What is the evolution of love? Is the initial stage of love, which we know as blissful romance, as good as it gets, or is there more to love than fantasy and infatuation?
For most of us, the evolution of love is downward – a gradual but accelerating decline from the heights of romance to the depths of unresolved conflict, disappointment, and separation. In the grip of that falling spiral, each partner blames the other for whatever is wrong in the relationship, until the thing crashes and burns.
If we’re lucky, and most are, we may find a new love, but in all too many cases, we only repeat the old cycle, going from bliss to betrayal. If there is more to love, than why can’t we find happiness in the phases beyond the romance?
The short answer to that question is simple enough: We stop being heroic and special in our partner’s eyes. And why does that happen? Because we broke the big promise that we made to each other. From there, the rest is all down hill.
Love’s First Stage: Drunken Romance, Hidden Promise
Most intimate relationships start off as romantic love, which is a form of intoxication that is the reverse of being drunk. Romantic intoxication causes you to become your best self – not your worst. It makes you more loving, more beautiful, more understanding, more compassionate, more tolerant, more insightful, more self-possessed, more generous, and more happy. In short, romantic love transforms you into your heroic best. It’s does the same thing to your partner, which is why you fall head over heels for this beautiful and special human being.
Deep inside, a little voice awakens and starts revealing secret truths that you hadn’t known before, or at least hadn’t made conscious.
If allowed to speak, that little voice would say something like the following.
“Somehow – though I don’t understand it – my love for this new person has made me see how truly wonderful I can be. Not only am I happy, but I feel like my best self. This person’s beauty inspires every fiber of my being with joy and love. I can also see how remarkable I could be if this love is allowed to grow. With this wonderful person, my life can be fulfilled – I can find meaning in this crazy world!”
How did you become this drunk?
Well, the short answer is that it’s a gift from the gods. You have drunk the sweet nectar of the divine. That intoxicating elixir of love has lifted you up to Mount Olympus and let you glimpse what a remarkable being you truly are, and could be, if you only keep drinking this stuff.
And not surprisingly, the drunkenness leads you to make make the first heroic act of love – you want to spend the rest of your life with this person, drinking in their essence and the love you feel for him or her. There is nothing else to do but leap – leap into that mysterious chasm whose dimensions are completely hidden from us, the chasm known as commitment.
At this point, many people marry. Others form partnerships with the intention of staying together forever. Whatever the form – marriage for some, partnership with intention for others – the hope and the commitment is to be with this person for the rest of your life.
Meanwhile, a second promise is being made, silently, spiritually, and, for the most part, unconsciously. The promise is this: I will be my best self for you, for the rest of my life, and in being my best self, I will truly love you, and grow you with my love, and help you become your best self in return. And together, we will realize ourselves completely, we will fully individuate, so that we become our unique and true selves. In this way, we will experience the greatest joys of this lifetime.
If anyone doubts that this promise was made implicitly, if not explicitly, than let me remind you of how truly wonderful you were at the beginning of your relationship, as was your partner. And let us remember that you wanted to be that wonderful version of you, because you loved your partner so completely. Moreover, you fully believed that you would go on being your heroic best, because you believed that your love would last forever.
Unfortunately, the intoxication wears off. The elixir of the gods is temporary. Soon the buzz and the high are gone. And we find ourselves being dropped form Mount Olympus and onto the depths of ordinary earth. We are Muggles once again.
Well, not quite. Because unlike the ordinary folks of Harry Potter’s world, we are inherently magical. Indeed, you have entered this relationship to discover just how powerful that magic within you really is.
The Second Phase: The Fall
One of the many gifts of romantic intoxication is that it dampens, and in many cases, temporarily removes so many fears, especially the fear to love. In romantic intoxication, we love full on, which can blind us to the darkness in ourselves and our partner. We are beautiful through and through. And even in the places where we aren’t so beautiful, well, love can shine a compassionate light on those places so that they are revealed as understandable and tender in their own way.
But when we get dropped out of heaven and onto the hard, flat, duality-driven earth, we start to pull back in fear. Now a rather unexpected but powerful phenomenon emerges and takes hold of us. I like to call it the “demon of unmet needs.” Basically, the demon of unmet needs is that aspect of us that stores up all those hurts and unfulfilled expectations for love that we have carried since birth, and very likely came into the world with. Once we are dropped from Valhalla and start suffering the realities of every day life, the demon of unmet needs arises with a vengeance. And it’s got an army of unmet needs for you to deal with.
