In love 20+ times in your life?
January 10, 2009 8:34 AM   Subscribe

My wife says she has been in love over twenty times in her life. (she is thirty years old) Is this possible?

She started dating in her early teens. I told her that most people would define her "in love" as lust and that most likely she had only been "in love" a few times in her life. Maybe I'm wrong, or she is using the word wrong. She says there are three stages of love. The first is lust, the second is in love where you get butterflies in your stomach etc., the third is long term pair bonding.

Is she wrong for claiming such a high number or using the term love when referring with the first, or second stage? Am I wrong for using the term "love" for just number three (long term pair bonding) as well as calling the other stages things like lust. Am I wrong, is she wrong, are we both wrong, or are we both right? Are we just disagreeing over apples and oranges?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (39 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm not really sure that this has a quantifiable answer.

Actually, no, I'm sure that this has no quantifiable answer. People have been trying to quantify love and/or attraction for ever, and no one really can. Neither of you are wrong, neither of you are right, both are acceptable points of view. I'm fairly certain it's unhealthy to assign "levels" of love and attraction like she does, it'll lead to stress.
posted by InsanePenguin at 8:41 AM on January 10, 2009

I absolutely LOVE turkey with stuffing, so depending on how you use the word love, anything is possible.
posted by kosmonaut at 8:44 AM on January 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Are we just disagreeing over apples and oranges?

posted by ook at 8:45 AM on January 10, 2009 [6 favorites]

I would call the second stage infatuation, which is not quite the same as lust. I think it's fairly common to call infatuation being in love. But like my fellow penguin, I don't think there's a "right" answer here.

It seems like a strange thing to argue about. If you want to know how many time's she's been in love by your definition (or she wants to convey to you how often she's been in love by hers), why not just ask/tell how many times she's reached stage 2 and how many times she's reached stage 3, without worrying about how you label each stage?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:48 AM on January 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

This is like arguing about whether a tomato is a vegetable or a fruit. I'm told tomatoes are classified as fruit. And at the same time, tomatoes are used as vegetables. You can argue about this all day long, but will it really change how you cook dinner?

In other words, you guys are quibbling over nuances in how you define a word, without getting at the underlying substance. I can see how you might find her definition a little bit hurtful, because this way you represent only 1/20th of her loving, whereas by your definition you might get a full quarter or third of her lifetime loving, or maybe even all of it if you define "love" as connected to marriage, right? And she might find your definition dismissive, because you are relegating the vast majority of her previous romantic history to the dustbin of "lust."

People use "love" in all kinds of ways, often times contradictory. You can "make love" with someone you actively dislike, for example, or you can say "I love you, man!" to your buddy when you are drunk and sloppy without anyone seriously thinking you are proposing a gay marriage. It's not a word that's used with any precision or consistency by any one person, much less across all people.

But regardless of how you define it, functionally it is you she is living with and is committed to. Surely there's a better way to acknowledge this than by telling her "you are saying it wrong," no?
posted by Forktine at 8:52 AM on January 10, 2009 [8 favorites]

I would agree with your definition.

However, I would also note that this is, as far as "things that matter in a relationship" goes, probably second or third least important, narrowly beating out "Does my significant other agree with my preference for almond-free chocolate bars?"
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:53 AM on January 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

"the third is long term pair bonding. "

Which would be at least lo enough to get a child to term (and more realistically, to weaning, at the very earliest), or what's he (biological) point of even serially monogamous "pair bonding".

It takes couples not using birth control an average of three months to get pregnant, and nine more months to get to a live birth. So twenty pair bonds takes twenty years even if we skip the weaning stage. But since she's not getting preggers, perhaps nature arranges to pull the ejection lever at six months, by which time she "should" have gotten knocked up.

So six month times twenty "pair bonds" aborted at six months for intentional infertility (i.e, birth control), each followed by an immediate new and very brief courtship and another "pair bond". Pushing it, we get ten years.

