What is LOVE? How about MATURE LOVE?

If we were to learn about love from advertisers, we would believe that love is spending money on your partner or buying sparkly surprises. But love is complex and often difficult to define. So this season of love, let’s look at love in three different ways—neurochemically, socially and emotionally—and then consider whether this relates to “mature love.”

Neurochemical: Love and lust can easily mix at the start of a relationship, when love feels like a deep yearning for the other. A lover’s high in the beginning is a mix of brain chemicals such as oxytocin, adrenaline and dopamine. If you’re with someone long enough, you can also develop a deeper kind of love, that involves different areas of you brain concerning attachment and commitment. It feels less passionate, but is more stable and enduring.

Social: We grow up learning myths about love. For example, there is the social myth in America that “love conquers all.” I hear this from clients and we see it is movies and books. In our society, we also hear that you should only get married because of love (instead of more practical reasons like health insurance) and that love should be easy. I think women are more likely to be raised with the belief that they are not complete or worthy when not in love or with a partner. Societal expectations of love and marriage can weigh heavily on women and men.

Emotional (and Feelings): Love can feel wonderful—a warmth in your heart, appreciation for your partner, and a sense of safety that you are not alone in the world. In the throes of love, we feel joyful, awe-inspired and vibrant. The flip side to these is that love, or at least attachment to someone, can bring about self-doubt, disappointment and deep angst.

How does all of this match with “mature love”? Interestingly, there’s not much of a match! In this discussion, I call upon my work with clients, personal experience, as well as my enjoyment of the If the Buddha Married book. In mature love, you respect yourself and your partner. You support each other through tough times and celebrate the successes. Mature love is interdependence; you rely on each other but don’t lose who you are. It is also having the courage to be vulnerable and accepting, and work through conflicts by taking responsibility, instead of defensiveness or blame. You see and appreciate your partner for who they are, not who you project them to be. Love does not conquer all in a relationship; it requires diligence, intention and attention. And these have the beautiful potential of bringing you even closer to your partner.

I think the best Valentine’s gift this season is committing your intention and attention to cultivating a mature loving relationship with your partner! If you find yourself single this time of year, all of these same qualities can be developed and expressed in your relationship to yourself. Mature love starts with loving yourself. And that feels lovely.

~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego Sexologist, Sociologist, National Sex Speaker