Love: A Contradiction, Conundrum…the Puzzle of It All

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The Love Paradox

Why more people feel in love and more people feel they are compromised
Published on April 21, 2013 by Aaron Ben-Zeév, Ph.D. in In the Name of Love

“Love is in the air, everywhere I look around, Love is in the air, every sight and every sound.” John Paul Young.

“Weirdly, I want the unpleasant situation between me and my husband to change. But then again I would not have an excuse for a hot lover. Just being honest….” A married woman

The love paradox in current society arises from a combination of the following two seemingly opposing claims: (a) a greater percentage of intimate relationships are based on love; (b) a greater percentage of intimate relationships involve romantic compromises. Since romantic compromises are considered to run counter to love, how can these two claims co-exist?

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Love is in the air

In order to explain this apparent paradox, I begin by referring to the larger role of love in contemporary society. Romantic love is everywhere these days; wherever you look, whenever you listen, and whatever you read, the subject of love is likely to. Love occupies a central place in people’s expectations and wishes, but these often remain unfulfilled. Love songs, novels, and movies have emphasized the great hopes and profound happiness associated with love, as well as the great disappointments and profound pain that love generates. Our hearts are enlarged by love, but by the same token they can also be broken.

Modern society has witnessed an increasing discrepancy between the desire for an enduring romantic relationship and the probability of its fulfillment. Breakups, rather than marriage, are the norm in dating relationships. In addition to the fact that in many societies about 50% of all marriages end in divorce, the majority of the remaining 50% have at some point seriously considered divorce.

A major reason for this crisis in marriages is the increased role of love in our life. In contemporary society, love is a highly significant issue; it might be called a time of its renaissance. It is no longer possible to dismiss it as a silly fantasy, and its presence is a major criterion in the decision to stay or leave a given relationship. It is perceived as both realistic and feasible—not merely by those who are in a loving relationship, but also by those who are not and who yearn for it. Nowadays, fewer people than ever before are willing to live without love.

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Romantic compromises are in the air

In romantic compromises, we give up a romantic value, such as romantic freedom and intense passionate love, in exchange for a nonromantic value, like the wish to live comfortably without financial concerns. Nevertheless, in our hearts we keep yearning for the road not taken—the one with greater romantic freedom and a partner who is we perceive as more romantically attractive.

We may discern two major types of romantic compromises: (a) compromises on romantic freedom, which takes place when entering marriage (or other committed relationships), and (b) compromises on the choice of partner. In addition, we may discern two major perspectives of romantic compromises: (a) yearning for a better possible alternative, and (b) accepting negative aspects of the partner and the relationship. Yearning for the possible is the dominant perspective prevailing in the first type of compromises, as giving up romantic freedom essentially means giving up alluring alternatives. Such yearning is especially intense when the negative aspects in our current relationship are significant. In compromises concerning choosing a partner, the yearning for the possible is still dominant but the issue of the negative features of the partner gains more weight.

If the negativity of the relationship is significant, e.g., it involves domestic violence, the perspective concerning negativity becomes most dominant and the decision to end the compromise should be taken immediately. However, if the negativity is not severe, then yearning for the possible will typically be the dominant perspective. Often the two perspectives are combined and the feeling of romantic compromise is an outcome of both perspectives.

Consider the following candid description by a married woman: “I didn’t feel that I was compromising too much when I married my husband. Initially, the positives outweighed the negatives by quite a lot. Over time, the negatives started to increase, but it was years of this that caused my feelings of love to start to weaken. I want to improve the negatives, but I also begin to realize the value of the alternatives. I go back and forth between these two options!”

Yearning for the possible is more dominant in romantic compromises than in most other compromises. Romantic compromises are typically not characterized in absolute terms of “good” and “bad,” but in relative terms of “better” and “worse.” The focus of concern in compromise is typically not upon the partner’s actual bad situation but upon a possible better alternative that the agent decides not to actively pursue because of its possible cost. Giving up the better alternative is not related to its intrinsic value, but to external circumstances that could make this alternative painful. A person can get used to the fact that her partner is not as honest as she is; one can still love an imperfect person and even a villain . Since it is impossible to significantly change the partner’s personality, there is no choice but to accept the partner as she is and try to love her. Something that is beyond our control typically generates less emotional intensity, as there is no action that we can take that could alter the situation.

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Greater romantic freedom

The new circumstances in our current society have made the issue of romantic compromises, and in particular the perspective of yearning for the possible, more central and more complex. The main reason is that greater choice among many feasible alternatives makes it more difficult to be satisfied with your own romantic lot. Since the realm of infinite romantic possibilities so overwhelms us with tempting alternatives, we are unable to reasonably consider the present situation as romantically satisfactory. The perspective of yearning for the possible becomes more and more central than the perspective concerning the quality of the person you are with.