These unmet needs are not just those that concern your immediate relationship. No. Old needs arise, like those that were never satisfied by mother or father. Even under the best circumstances, it’s hard to know the difference between the needs your partner should fulfill and those that your father or mother should have taken care of.
They all get mixed up and balled together and start making demands with a single voice, usually a voice laced with disappointment, dissatisfaction, and anger. The demon of unmet needs can take us over. It engulfs us.
Suddenly, you believe that your partner isn’t so wonderful anymore. And he or she is not so heroic, either. On the contrary, you begin to see just how selfish and small he or she is, or can be. The stage of anger, blame, and criticism sets in. Arguments are plentiful and many of them do not end in resolution. Nothing seems as satisfying as it was, or how we hoped it would be.
This is the stage at which many relationships break down and end in separation. Why? Primarily because we have lost the heroic aura in the eyes of our partner. We don’t seem special anymore. On the contrary, one of us may seem needy and hysterical, the other cold and distant. Either way, we’re pretty ordinary.
What many of us don’t realize is that the pendulum had to swing back from its opposite extreme – the state of romantic intoxication. It’s a law of physics that every action gives rise to an equal and opposite reaction. Which means that the extreme of romantic intoxication had to give way to disappointment and anger in order to establish a new balance and the possibility of a new beginning.
For many, the new beginning is with someone else. That can be a great loss, because Stage 3 is waiting – for those who are ready for a greater learning.
The Third Phase: The Great Learning
Love is the giving of energy that nourishes and supports life. Every important relationship, whether it be romantic and intimate, blood relative or friendship, is attempting to learn this singular lesson.
We are blessed with a great power to love, a power that – when directed at a single target over time – can grow a person, or a business, or a talent, or an environment to its fullest potential, whereupon it can return to us unimaginable rewards.
Those who wake up to the third stage of love recognize that there can be no happiness, or growth, and no survival of their dreams by living a life driven by excessive criticism and blame. The destructive force of powerless anger, criticism, and blame can only tear a person down and make him or her even more incapable of love – even more incapable of becoming his or her best self.
What an enormous step it is to wake up and realize that you must be the source of love. The child in you says, “No – I will not love until my partner starts loving me first.” But if we insist on that strategy, we will remain a powerless child, unable to change our circumstances. We will be a victim of our partner’s choices and his or her resistance to growth. This results in ever-increasing powerless anger, which is to say, we become ever more angry and powerless to change the conditions and circumstances of our lives. In short, we will remain in hell.
Someone has to take the adult role first. Those who make it to the Third Stage say, “Let that person be me.”
That means that one of us has awakened. Enlightenment has begun to dawn in one partner’s life. He or she has decided to stand up and begin to wield the sword of love.
Suddenly, small acts of kindness and consideration are being done. He does the dishes without being asked, and without calling attention to the act. She brings tea to her partner when the partner least expects it. He decides to make his partner’s favorite meal for dinner tonight. Each of them creates order in unexpected and unobtrusive ways. He purchases tickets to his partner’s favorite theater event and makes a beautiful evening of it. She gives attention to her partner’s small needs, again without making a great fuss of things. Each smiles at the other more – not the smile that requires anything in return, but rather, the one that is full of love and appreciation for the other’s beauty.
He retracts his neediness and powerless anger and seeks help from healers. She ceases to blame him and instead owns her own darkness. Indeed, they two enter the darkness consciously, with love, compassion, and an honest search for truth. They share their discoveries of their respective inner worlds – often painful, sometimes with tears, always with tenderness. They begin to heal. As they do, they are growing more powerful in their capacity to fulfill their own needs.
Meantime, each acknowledges with gratitude and praise each of the many things the partner does that deserve positive attention. This is done softly and from the heart. Even more important, each acknowledges the great gift of love that the other gives to his or her life.
What are they really doing? They are using love to grow each other from a standpoint of mutual respect – for each other and themselves. What are they becoming: heroic in each others eyes.
Do they still get angry at each other? Do they still have fights? Absolutely. Conflicts are essential part of growth. But now they are armed with the counterweight to love, which is their respective truths. Now, each of them knows that he or she possesses an inviolate truth, a truth that must be expressed and understood by both of them if there is to be true reconciliation and healing. Yes, they explode with anger from time to time, though those times are now becoming less frequent. What is very different now, however, is that both of them stay with the point, and each stays rooted in his or her respective truths. Justified anger has replaced powerless anger.
