Redefining Love

10 things you might not know about love
By Barbara Fredrickson

This article from CNN is just a teaser for Fredrickson’s new book, “Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become”. She couches these 10 things as lessons she has learned while writing the book.

Full disclosure: I agree 100% with what she states here in these lessons. I first read this article back in January or February and then again a couple of days ago when a friend posted it on the Book of Faces. I agreed with it the first time and nothing has changed in the past few months to alter that. I haven’t read Fredrickson’s book, but I’ve got it on hold at the library, so, soon.

There are two things that strike me most about these lessons. The first is that I’m completely enamoured of people who are able to find physical, biological evidence of something we generally perceive as intangible. It brings me joy. What? It really does! And no, I haven’t read Molecules of Emotion by Candace Pert, yet, but it’s on the list. I have read The Heart’s Code by Dr. Paul Pearsall, which I really enjoyed, despite the leaps of logic in several places. He could have used a more knowledgeable editor to point out some flaws in his arguments (or should have listened better if they were pointed out), but there’s a core element in his research that supports some of what Fredrickson lists in these 10 lessons, namely the link between love and eye-contact and the synchrony of biological functions when love is shared between individuals. I’ll be interested to learn whether she cites any of his work in her book.

The other thing that I really appreciate about Fredrickson’s 10 Lessons is that in presenting her findings, she makes love completely and utterly accessible:

“Love, as your body experiences it, is a micro-moment of connection shared with another.”

“In reality, you can experience micro-moments of connection with anyone — whether your soul mate or a stranger.”

“Love is a biological wave of good feeling and mutual care that rolls through two or more brains and bodies at once.”

This reminds me of a few things Amanda Palmer said in her TED Talk. When she worked as an 8-foot bride, and people dropped in money into her hat or her jar, she would offer a flower and “some intense eye contact.” She then says that she had

“the most profound encounters with people, especially lonely people who looked like they hadn’t talked to anyone in weeks, and we would get this beautiful moment of prolonged eye contact being allowed in a city street, and we would sort of fall in love a little bit. And my eyes would say, ‘Thank you. I see you.’ And their eyes would say, ‘Nobody ever sees me. Thank you.'”

Here we have anecdotal evidence outside of the research of both Pearsall and Fredrickson of eye contact and the emotion of love. Here we have that “micro-moment of connection shared with another”.

When I first heard Palmer’s talk, this part really stood out for me. Anything that makes love more accessible and more universal and not something über special and SCARCE hits me where I live. It speaks to me in a way that resonates so thoroughly as to be unable to deny its inherent truthfulness. Love is a micro-moment of shared connection with someone, no matter who they are. That person on the subway you’ve never seen before and will possibly never see again: your eyes meet theirs for a couple of heartbeats, you both smile, and you both feel brighter, lighter for that moment and a bit thereafter. And it’s an experience you can think of forever after and it can bolster you, lift your spirits. That’s love, plain and simple.

On a personal note, I find it curious that there are certain friendships I have where I feel comfortable telling the other person that I care about them, even care deeply for them, but I don’t want to say that I love them, even though I know that’s exactly what it is. It’s as though that word holds too much baggage and expectation, when it’s just honest truth.

There. Is. So. Much. Cultural. Baggage. Surrounding. Love.

What I find interesting is that the blog post that has, far and away, gotten more hits than any other I have ever posted anywhere is the one entitled, The BS We Believe About Love. It’s still getting looked at over a month later. People are ready for a shift in perspective with respect to how we think about love, and the brilliant article by Justine Musk that I link to in that post really addresses a lot of the baggage we have associated with Love, up to and including the idea of a Soul Mate.

In Fredrickson’s 10 Things article, she writes, “In reality, you can experience micro-moments of connection with anyone — whether your soul mate or a stranger.” Here, Fredrickson is referring to our cultural definition of what a soul mate is — that special person you connect with so well as to believe this person completes you, is your other half, etc.

In her article, Musk references Caroline Myss’s definition of soul mate:

A soulmate is the person who makes your soul grow the most.

A soulmate, she added, could be anyone. Anyone. A lover, a spouse, a friend, a family member…or even an adversary.

I love that she includes adversary here because it’s important that we consider this with respect to people who’ve helped us grow. I would add to Myss’s definition by stating that if love can manifest in a shared micro-moment of connection, then a soul mate can be someone who makes your soul grow the most in that moment, or at that particular time in your life. Someone who provides some sort of insight that really launches you forward on whatever path you’re on. If love can be shared between anyone you can connect with, even so briefly as a shared micro-moment of connectivity, I believe that, as a corollary, a soul mate is anyone who helps further your growth in a profound way but not necessarily “the most” overall. It could be a single positive or negative comment from a teacher, a squeeze of your hand from a nurse during a moment of need that sends you on a cascade of realizations about how connected we all are, a friend who finally accepts your help thus releasing all the pent up assistive energy you’d been holding onto for far too long… It could be all three of these things and so much more.

We have this notion that soul mates are one in a million. They are golden needles in The Grand Haystack of Interpersonal Relationships, the holy grail of quests for each of us. And I won’t buy into it. I can’t. This cultural concept we have about soul mates creates an emotional environment of scarcity and lack, deprivation, depression, profound loneliness, ill-placed expectation. And it makes me believe that we’ve got it all wrong. I really love what Myss has to say about soul mates, but I’m taking it a step further.

If we can have one-night stands and accept those as reality, if we now know that that moment of shared eye contact and mutual smile with a stranger on the street truly is a micro-moment of love — if we can “fall in love a little bit” with an absolute stranger, then I believe we also have the capacity to accept the notion that someone can be our soul mate In That Moment. A shared micro-moment of growth through connectivity.