Having the freedom to choose between many alternatives has its own cost; excessive freedom can increase people’s uncertainty, insecurity, dissatisfaction, and depression. Therefore, the availability of a greater choice can be a mixed blessing. Indeed, sometimes adding options makes the task of choosing less attractive and more cumbersome; consequently, there are people who (occasionally) prefer others to make choices for them. For example, many people in loveless marriages would be happy if their spouse decided to initiate a separation, rather than them having to raise the issue. As Barry Schwartz shows, too much freedom from constraints is a bad thing, as unconstrained freedom leads to paralysis and becomes a kind of self-defeating tyranny. He argues that due to the multiplicity of choices available at all times and on all fronts, people no longer know how to be satisfied with “just good enough.” They always seek perfection. Such freedom also undermines the notion of deep commitment and social belonging to groups and institutions, bonds that are vital to our mental health. Freedom constrained by ideals and boundaries may in fact be more satisfying and less dangerous than unconstrained freedom.

As there are now many available valuable alternatives around the corner, we are constantly called upon to make compromises, particularly in circumstances where opportunities are almost limitless and when success stories abound of people who refused to compromise and were able to improve their situation considerably. The prevalence of such stories makes it harder for other people to accept compromising, and they may end up remaining alone. In light of the many alluring possibilities, we may say that today people experience more romantic compromises and romantic regrets.


The greater number of alternatives helps many people to find their true love and consequently increases the percentage of couples in committed relationships who are in love. However, the greater number of alternatives frustrates many others who stay in their existing relationship since the cost of switching is too high and has no “Satisfaction guaranteed” certificate; these people are more likely to experience romantic compromises. The increase of alternatives forces people to feel they are compromising themselves when they do not pursue these alternatives.

The above considerations indicate the complexity of lovers’ situations in contemporary society. In most cases, the solution will not be a simple one-direction advance toward happiness. More often, the solution will be to gradually revise their situation, sometimes moving back and forth between available alternatives. In most cases, it is difficult to decide whether to give preference to life or to love. Love is important, but love is not all you need in life.

Categories: Holistic Health, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Son Just Might Be Smarter Than Me

Today has been an interesting day of perspective taking, contemplation, action, and conversations. When my son came home from school we did the usual, “how was our day” conversations and, then, he asked me what would make my day better. That is one of my tricks, and I should have seen it coming, but I fell into it. Eventually, we began to talk about my desire to provide other things for him and the gaps I see, how that makes me feel, the roads we’ve traveled, and the things that are to come. See, for me the roads we have traveled have been challenging at times, daunting or scary, and sometimes they have provided us with adventures, friends, and memories beyond my dreams. And then there’s the “now” of it.

I’m completing graduate school in February. There was a time when that was only a dream. In 2000, I completed an undergraduate degree in psychology with a minor in urban studies at Kent State University and wanted to go on to graduate school, but I was terrified. All too often I thought I was not smart enough to pass the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) so I stopped there. When I decided to return, it was 10 year after I finished, and 8 years after my Mother died. She and I had discussed returning together to complete a degree in counseling. The end of the journey brings excitement, but also anxiety, stress, concerns, and an evaluation of where I have been with a look at where I want to be.

My conversation with my son reminded me that he has a perspective that is different from mine. While I am worried about providing a bang-up holiday experience and lamenting the possibility of not being able to be with family on Christmas day, he began reminding me of things to come. My perspective was laced with the things we had overcome and are still having to hurdle while his perspective is that we are almost at the finish line of this race. All of the moving we have done, traveling to see family, missing holidays, being without vehicles, doing without “the newest”, and frustration were only a part of the training for this last sprint. In his teenage wisdom, the perspective is that it is temporary and that he is thankful for the adventures we’ve had together. Most of all he is thankful for our bond and proud of my determination.
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The past year has been a a challenge, and the end of this year seems to be a good place to remember that there is more ahead than behind. And, that giving up now because of a temporary perspective won’t win the race! At the same time, let me impart, that during the race to the finish we have to be willing to stay in the moment, manage our breathing and emotions, and learn to push or pull back when needed. That is what helps a runner get through the race successfully.

With that said, my perspective has shifted to keeping my eye on the finish line, surmounting challenges as they come, but also being with the journey and never giving up because I’m too close now. And so are you.

