Sunday, February 12, 2012

LOVE: the "M" WORD

In rhetoric study, particularly addressed when speaking of ancient Greece, there is a concept called kairos (καιρός). This concept is frequently addressed by the fictitious Cap'n Jack Sparrow as "the opportune moment."
Well, my friends, this weekend marks a kairotic moment in the rhetoric of LOVE. Not only is it broadly social applicable, with Tuesday's holiday, but it is applicable to the collegiate sub-culture in which I reside (V-Day typically marks a spike in new engagements and kicks off the spring/summer 'marriage season'). As a family scientist, my academic studies have focused recently on dating and mate selection. As a human being, I recently had a relationship "not work out" (it's not you, it's me, lets still be friends, and isn't it great that we are mature enough to handle this). [That sounds a bit sarcastic, but it really was quite civil, and really are still very close friends.  Which leads me to my topic].

 In summation:  

Valentine's Day + engagements + marriages + love fest + class assignments + personal life =
 post on LOVE.

We'll start at the very beginning; it's a very good place to start. 
When you read, you begin with "A, B, C--"
And in LOVE you begin with--what?
Well. "A, B, C, D, E." 

That's right, folks, we have ourselves an Alphabet of Love. 

(And, it is worth it to note that this alphabet may more accurately be described as the "Alphabet of Relationships," but that just doesn't sound as good as "The Alphabet of Love."  Seriously.  Say it out loud, stretching out the vowel length in the last word:  "The Alphabet of Loooooove." So, we'll sacrifice a bit of accuracy for the sake of flourish. Just in the title, though, not in content).

It could be argued that the "Alphabet of Love" actually begins with the letter M. (So, the little song allusion up there should have ended with "M, A, B, C, D, E." Apologies.) Frequently, when people mention the M word in the context of love, they are talking about "Marriage,"  however, the M we will be talking about is "Maturity." 

Now, maturity in terms of relationships is not to be confused with maturity as a human being. There are many, many highly capable and mature individuals who still struggle with the concepts of mature love in close relationships.  Emeritus Professor Patricia Noller, of the University of Queensland, reviewed dozens of studies on love and relationships. She determined that relational love can be divided into "mature" and "immature" love, and that love itself has three main aspects (emotional, belief, and behavior). The title below is a link to the article abstract; the chart below is a basic summary of her article**. 

Emotional Part of Love:
                        Possessiveness                               Lasting Passion
                        Jealousy                                          Desire for Companionship
                         Infatuation                                     Warm Feeling of Contentment
Belief Part of Love
                         "Love is Blind"                    Love is something you have to "decide"
                         Love is external to us          Love means:  Commitment, trust, sharing, sacrifice
                         "Cupid's Arrow"
                          Love is beyond our control
Behavior Parts of Love
                             Selfish                    Creates an environment of growth and development
                         Lustful                       Allows partner space for growth
                        Concern only for satisfying own needs
                         Demanding of obedience from partner

The author of the article asserts that only mature love can properly create the environment needed to sustain marriage and family. 

[It should be noted that "immature" love is also a very real form of love, simply not the kind that supports a  fulfilling marriage and successful family. Thus, the phenomenon of the teenage romance, the hot and passionate summer fling, the "crush," the "chick flick," etc.  Young or immature relationships can grow and love can mature. On the same token, established relationships can become unhealthy or dissatisfying if one or both of the individuals subscribe to the tenants of immature love; many times this leads (or maybe should lead) to break-ups or even divorce. We will discuss this more in the "D" and "E" stages of our alphabet.]

The love that Church leaders speak about pretty much mirrors the love Noller and other researchers describe as mature.  This love that prophets describe, however, takes the social science research further.  Spencer Kimball describes it, 
The love of which the Lord speaks is not only physical attraction, but spiritual attraction as well. It is faith and confidence in, and understanding of one another. It is a total partnership. It is companionship with common ideals and standards. It is unselfishness toward and sacrifice for one another... It is vast, all-inclusive, and limitless. This kind of love never tires or wanes. It lives on through sickness and sorrow, through prosperity and privation, through accomplishment and disappointment, through time and eternity. Today it is demonstrative love, but in the tomorrows of ten, thirty, fifty years, it will be a far greater and more intensified love, grown quieter and more dignified with the years of sacrifice, suffering, joys, and consecration to one another, to your family, and to the kingdom of God. (Spencer Kimball, June 1975)
Notice, he describes the love as a "consecration." Now, I get the idea that he is not expecting a relationship  to necessarily BE at that point at the beginning-- he talks about the "tomorrows of ten, thirty, fifty years,"--but for a marriage relationship to be successful, perhaps one could infer that a couple must share a common foundation, direction, and priority for such a love to come to pass. Such deep, abiding, joyful love does not just "happen."  It is an extension of charity-- the pure love of Christ. 

Imagining the kind of effort and work that goes into a marriage love--even one between two people with mature love for each other; solid, active, living testimonies of the Gospel; and every benefit and blessing that comes through actively living righteously-- imagining that kind of effort can seem daunting. Especially to all of us not-married people. (And that could be people in all stages of "not-married"--single, dating, in a relationship, engaged, it's complicated, not-quite-sure, thinking of making it Facebook-official, whatever).  In fact, it can probably be a bit daunting to married folk, too. 

But you know what?   The pay-off is huge.  And, the best part is, the pay-off is not some sort of finish-line.  It is every single day, moment to moment, knowing that you are both are in the best love story of all time-- yours. 
And that's the hope that keeps us moving forward. :-)

So, there we have the first installment of our Alphabet of Love. This is barely the tip of the iceberg--there is no way to cover this deep of a topic in a blog post. This is simply meant as information to guide our own ponderings and efforts. Many of you are much more experienced than I am in these sorts of things; I would love to hear your thoughts. 

Not all couples go through all stages (obviously) and they are not always in order. There are tons of options for what each letter could stand for, but this will be a modified take on the alphabet as outlined by G. Levinger. [G. Levinger (1983), Development and change, in J. Wilson (ed.) Close relationships (New York: W. H. Freeman and Company). 
Stay tuned. 

*Much of the material for this mini-series is taken from Strengthening Our Families:An In-Depth Look at the Proclamation on the Family, Edited by David C. Dollahite. (See particularly Chapter 3: "Preparing for an Eternal Marriage" by Thomas B. Holman, Jeffry H. Larson, Robert F. Stahmann) 
**Chart found in SOF Ch. 3, p 35.  Based on Patricia Noller's 1996 article "What is This Thing Called Love? Defining the Love That Supports Marriage and Family." Personal Relationships, 3, 97-115. Scriptural references: 1 Cor. 13; Col. 3:8; Mosiah 2:32; Alma 5:30-31, 12:14; 3 Nephi 11:29; Moroni 7:47-48; D&C 20:54, 88:124, 136:23



MH said...

This looks awesome! I shared it with the fiance, and can't wait for the next installment! Love you!

:cassia marie: said...

i SO needed that quote from president kimball today! thanks! and keep it coming, i like this.