Love is hardly one dimensional

It’s weird to me when I hear people talk about love. They’ll talk about being in love, or feeling love. When I talk to them more at length, the concept of love comes across as a sort of bucket that gets filled because of certain things. It slowly empties naturally with time—so apparently it’s a leaky bucket.

People will feel appreciated and loved based on a perception of how full or empty this bucket is. Or perhaps people feel they fall somewhere along a spectrum. “I’m at a 3 out of 10 today on the love meter” or “I’m full…I’m at a 10.”

But that changes, right? Some days we’ll feel more loved than others based on their actions. Sometimes our own mood affects how loved we feel. You have the “5 Love Languages” thing (here), which is helpful and insightful, but can lead to this sort of thinking too.

So is a one-dimensional leaky bucket or meter the right way of describing love and being loved? Seems a bit limiting and myopic. Moreover, it gives impulsive people license to just cut-and-run when they feel they can get more love somewhere else. I’ve seen divorce and breakups happen all the time because one or both of the people “just aren’t feeling it.” It’s like the year’s fashion or a type of food—you just get over it after a while.

But given how often I see some of these people hop scotch in and out of marriages and relationships, I wonder if there’s a perception problem there with being “in love”? Maybe the one-dimensional thing isn’t cutting it.

What if we saw love more like a tree—a living, breathing, complex three-dimensional entity? Wouldn’t that give us more to draw from in describing how we feel for someone else than a scale of 1 to 10?

Hardly a ground-breaking analogy, for sure. I’m sure smarter, licensed professionals have already done this at length, but let’s stick with your buddy Josh here for a bit.

Let’s think of each relationship we have with someone else as a tree. More specifically, our involvement is the attention and intentionality we give to this tree. The tree itself is the result of our actions—it is representative of the relationship itself.

We can focus on the big relationships in our lives, I don’t want to get too lovey-feeley about cultivating a love relationship with the convenience store guy (hot as he may be). So let’s think about our spouse or significant other (or the one you want to have some day for all my single peoples).

There is soil—the circumstances and area in your life that you share with this person. Could be class, church, work, whatever. You and the other person have this plot of land together. The soil might suck at first, or perhaps there isn’t enough water around (all sorts of relationships start under less-than-ideal circumstances), but you try and make a go of it anyway. The soil is fertilized based on attraction and affections. The seed is planted intentionally by the two of you and viola—a small tree starts to grow.

There are roots that draw nourishment from the soil. That then starts other elements of the tree. The trunk and leaves break through the soil. The water is important. The air is important. The sun is important.

I don’t want to belabor the analogy with what means what, with where compassion fits in, or commitment, or sex. My main point is each relationship is unique as each tree is unique. The fullness of the tree, the height, the depth of the roots—all of these things contribute to the overall health of the relationship. This particular tree can’t ever be replicated with someone else. You might think you can create a tree with someone else—and that you can—but this particular tree won’t ever be recreated.

What I have personally found this does is it breaks us out of the idea that we can find something “better” just by quickly swapping somewhere else. In the one-dimensional view, if we’ve been at a 3 out of 10 recently and something hot rolls around, the one-dimensional view lets us think things could be better with this other person. We’d be at a 6 or 7 at least on the ol’ “being loved” meter…

…When in actuality you would need to kill off this tree you already have with someone else and re-plant with this new person (or let it languish and die by simply withdrawing our attention).

And who knows how well the new tree will go? It might start great, but not grow into anything special. The roots might be too shallow. The leaves might not be very full. Things might not be greener on the other side, so to speak.

If you have a more three-dimensional view of a loving relationship—if you are intertwined with the other person through branches and leaves that uniquely manifest experiences and time spent…if you have this larger view of things, then you’ll see impulsively leaving doesn’t always fix things.

It’s not to say we should always stick with it—by all means some trees become diseased and need to be cut down, or die in spite of our attempts to heal them.

But when feeling like your bucket is low, or you’re at a 2 or 3 out of 10 on some arbitrary meter, consider instead the idea that perhaps the season of life you’re in has stripped off the leaves, but that they’ll come back after winter is done. And you’ll be glad for the familiar branches and wide shade of the old tree.

…Oh great, I wrote one of THOSE types of posts.


About salemonz

Born in San Diego, Calif. Raised as a Navy Brat, I jumped ship and crossed over to the Army. Served as an enlisted journalist for a bunch of years, then helped the DoD figure out what the hell to do with social media. After the Army, now I drift down the river of life, trying not to be a jerk.

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