Categories: Relationships | 2 Comments

5 Things Your Man Hates About You? Really, Frank?

On October 31, I read a “note” on the Book of Faces, better known as Facebook. It was written by Frank Henderson. I’m not connected to him, we’re not Friends, and I don’t even know what he does, but I do know he hates something about me. I thought to myself, “Here’s another man bashing women” because we need to be more submissive, learn to cook more, and play ego booster to the fragile needy male ego. Uhm, no thanks, I’ve heard enough of that, My Brothah. As a female I’m already behind the proverbial eight-ball, and add on that I’m a woman of color, just no.

See recently I’ve been told to Think Like a Man, thanks to Steve Harvey. Multiple blogs research and proclaim such things as Are Black Women Scaring Off Their Men?, 10 Reasons Black Men ARE NOT Dating Black Women ANYMORE!, Why are Black Women So Difficult to Be With? and even proclaim to know Why Good, Black Women REALLY End Up Alone: A Guide for the ConfusedDo I really need another man telling me how much is wrong with me? C’mon, son.

But, I bit. And read. I read it because I figured it would be another interesting take on what I needed to do. Yet, I know there are things about me that men don’t like, maybe I’ll learn something new. I did. The first thing I learned was about me: I love men. I love their hearts. Frank confirmed this sentiment in three sentences:
“When a man opens his soul and decides to love a woman, it’s a decision that he’s thought long and hard about. He’s probably run it by a few of his ‘boys’ to gauge just how insane they think he is. When he gets that ring, embraces her, her kids if she has some, her extended family and pathology, he’s usually done it with his HEART and NOT his head.”

Okay, okay, you have my attention now, Mister. It’s only from the heart that a man would reveal this so, I read on with the desire to learn what it is  about me that is so despised by men. I summarize this because it’s easier to share with my female friends. I can cushion the blow a bit, but I can also say it in a way Frank couldn’t. See, I see women do some of these things, and some I’ve been guilty of doing myself. However, when you know better you tend to do better. So, what do they hate about us? Ladies here were go:

1. You Don’t Know or Understand His Vision: Have you asked him what he sees for himself? If not, why not? A relationship is not all about you and your goals. If so, are you actively supportive or covertly sabotaging. Yes, I said it. Sabotaging looks like acting as if you support him, but coming home late, snide comments, or being indifferent. There’s another category here, the he’s not clear club. Okay, okay, if he’s not clear, what are you doing to help him craft his vision so it’s crystal clear for him? Am I saying spoon feed him a vision? No. I am saying if he has Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 9.36.15 AMan idea for what he wants but not a plan, it is unclear, and he needs support in strategically planning it you are in the perfect position to help propel that vision. Frank points out, “He doesn’t believe that he exists just to make you happy”. Ladies, huddle up…quickly. Okay, if you are not happy within yourself nothing outside of you will change that, including your fine, well-dressed, hustlah of a man. That’s your responsibility not his. His mission and vision are his and that is what he is up to so he can satisfy who he is meant to be. You had yours before him, he had his vision before you. He needs your assistance just as you feel you need his. You can’t help or support if you don’t know the vision and are not invested in it coming to fruition for him. Last point on this, when his vision becomes our vision it makes a difference in how you invest your time and commit. Think about. Okay, break.

2. You Emphasize Or Show Appreciation For Another Man’s Vision Over His: “You know Anthony has been working on that huge deal. He’s amazing!” I hope if any facet of this has been said the name used is actually his, and not that of another man. All too often we spend time comparing without understanding the impact. It belittles him. Stop it. Don’t act as though he doesn’t have feelings, can’t be Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 10.47.47 AMimpacted emotionally, and should take your comments as motivation. Imagine if he was always talking about some other woman whether she is a friend or famous. Constantly talking about how she “has it goin’ on” might begin to have you “feeling some kind of way”. Would that motivate you? Place emphasis on the things that are going well, acknowledge and affirm who he is, and watch how he responds. When you don’t do that your relationship becomes vulnerable. Appreciate him from the heart.

Me and Jamil (3).

3. You Refuse To Put The Children In Their Proper Place: Where do I start? Let’s do this. Ladies, meet me in my office, lock the door behind you, and grab a chair. This is serious business. Whether we like it or not there is a hierarchy in all relationships. When you became a parent you were at the top of that hierarchy, like the King and Queen. The Prince and Princess are never given status above the King or Queen, and they are expected to behave in a way becoming a Prince or Princess as to not bring shame to their family. What are you saying Sidney? Get the kids in check. No, don’t give me the “you don’t know my struggle” mess either. I do. Believe me I do. In  a former relationship it took a while for him to meet my son, we eventually lived together, and the hierarchy was established. He’s King, I’m Queen, and you, my son, are a Prince. When the King tells you sit, you sit, and that is the united front we set up. You don’t talk while I’m on the phone with him (or almost anyone unless it’s an emergency), you use manners at all times, and respect him as an authority here. Who started that conversation? I did. I insisted that my son respect him, what he said went, and if I disagreed we “conferenced” in another room or later. Additionally, my son was aware that he was not the center of the universe. I know, I know, “my kids will always be there, even when he leaves”, and there we have the problem. If you already believe they trump him, you’ve lost him.

