In reflecting on my life as a child, adolescent, and adult, I have experienced love and lack of love on many occasions in the relationships I’ve experienced with others. To me, love is something that is present or is not present and cannot be split into various differing forms. I have never met the perfect, most ideal person who has loved me unconditionally, unendingly, and without interruption.
The closest I’ve come to the ideal love has been through my religion, my spirituality, in my faithful relationship with God and Jesus Christ. However, even in this relationship, I have had my doubts, even if Jesus Christ, God, has never had them, so in this case as well, love has been interrupted. However, many of my relationships have incorporated loving actions, and it saddens me to recall the situations when love has been absent and hatred has crept into its place.
Robert Sternberg has an interesting theory in regard to his attempt to separate out love and dissect it into varying forms, however, it is obvious that he often misses the mark in regard to what love means. The two categories which I consider to be rational evaluations of the presence or lack of presence of love are Sternberg’s two categories of nonlove and consummate love. To me, it’s always either one or the other, and one cannot assume to have a portion of love but not really, as if love has a grey area.
In assuming that love has a grey or midrange area, one has to admit believing that badness mixes with good or that right and wrong are somehow united in a mesh of reality, however, in my opinion, good and good and bad is bad, wrong and right are separate, and ethics has to assume a position in regard to defining a loving way of being or loving action. Sternberg assumes that liking someone is only intimacy, devoid of passion and commitment, and in my opinion, this is illogical, as many loving relations with other people who I’ve considered friends or strangers, people who I’ve liked, have contained passion and commitment as well.
Loving actions are filled with many aspects, and liking a person includes love, passion, commitment, respect, kindness, and many other values. To like someone most certainly includes having passion and commitment towards this other person. If we as a community and culture don’t have passion, commitment, and intimacy towards all members, then something is surely going wrong. Perhaps Sternberg is trying to imply that relationships with one’s spouse or family members are in some ways different from other relationships?
If this is so, then he should focus on the unique attributes of playing the role of wife, son, father, or friend, and not focus on attempting to separate love into differing categories. The way one loves a person may vary, but love itself is constant. The idea that infatuation, fatuousness, or emptiness has anything to do with love is also unreasonable. How can love itself incorporate anything negative? Obsession, falsity, and voidance are certainly not aspects of love, passion, intimacy, or commitment. Has there ever been a time when being loving and kind to another person has incorporated elements of negativity?
In and of itself, love is positive. It raises people up and makes them feel wonderful. In Sternberg’s attempt to triangulate love into three arenas, intimacy, passion, and commitment, he attempts to inject love with a poison of hatred or malevolence. If love is always good natured and good acting, then love cannot be split apart. People may, at times, at many times, cease to treat one another lovingly, cease to demonstrate the goods of intimacy, passion, and commitment, but that is simply the fault of the person and not an aspect of love itself.
It is refreshing that Sternberg categorizes some of his love categories positively and not negatively, such as liking, romantic, companionate, and consummate, however this does not adequately explain or do justice to the fact that his other four supposed categories of love, nonlove, infatuated, empty, and fatuous are negatively termed. In my opinion, nonloving, infatuated, empty, and fatuous ways of behaving are part of hatred or evil and absent of love. If love is the right action in the right time and place with the right person, then love is fully good and absent of any mistakes.
When Sternberg attempts to justify a divorce by claiming that the reason for the divorce is that one or both of the partners were loving one another, just loving one another differently, then he has certainly fallen prone to bad logic (Sternberg, 331). A divorce or a split is never caused by love, but rather by hateful or wrong actions by one person against another. It may be difficult to voice and communicate these wrong actions, however, a split, a lack of love, cannot be caused by love itself, but rather only by its absence.
Although love shown towards one person or another may by expressed differently from one situation and person to the next, love itself is never aversive, yet rather uniting. The only culprit of divorce is the person behaving in nonloving ways. Sandelands very adequately states that the business of business is the human person. Everything that people do, everything that people were created by God to do, involves the spirit of the human person. Anyone believing that actions are just actions, that business is just business, devoid of the human person, has lost touch with the meaning of the high moral element of right action (93).
In my own life, there have certainly been times when I acted in unloving ways towards other people, when I was empty of goodwill, false in my intentions. I remember lying to my mother, hurting my sisters, screaming at my father. My past boyfriends were often disgusted by my lack of fidelity. My daughter and husband are equally reviled by my bad manners when I overeat or eat sloppily. However, I also thankfully know that I have exuded love towards others. My father, mother, and sisters enjoyed it when I created a restaurant at home and cooked for everyone.
My past boyfriends were often amused by my sense of humor in playfully lightening the moment. The caresses and kind words I offer to my husband and daughter are filled with benevolence, peace, and goodwill. It is in the interests of the whole of society to recognize that “caring as a virtue and an act of ethics is … a natural … point of view inseparably related to love as a universal … value” (Arman & Rehnfeldt, 4). When a person decides to love another person, any other person, then one consciously decides to do well towards another person and to not do badly toward another person.
The sense that there is any type of human inaction proves false the fact that the universe is in constant motion. Every act or ceasing to act is directly related to cause and effect and can be categorized as fruitful or harmful. Although my mother may believe that being silent towards me is effectively loving and appropriate, I may believe that she does not love me. However, if I change my point of view and see that she is simply being silent and loving me by doing so, we come into agreement with one another and I cease to be negatively resistant to her goodwill.
Also, if I loudly kiss my husband and he believes that I’m being sarcastic or hateful towards him, then I may very well be being sarcastic toward him in my actions. However, if I am aiming to love him in my kiss, then he himself is being paranoid for believing that I am not. We human beings are such sensitive creatures and it is often difficult to recognize and show love, however, the clear definition of love as a positive, ethical, valuable, and universal presence is vital in being able to correctly identify, demonstrate, and evoke loving actions.
Erikson, a leader in the study of psychosocial human development, believes that people moving through the stage of young adulthood will pass through a phase of either attaining intimacy with a romantic partner or a friend or failing to achieve intimacy and becoming isolated (Goodman & Mukulincer, 396). Although intimacy is important throughout the entire life of a person, perhaps it is good to note that young adulthood is primarily the time when people are selecting romantic partners and mates.
Despite the fact that people from about puberty onwards toward death may seek romance with another person, many people on the search for romance are indeed young adults. However, it is very important, as in the case with Sternberg’s theory, not to box people in too much. Erickson’s ideas about intimacy and other issues related to life development are valid and worthy of consideration, but human beings crave and need intimacy from birth until death.
Romantic love may be a special kind of love involving sexuality and more physical and deep interaction, reserved for one’s mate and life partner, however, love in general is necessary for every person, from conception until natural death. It would be good for people to open their hearts and minds up to the constancy of love and to make it a personal life goal or a life decision to work on demonstrating true self giving loving acts to everyone around them.
Even though love may look different in varying situations between varying people, the underlying genuine goodwill is always there, love as a purposeful gift of positive and uplifting interaction.
Arman, M. & Rehnsfeldt, A. (2006). The Presence of Love in Ethical Caring. Nursing Forum 41(1), 4-12. Goodman, G. & Mikulincer, M. (2006). Dynamics of romantic love: attachment, caregiving, and sex. Guilford Press. Sandelands, L. (2009). The Business of Business is the Human Person: Lessons from the Catholic Social Tradition. Journal of Business Ethics 85, 93-101. Sternberg, R. Triangulating Love. The Altruism Reader, 331-333.