Moreover, the two have been engaged in growing their respect for the other, which makes it easier for each to admit his or her mistakes that led to their current conflict. The minute one of the two admits he or she made a mistake, the hostility is greatly reduced from the argument. The two quickly get past the “what” and are searching for the “why.”
Arguments now result in deeper sharing, greater intimacy, and true reconciliation. There is change, growth, and greater love.
Gradually, the two are preparing for the fourth stage of love, which is the emergence into their truth selves.
The Fourth Stage: Emergence
Many years ago, I read that researchers had discovered how monkey communities prepare a young primate for the higher echelons of the monkey leadership. Apparently, the female monkeys select a young male and then begin lavishing the chosen animal with attention. All that attention, grooming, and love change the beast’s brain chemistry, boosting serotonin and thus making him more secure, confident, and relaxed in his approach to other monkeys and to challenges in general. The higher the serotonin levels among monkeys, the lower the rates of violence and aggressive action. (This, as you know, is true of humans, too.) Once the monkey has been fully prepared, he ascends the community ladder, until he finds his rightful place among the leaders of the community. At that point, he is prepared to exert a relaxed and gentle effect on the community as a whole. In this way, he has been prepared to lead.
More recent research, it turns out, has shown that the monkeys who live in communities with relaxed, non-aggressive leadership actually live longer and experience far greater health than those who live in communities that are led by aggressive, violent monkeys.
Something similar happens in intimate relationships, I have observed. Partners who actively love each other – which is to say, believe in each other and support the other’s development – tend to softy and inevitably grow into their true natures. The profound but gentle effects of love tend to allow a person’s defenses to relax. As people soften and open, they allow their inner natures to emerge. They speak more openly about their feelings, personal struggles, and desires without blaming themselves or others. They say what they feel and what they want to experience. And this honesty tends to open their minds and hearts, which very often leads to actions that would fulfill some long-held needs, desires, or ambitions.
As one partner takes action in the direction of his or her desired goal, the other offers encouragement and support. They believe in each other. Each pursues his or her ambition or dream with respect for the other partner’s needs, especially for balance, security, and dignity. No desire, ambition, or dream is meant to threaten one of the partners, or to make him or her feel inferior to the other. Indeed, intimate relationships are so perfectly constructed by nature that people tend to take turns expanding into new areas of life. Each partner takes a turn at reaching for his goal, and then supporting his partner as she does the same.
At this stage of love, people openly acknowledge to their partner their fears or concerns, and how those fears may be holding them back from living their dreams. At the same time, each gradually, prudently, and diligently pursue the impulses and directions of their hearts. They courageously go forward – not recklessly, but with wisdom, gentleness, and faith.
In the process, each partner takes up his or her spiritual path. They are on the road to individuation. They are seeking the fullness of their respective natures. They are becoming their true selves. In the process, they are living more fully from their respective souls. In short, they are growing closer to the Divine. And each has the other to thank for the thing they wanted most in life.
The Fifth Stage: Old Shoes
An old friend of mine, Rob Allanson, now gone but never forgotten, used to say that two people who have been together for many years begin to resemble each other, like a pair of old shoes. “They’re so broken in,” Rob used to say, “that you can’t tell the left from the right.”
Rudolf Steiner said that as the body ages, it surrenders its energy to the soul, so that the spirit can grow in its power, vitality, and wisdom, and thus guide one’s life more actively guide the person’s life and choices. The soul’s path is that of love and learning. It’s purpose is to grow closer to the divine.
In our senior years, we are withered and tired. We are, in the words of my old friend, like a pair of old shoes. We are more spirit than matter, more soul than body.
Two people who achieve this state have truly become one being, so intimate with the other and with Spirit that they now see each other as the primary helper on their path back to Oneness.
Now one partner can look at the other and ask, What was the meaning of our lives? What did we become? The answer is written in the lines of their faces and the warmth in their eyes. They became love.
Many years ago, Mohandas Gandhi was boarding a train when a reporter ran up to him. “Mahatma,” the reporter called out. “Please give me a message for the readers of my newspaper.”
Gandhi went to his seat, got out a pencil and paper, and scribbled a note. He reached out of the window and handed the note to the reporter as the train pulled away.
The reporter unfolded the piece of paper and read the note. “My life is my message,” Gandhi had written. So it is with all of us.