which our culture balks’.
‘The skill of becoming and remaining attuned to another’s emotional rhythms requires a solid investment of years.’
Lewis goes on to stress that ‘relationships live on time’, when he says that:
‘Some couples cannot love because the two simply don’t spend enough time in each other’s presence to allow it…..And when a relationship is ailing from frank time deprevation, both parties ofter aver that nothing can be done. Every activity they spend time on (besides each other) has been classified as indispensable: cleaning the house, catching the news, balancing the checkbook’.
The need to be conscious of time when learning how to love is also echoed by Michael Foley in The Age of Absurdity when he says:
‘The project requires time and patience. It takes a lifetime to learn any worthwhile skill properly – and love is no exception’.
On the same theme, Eric Fromm in The Art of Loving writes:
‘Love isn’t something natural. Rather it requires discipline, concentration, patience, faith, and the overcoming of narcissism. It isn’t a feeling, it is a practice.’
‘Love, experienced thus, is a constant challenge; it is not a resting place, but moving, growing, working together; even when there is harmony or conflict, joy or sadness, is secondary to the fundamental fact that two people experience themselves, rather than by fleeing from themselves. There is only one proof for the presence of love: the depth of the relationship, and the aliveness and strength in each person concerned; this is the fruit by which love is recognized.’
In ‘We – Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love’ Robert A Johnson comments on learning love when he says:
‘To suffer consciously means to live through the ‘death of ego’ to voluntarily withdraw one’s projections from other people, to stop searching for the ‘divine world’ in one’s spouse and instead to find one’s own inner life as a psychological and religious act. It means to take responsibility for discovering one’s own totality, one’s own unconscious possibilities. It means to question one’s own patterns – to be willing to change.’
I want to finish this blog on learning how to love with the words of the Neil Strauss’s girlfriend and Neil Strauss himself when they reflect on his journey through sex addiction, personal development and writing the book The Truth.
‘But maybe all those things you did weren’t a relapse after all but were part of the healing.’ Ingrid De La O
Or to put it another way
‘Love it turns out, is not something to be learned. It’s something we already have, and we must unlearn in order to access it’ – Neil Strauss
And to bring the two ideas of the need for adventure and the need to learn how to live and love Martin Buber the famous philosopher says:
“I do not accept any absolute formulas for living. No preconceived code can see ahead to everything that can happen in a man’s life. As we live, we grow and our beliefs change. They must change. So I think we should live with this constant discovery. We should be open to this adventure in heightened awareness of living. We should stake our whole existence on our willingness to explore and experience.’
As I have mentioned before in this blog one of the aims of writing this book and researching relationships on my own and with my friend Veronica was to produce a body of knowledge which would be useful to ourselves but also useful to pass on to others.
From the outset Veronica and I called our fortnightly sessions together the ‘Meetings.’ We did this without realising that according to the mistress in the Advice to a Young Wife from an Old Mistress that:
A successful mistress knows how to be loved; it seldom occurs to a wife that it is necessary to learn.
Much to my surprise she went on to talk about Martin Buber and said he:
‘Used the word ‘meeting’ to identify true encounter and the word connotes motion, advancing and receding. One emerges into himself again and again and turns and meets again for both are wonderful and both necessary.’
My next blog will tell you more about our ‘Meetings’.
This blog is part of a book called ‘The Evolution of Love’ if you would like to follow the story from the beginning please go to the blog I posted on 20th June entitled’ The Evolution of Love’ and read forwards to now.
With thanks to Eleanor Pitman, Stella Pitman and Jo Grant, for permission to use their photographs
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