What this means is that we can have multiple soul mates across the span of a single lifetime. Myss’s definition already removes soul mate from romantic love, but it’s still limited to whomever makes your soul grow “the most”. What about, “the most” that year? Or that week? Or that day? Or that era in your life? Or on that matter that’s been a sticking point for you for the past 3 decades that you’ve finally been able to work through? Challenging our socio-cultural definition of soul mate creates an opportunity for us to expand our definition of both love and connection to the world around us. Both are made more accessible and universal.

Does this, then, cheapen and diminish the concept of soul mate? No. Not inherently. Let’s return to one of the 10 Things from Fredrickson’s article:

8. Don’t take a loving marriage for granted.

Writing this book has profoundly changed my personal view of love. I used to uphold love as that constant, steady force that all but defines my marriage. While that constant, steady force still exists, I now see our bond as a product of the many micro-moments of positivity resonance that my husband and I have shared over the years. This shakes me out of any complacency that tempts me to take our love for granted. Love is something we should re-cultivate every single day.

If love needs to be re-cultivated each and every day, at every opportunity, then this dismisses the idea that if we fall in love with someone then that love will last forever. Divorce statistics and breakups prove this already, but there’s a part of us, generally speaking, that really REALLY wants to believe that love lasts forever between two people, that, if once, then happily ever after. The marketing geniuses at jewelry stores really exploit this romantic ideal and to our collective psycho-emotional detriment. Never mind song writers. And Don’t even get me started on fairy tales and Disney. Not here, not yet. I’m saving that because WOW. I want to be able to do it justice and I haven’t done nearly enough research there.

Love is not a thing that automatically lasts forever between two people. “Love is a biological wave of good feeling and mutual care that rolls through two or more brains and bodies at once.” It is something we can fall into, the way we fall into step with one another. The way we can be on the same wavelength. The way we can work harmoniously with each other, finding resonance in what the other person thinks and how they express themselves.

It does not serve us to believe that having multiple soul mates throughout our lifetime cheapens and diminishes the idea of what a soul mate is. What it does, instead, if we really look at it, is lend itself to an aura of absolute gratitude for all those people and, yes, even animals, who have helped us grow, expand our perspective, help us advance on our path, and become more ourselves. Conscious awareness of all those micro-moments, all those moments of tenderness and trial, all those opportunities for growth bring us closer to Love.

Love is so much more than we believe it to be and so different in many ways from how we think of it. It is what helps us grow emotionally and spiritually. It is what helps us live longer, through boosting our immunity and health. It is what makes us feel safe. It provides innumerable positive feedback loops that echo throughout our lives and radiate outwards towards others.

The biggest cumulative lesson in all of this is becoming consciously aware of all the ways love touches our lives, all the different guises it comes in, and all the ways that we confuse it for what it isn’t.

Fredrickson is spot on when she chose the title for her book: Love 2.0. We’re ready for a newly expanded and updated version of Love. A new definition. What’s actually happening here, though, is not that love is changing — we are. Love isn’t getting updated, we are collectively evolving toward a more expansive vision. Love will always be what love has always been. We’re moving towards understanding that much of what we called love isn’t love at all. We’re moving towards understanding that love doesn’t have nearly as many limitations as we’ve placed upon it. It’s far simpler and far more pervasive and expansive than we still have yet to imagine. Slowly but surely, we’ll get there. Together. With shared micro-moments of love nudging us onward.

NaPoWriMo Success!

I did it! I managed to write and post 30 poems in 30 days. That posting part is important because I’ve always been so covetous of my work. Even now, I think, “but but but some of those poems had the potential to be really good!” And maybe I’ll rework some of them and find somewhere appropriate to submit them.

Do I feel accomplished? Most definitely. I have a few friends who are pretty into NaNoWriMo and I’m just so not a fiction writer. I’m really not. The demands of character development and story arcs, story cohesion and tying up loose ends over pages and pages of text… it’s enough to make me wet myself in terror like a neurotic yorkie. I work best in snapshots and symbolic language. I don’t like needing to make complete sentences and I enjoy the ambiguity of phrases maybe possibly running into each other and blending or maybe not.

I received the loveliest compliment on my writing yesterday. A wonderful friend wrote to me and said, “You have a talent for capturing complicated spaces in such a tiny, concise handful of words.” Seriously the best thing anyone has yet said to me about my writing ability. Makes me feel so good!

And I’d like to take a moment to thank Alexis Yael for inspiring me to actually go through with this. She’s been an online friend for close to 10 years and she has always been super supportive of any writing endeavours of mine. This April, she offered a NaPo-oriented e-course called Poeming Into the Now and, while I didn’t sign up for it, she added me to the facebook group and I’d peek in every once in a while to see what others had written so that I could get inspired. I think the one poem that came as a direct result of one of her prompts was the pantoum, Immersion. I’d wanted to write a pantoum ever since I first saw that my friend, Jackie, had posted one some months ago, before I’d even gotten back into the writing thing. She’s another wonderful writer who has really been integral to my getting where I am now: I have a website! I have a real, honest-to-goodness chapbook! I am enjoying a successful completion of my first NaPoWriMo!

So thank you to both Alexis and Jackie. I am so grateful for your support and the talent you have shared with the world.

And thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read what I’ve created here in this nuanced little corner of the web. Muchas gracias! Moltes gràcies! Grandmercé! Merci beaucoup!

Now to write and write and write. It feels good. Happy Beltaine! Happy May Day!