Altitude Sickness
March 9, 2016

Altitude Sickness: Romantic love is a verb

Altitude Sickness: Romantic love is a verb

This has been a strange winter for me, weather notwithstanding. This is the winter where, maybe for the first time ever, and certainly for the first time since my divorce, I let someone in.

More than let her in, I saw her, met her, liked her, got to know her, let her know I was interested, pursued her, wooed her, won a place with her, spent time with her and grew to love her.


When I was younger I had a great many problems with love. I was always falling in it, falling hard, and getting my butt kicked. The reason I would get so thoroughly and frequently kicked is that my picker is broken. I can smell a girl who is emotionally unavailable from a half mile away. My instincts became so attuned to it that I could immediately tell if a woman was going to hurt me just by the pleasant tingle I got from talking to her. “Wow, I really enjoyed her. Hmm…(plays the tape all the way through to the end)…time to split!”

For quite a while I simply didn’t allow myself to be around women with whom I would become infatuated, because it was always an unmitigated disaster. I continued to have this trouble until I learned a set of principles surrounding the word “love.”

I am a bit different than most, in that I have a very strict definition of love. Most people view love as a feeling, or a thing. Most of the definitions that people associate with love really define infatuation. For me, love is not a feeling or a thing; it is not a noun or an adjective. Romantic love is a verb. It is the act of mutual nurture.

Generally, there are four elements to a romantic partnership: Infatuation (what many call love, but is mainly comprised of a combination of lust and new car smell), Friendship, Pair Bonding (the development of the deep habits of being around another person), and Mutual Nurture.

Mutual Nurture is the big one, the 800-pound gorilla, and is generally the thing that determines whether or not a relationship is truly healthy. I apply the rule strictly enough that I genuinely believe that a relationship does not have love if Mutual Nurture is one-sided (i.e. just Nurture). You may have all of the other things, but without Mutual Nurture, without the VERB, I do not consider it love.

“But I loved him!” Nope, not if he didn’t love you back.

You may have done your best to love another person, and there are one-sided versions of love, but they are parenting and caregiving types of love, not romantic love. I’m sticking to my guns on this.

I made this change in terminology because I was convinced that I had not ever really been in love, not with my wife (whom I worked very hard to nurture, but that will only get you so far with someone who will marry you after four years together, and then leave you seven weeks later with a new boyfriend), nor with anyone else. It was my belief that I had not experienced love at all, and I was right.

She and I made a very slow and nurturing approach to things: I gained her trust, cooked her tons of food, listened, snuggled, and no one was ever threatened or defensive, everyone was safe and happy. There were no alarm responses—ever.  Love is a beautiful, gorgeous thing when you do it right. For the second time in my life, I was able to spend Valentine’s Day with a person that I cared for deeply (the first time with someone that I could honestly say I loved), and who did not greet me with emotional injury or overt defensiveness and hostility, and it was wonderful.

Very careful about even defining ourselves as in a relationship, we were very relaxed. Then one day she admitted that we were in fact in a relationship, though she did not yet call me her boyfriend.

She began introducing me to friends, even kissed me in public.  She proved very adept at knowing instantly when I was becoming frustrated with something, and would just come up behind me and give me a quick hug, dissolving my frustration. No one has ever figured that out about me before, even me.

One day, I drove to where she lived, and told her that I was in love with her, expressed my feeling that we had Mutual Nurture, and that we should make it official (be an actual couple). She agreed that we were in fact a very nurturing couple, and we ate the soup that I brought, talked a while, and I left her to process this information.

Two days later she came to my house and said (among other things) “I can’t be in a relationship with you. I have no infatuation for you.”

And there I stood with my guts on the floor.

Having walked around for a week now with hollow insides, I am still having difficulty regretting any of this, despite having lost the only decent relationship I’ve ever had with a person who genuinely excited me. Looking back through my memories, I can see now that there was a shadow passing over us, as though from a hawk flying across the sun, when she said that we were in a relationship. Things changed. She drew away. Tiny bit by tiny bit.

It is clear to me that I still have a broken picker. I am still drawn to noncommittal women. But my picker is not as broken as it was, this person being huge progress over the women in my past. Further, I am now capable of approaching another human being as a genuine person, as opposed to a bundle of compulsions and needs. I am capable of Nurturing, and being Nurtured.

It’s been a great winter.

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