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James, Jamil (6), and me at home.

Am I wrong Frank? What’s that you said? “Men will never play second fiddle….While you’re out taking care of and putting those kids before him, he’s found someone that will put him first and make him feel Kingly.” There is a level of respect that must be present, consider him the King, you are the Queen, and the kids are Prince and Princesses. There is hierarchy, put it to work, and it will work for you. Got it? Good. Break.

4. Listening to the Your Faith Community Leader Over Him: I took liberties with this because there are people of different faith or spiritual practices, but it applies nonetheless. You may even be a self-help junkie and read Deepak Chopra, Dr. Phil, subscribe to the Mars-Venus philosophy, and know your love language (a good read, by the way). However, your self-help mentor, pastor, imam, swami, or guide are not lead in your relationship. Always bringing up what you read, were told would “work”, or covertly attempting some self-help shenanigans is a recipe for disaster. Allow him to be the man, cooperate, create a team between the two of you, cultivate trust, and watch what happens.

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He doesn’t want to be alone in a relationship either.

5. Helping Others While Neglecting Him: I don’t know what to say ’bout dis. Men hate when we help others while neglecting them? I get it. While reading Frank’s explanation about the wife not supporting her husband’s dream of starting a church, him being “livid and boiling”, and their subsequent divorce, I stopped. That is more on the vision thing, see #1. Unless she was running around helping others, and failed to care for her husband at all, she was simply being a dream killer, a vision vanquisher, and wasn’t the right one for the job. Neglect, as defined, is “failure to care for properly” and the “state or fact of being uncared for.” Here we go, I’m going to do this two ways 1) address neglect and 2) meet with my girls in the conference room. Ok? First, neglect. Here we have to establish what it is to care for someone and “properly”. We can say, “it goes without saying”, but, well, it doesn’t. If he feels uncared for, it needs to be said, and maybe it is a conversation that needs to be had. Neglect comes in many forms: emotional, physical, financial, and sexual. To have those requirements met they have to be expressed no one, not even the most insistent woman, is a mind reader.

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C’mon, let the ice melt.

Now, ladies, meet me in the conference room in 30-seconds, don’t mind your hair. I’ll wait…… we go. Your girls, kids, Mom, Dad, brothers, even personal agendas, all have a place and time. A part of that mix is support of your significant other. There is something to be said for boundaries around who, what, when, and how often you extend yourself. All of the aforementioned people will begin to respect your choices, and so will your significant other when you exercise boundaries. That gives everyone a place and time in your life without creating chaos, frustration, and blurring lines. Am I saying you don’t have needs too? Nope, but this ain’t ’bout you, boo, listen. Neglect is the absence of something being cared for, there is no shame in asking “how can I support in that?” or “what do you need for me to do to help you?” Let that icy exterior and need to be right go. It is an opportunity to support him in manifesting his vision, building communication, displaying an understanding that you all are partners, and exhibiting care. Help meet his needs when he needs it, make the time for it and do it with enthusiasm, and see it reciprocated. You won’t be left out. Go run your route. Stay in your lane. Be awesome. Break.

IS THAT IT!? IS THE LIST COMPLETE? I’m sure it’s not. Surely, I’ll take some heat for this. The feminist will read that saying I’m advocating some sort of passive, appeasing approach. The angry woman will be defensive, read into that she’s not blah, blah, blah and being too blah, blah, blah, and another blah. When in fact, these came from a man, and I simply recognized that these needed to be addressed. I’ve been all kinds of loud with a man, hung up phones (in my much younger days), refused to support in covert ways, and simply was not clear on his vision so mine became the focus. How do you build a relationship with all of that going on? When you have to be right, someone loses. When it’s all about you, someone loses. And losers are rarely happy about the outcome. I take this as a contribution to me providing a new perspective and encouraging a healthier relationship dynamic.

Thanks Frank.

**You can read “Only For Ladies: 5 Things Your Man Hates About You” by Frank Henderson on Facebook.***

NEXT: BWD – Black While Depressed, A Mask of Shame

Categories: Relationships | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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