So, yeah, if you assume serial monongamy consisting of the transient and ephemeral "pair bond" that results in a break-up due to "infertility", and that she hops form failed relationship to new-fund "love", yeah, she just barely had time for this.
posted by orthogonality at 9:00 AM on January 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

According to this recent study it is possible, but rare, to sustain the feeling of "new love" for 20+ years.
posted by AwkwardPause at 9:02 AM on January 10, 2009

Why try to make her "wrong" about her own feelings? Unless it's because you're uncomfortable with the number of partners she's had, in which case, maybe try acknowledging that's what's really going on for you. There's nothing "wrong" with your feelings either.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:06 AM on January 10, 2009 [12 favorites]

Love is a feeling, you can't quantify a feeling. The only thing sillier than arguing about it is trying to justify it with sciency talk about pair-bonding.
posted by gjc at 9:13 AM on January 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is she wrong for claiming such a high number or using the term love when referring with the first, or second stage? Am I wrong for using the term "love" for just number three (long term pair bonding) as well as calling the other stages things like lust. Am I wrong, is she wrong, are we both wrong, or are we both right? Are we just disagreeing over apples and oranges?

You are both wrong for fighting about it, in my opinion. The easiest way to put a pox on a relationship is to tell someone that they're "wrong" when they tell you they love you. But hey, it's just my opinion and I'm currently in an LTR with the Moon. I will refer you to grumblebee's wisdom on the topic.
posted by jessamyn at 9:13 AM on January 10, 2009

Neither of you are wrong to define what you believe love is, and you aren't wrong for the defintions being different.

But you need to drop this jealously/despair thing, and quit telling your woman that she's wrong about how she defines her emotional events. Take this opportunity to grow up a little more.
posted by Coatlicue at 9:19 AM on January 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

Let me see if I can scare up the words I want.... On some level, if it's "love, " "being in love" to her, it is. One thing we can know: via math, this is happening fairly often. It's seemingly happening far more often than the vast majority of people experience it.

A notable question: How have these love times played out; largely her moving on, the guy moving on, more or less 50-50?

Can see how someone in your shoes might have some feelings of wariness. It's far from unprecedented that someone, person A, is quick to speak of love when it's more fleeting/more infatuation/more hormones/more a desire for attention and having someone "love" them than a lot of people think of it, person A's words and deeds encourage/foster those feelings in person B... and it passes in some haste, leaving person B chagrined.

Too, if anyone is quick to feel big love (and I assume they are relating this verbally and non-verbally), feels not unreasonable that a fair number of people would react along the lines of "Whoooooooa."
posted by ambient2 at 9:22 AM on January 10, 2009

Does she include actors or pop singers on the list?
posted by zadcat at 9:26 AM on January 10, 2009

And the fourth stage is quibbling over semantics! Ah, love...
posted by phunniemee at 9:41 AM on January 10, 2009 [4 favorites]

Love is whatever the speakers means it to be, which makes talking about it difficult, counterproductive, and/or supremely important.

I learned in school that there are 7 forms of classically defined love. Take your pick, and then tell your wife she's wrong.

I dare you.
posted by Aquaman at 9:48 AM on January 10, 2009

I fall in love daily. I've fallen in love with someone completely unknown because of their shared itunes library (if you're itunes name is "I'm in love with a stripper" then hello, I once had a crush on you).

falling in love is easy. the tricky part is to stay in love.
posted by krautland at 9:53 AM on January 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

I think you are really making too big a deal of this. When I was a teenager, I "fell in love" which my parents rudely dismissed. How would they know?! I termed it being in love, it hurt like hell when it ended. I've been in love a few more times since, and I know that it's nothing compared to what I'm experiencing now, but I still wouldn't look back and say it wasn't "real".

Why do you care how many times she's been in love? Why do you need to be right on this? I think that's more telling than the actual debate.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 9:55 AM on January 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ah, true love, its worth dying for. (or was that "to blathe?")

Twenty times? I'd seriously consider that a moderate blathe is in the works on that one if you're talking about long term pair bonding. Is she just trying to make you jealous? :D That third stage kind of the kind of relationship where you live to share life experiences, and that's lifetime stuff there, as essentially you become a "witness" to someone elses life.

On a related note, I love Natalie Portman...
posted by samsara at 9:58 AM on January 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Do you both see the same thing when you look at an object you both call red? Is her red your green? If you hate brussel sprouts, and she enjoys them, is it that she tastes something different or that she likes that taste which you both share? Which hurts more, menstrual cramps or getting kicked in the balls?

