Dear Dr. Wes and Katie: You’ve written a lot about sex and dating culture. Could you talk about love? Specifically, how do you define it? I don’t actually know if I’d recognize love in a relationship if I fell over it.
Wes: What a great question. I think Double Take’s focus on sexuality lately reflects exactly the point you’re making. Young people have reordered the universe in the last 10 or 15 years so that sexual involvement is now the precursor to love and relationship building rather than vice versa.
It never hurts to take a step back and think about this core concept of human interplay. My model of love has five components:
• Attraction: You’re greatly inspired to be near someone based on how they fit your attraction profile. A fundamental objective in adolescence should be to understand and refine that profile. While a lot of this is physical, it’s more about matching between partners than comparing either one to a magazine cover model. No physical chemistry between you? Game over.
• Emotional Connection: Getting to know someone, you begin to feel something very personal that goes beyond the physical. This is why I really like the term “talking” as teens now refer to the courting period. Emotional bonding is about communication. None there? Game over.
• Thinking: Your head takes over, extending the connection to the intellectual. No, I don’t mean you go to museums and libraries together (though that’s nice). I mean you get to know each other’s minds; how you each think about things; how you see the world. In doing so, you weigh the pros and cons of the relationship and decide if it’s a good match. Too many cons or not enough pros? Game over.
• Spiritual Connection: This is the good stuff, Dear Reader. No, I cannot precisely define it, but this kind of connection has to do with knowing each other ultimately, feeling impossibly comfortable together and staying that way even when things get hard. Sadly, you may get to this point and your partner may not. Game over. But if you both make it, you’ve found your soul mate.
• Patience: The essential element of this model is time. Love is four-dimensional, meaning you have to live with it for a while to get the sexual, emotional, cognitive and spiritual components aligned. Simply put, only time will tell if your love can stand the test of time.
Katie: I’ve always thought my two sets of grandparents have the kinds of decades-strengthened relationships that prove Nicholas Sparks stories aren’t too romantic for real life.
My mom’s parents built their relationship on Capitol Hill in the 1950s. Both devoted congressional aides, they supported each other so much that my grandfather took over many of the household duties while my grandmother, by then the mother of three children, graduated law school and opened her own practice. Now she devotes most of her time to caring for my grandfather, spending many a night in the hospital with him when he’s been ill.
My other grandmother no longer recognizes me as the toddler in the old photographs that hang in my dad’s childhood home. Yet, she still knows my grandfather, who has been an unfaltering husband and caregiver since she began showing signs of Alzheimer’s almost a decade ago. When I see him take her hand, guiding her from place to place, I feel honored to witness their love, thriving after so many years.
I hope that you, I and the significant portion of society that’s riddled with doubt over the existence of true love will someday create relationships that carry us into old age. As with so many life lessons, the experiences of the adults in our lives help us understand that love doesn’t soar in an effortless arch from Eros’ perch on Mount Olympus. It requires constant care and effort to grow from the first seeds of a crush into a long and lasting relationship.
Love isn’t about Romeo and Juliet falling in lust after flirting once at a party. Fairy tales cannot capture it in Cinderella’s glass shoe, and it won’t be found in the poor imitations staged by “reality” TV shows.
As Wes notes, real happily-ever-afters take time and the work couples put into them to bring about true love.