It's questionable whether the gap can be bridged. This as good a summary of traditional responses your particular query as I've found.
posted by phrontist at 10:08 AM on January 10, 2009

If she started dating at 13, this would mean a falling in love every 10 months on average. The feeling I refer to when I use the term love in a romantic sense, a feeling I can't help but think other people share (based on behavior) is not one you could go through (especially considering you presumably have to fall out of love at least a few times) that often without serious impact on basic functioning. I think you would totally lose it if you went through Romeo and Juliet, Titanic, Song of Solomon, or The Notebook style love that frequently.
posted by phrontist at 10:26 AM on January 10, 2009

I think it's just a varied definition for the two of you. That being said, I could see where you'd like to agree on the definition, as otherwise you may not be sure what she means when she says she "loves" you. Does that just mean you are receiving 1/21 share of all her affection she's poured out in her life? Probably not, but I can see the source of possible confusion there.
posted by Happydaz at 10:29 AM on January 10, 2009

Rather than seeing one or both of you as wrong sit down and discuss the various differences and learn from each other. Through in some heated conversation so you can have wild make up sex.

Do this repeatedly and then discuss what love is.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:49 AM on January 10, 2009

If I were you and I wanted that number to stay in the twenties I would believe her.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:55 AM on January 10, 2009 [7 favorites]

I'm with ottereroticist. There's a lot of possessiveness coming through here, and a dose or two of insecurity. And it's OK for you to feel that way, too. But having loved someone (or X number of people) in the past doesn't make them all competitors with you either.

If she finds it easy to love her fellow man, I think that's considered a virtue... it's just about a difference between kinds of love.

English doesn't really distinguish between the kind of love you have for a great pizza, the rush of love you feel for a small child who smiles at you, the love you feel for your sister, and the kind of love you feel for your spouse. Only behavior answers the *real* question of "does your love mean the same thing as my love?"
posted by Lady Li at 11:08 AM on January 10, 2009

So that averages out to what? Six months each? Not such a difficult bar to hurdle. I'd say the two to four year zone is where the rubber meets the road.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:16 AM on January 10, 2009

Love is one of those words that can really drive people crazy... there are a few others, if you start to get into the deep definitions of what they are, like "god" or "evil" or maybe "true" or "right" (well, just go check out Plato &c for more). We don't all mean the same thing, and half of us probably don't even really know what we mean beyond "a good feeling directed toward someone"... You and your wife have discovered how different your meanings are (and therefore to some extent clarified things) PLenty of people don't even know they're talking past each other... But neither of you can win this argument.

I am always weirded out in popular movies (silly comedy type ones) when the characters fall in love after like two seconds. I know it's just a plot gimmick the writers need, but it always irritates me - they meet, they hang out, and like a day later they declare their undying love for each other - and fast forward to the scene of them walking the baby through the park or whatever. But enough people must at least sort of relate to that notion of love, that it happens fast enough that that isn't completely alienating, for those movies to be made...

To me, love is a very powerful word, and I have always been hesitant to use it in relationships, probably too hesitant, because I think I think too much and don't allow myself to just feel things sometimes. But love is confusing that way, because for me it is a mix of immediate comforts & pleasures, and long term hopes and desires, and I don't see how you can call it love if it doesn't entwine your vision for the future, which for me requires - research... I couldn't know I would spend my life with someone as soon as I met them, even if they were awesome, just because awesome people can still be incompatible in incommensurable ways, and you may be destined to a whirlwind romance, not the real thing. I suppose one could still break out the L word for those, but it never seemed right to me.

But that's psychology - probably some crazy shit my parents did to me that makes me think that way. Some people say "i love you" to their bartender, kiss kiss, and when they get drunk and have sex later that night what does it mean? I have no idea, no one cares, it's all just words and they still all love each other (kisskiss) the next day, as far as I can tell. I don't know if they have to make up new words when they get married to express, no, I mean, I really lurve you, I mean it in the real way, not the hey honey how's the band omigod love the hair way... but maybe there's no distinction if it's just a feeling...
posted by mdn at 11:38 AM on January 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

I dunno, this sounds vaguely psychotic on her part -- does she have daddy issues? How's her relationship with her parents? Any other bad shit in her past? You told her your definition of love. Would she say that she was in your definition of love 20 times? While most people are chalking this up to you guys talking about two different things (by the way, she's wrong you're right and you can quote me on that), her apparent reliance on 'love' as a concept sends up red flags. I think there's something deeper at the core of her feeling like she needs to be in love 20 times.
posted by incessant at 12:04 PM on January 10, 2009

incessant: Nope, just...nope. Her definition and history are totally normal for someone who's a tad flaky and emotional. Certainly not psychotic. Are you also going to diagnose her as a nymphomanic if she's boinked that many partners? People have different definitions of love, that's the nature of the thing. As Forktine says, Asker should be happy he's #20 and the last.

(And at least it's a lower number than 37. 37!!!???!!!!!!???!!!!!)
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:11 PM on January 10, 2009

I'm not suggesting she's a nymphomaniac at all -- just wondering if she was looking to fulfill an emotional hole through seeking love. I'm not talking about sex in the least. 20 partners by the time someone's married doesn't even scratch the surface of nymphomaniac, at least not 'round these parts. Perhaps I used the word 'psychotic' a bit flippantly, but it would seem she's using the word 'love' flippantly.
posted by incessant at 1:44 PM on January 10, 2009

You're both right. She's right in believing in her definition of love, you're right in believing in yours. You could arguing about quantifying love until the cows come home, but in the end, if you've felt it - you know.

If she says she's been in love twenty times, she's a very lucky woman.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:50 PM on January 10, 2009

Love is really something people have to define for themselves.

I used to have a friend who was always saying this this or that person didn't know what love was. She was dating a sociopathic guy who slapped her around and raped her and she'd cheated on him twice with two different guys, but whenever I tried to urge him to leave him, she'd say I didn't understand because I just didn't know what it was like to really love someone. On the other end of the scale, I dated someone who claimed he'd been in love "more times than he could count". I thought, "What's that worth?" But I didn't say so, because due to my experience with my former friend I knew how offensive it is to be told I don't know what love is.

Yes, your wife probably sets the bar for "love" lower than you do, but it just isn't an argument you can win, so I advise you to let this go.
posted by orange swan at 3:16 PM on January 10, 2009

Are you concerned that you'll become a vague memory, a #20-something when she's 30 or 40 something? If so then perhaps that is the issue. Does this inspire a sense of insecurity? If so, this should become a topic between you, not what is or what isn't love.
posted by ezekieldas at 4:02 PM on January 10, 2009

Let's see I love all my family members, a few different girlfriends I've had, a few different least twenty =]
posted by zephyr_words at 4:04 PM on January 10, 2009

Of *course* it's possible. I think there are few things less endearing than arguing about your partner's feelings. It's what they feel! It doesn't get more subjective than that. Also, what ottereroticist said.
posted by Space Kitty at 4:40 PM on January 10, 2009

When I was in my 20s, the list of people I had fallen in love with was much higher than that same list now. I had a series of intense but immature relationships in which I had told the other person I had loved them. Having been in several longer-term and more mature relationships, there was pretty little about those earlier ones that I would no call love.

Definitions change with time. Don't sweat it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:11 PM on January 10, 2009

20 partners by the time someone's married doesn't even scratch the surface of nymphomaniac, at least not 'round these parts.

Being "in love" 20 times has nothing to do with the number of partners one's had.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:44 PM on January 10, 2009

20 partners by the time someone's married doesn't even scratch the surface of nymphomaniac, at least not 'round these parts.

Being "in love" 20 times has nothing to do with the number of partners one's had.

Just to make sure I'm not being misunderstood: I wasn't conflating sex with love, and I wasn't suggesting that she had only been in love with people she slept with and vice versa. I'm entirely clear on the difference, thanks. It was Potomac who brought up the nymphomaniac label, which I think is ridiculous.
posted by incessant at 10:29 AM on January 11, 2009

See also limerence. I suspect that if your wife described it, she would describe what many therapists would classify as limerence -- basically the swept-off-your-feet movie kind of love.
posted by dhartung at 11:06 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

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