In the process of writing my recent book Love Cycles: The Five Essential Stages of Lasting Love, I collected the most profound, compelling and even surprising quotes about love that I could find, and thought a lot about how they corresponded to different stages of relationships. For Valentine's Day, I'd like to share my current favorite 14 with you (along with brief explanations of the various relationship stages).
Stage 1: The Merge
This first romantic stage is mediated by chemicals and hormones. Everything feels magical and certain: you unwaveringly believe that you've found "your other half."
1. "It was the best first kiss in the history of first kisses. It was as sweet as sugar. And it was warm, as warm as pie. The whole world opened up and I fell inside. I don't know where I was, but I didn't care." — Sarah Addison Allen, The Sugar Queen
This quote from Allen's book instantly transports me to one of my first kisses. I was 13 years old and Pat Dore kissed me in the basement of Nancy Zipf's party. For 57 years, I have remembered the moment but have been unable to find the words. When I found this passage, I knew I'd found the words. When we're taken over by oxytocin, who can remember words? We remember the feeling, evocative and magical: warm as pie, sweet as sugar.
2. "When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth." — Billy, age four (aka my friend's grandson!)
Billy, my friend's grandson, may only be four years old, but his words resonated with me instantly. When we greet each other during the first stage of love, it can feel like one of the most affirming experiences you'll ever have. We are seen by someone else, really and truly.
Of course, later in relationships, there may be irritation, annoyance and even occasional anger in that same greeting. But we can remember that sense of safety and acceptance we felt upon hearing our names spoken early on, and make an effort to continue to appreciate something as simple as a morning "hello" from our partners.
3. "In real love you want the other person's good. In romantic love, you want the other person." — Margaret Anderson
The chemical dopamine is a huge component in that feeling of falling in love. Dopamine is often talked about as the craving chemical, which causes us to feel high, like we need to be around the person who gives us this warm and fuzzy sensation. This feeling wears off with time, but it's important to remember at any stage of a relationship that loving someone, and possessing/controlling them are different. This quote helps me think about the complicated ways we try and make sense of love.
4. "There's all kinds of reasons that you fall in love with one person rather than another: Timing is important. Proximity is important. Mystery is important." — Helen Fisher
I love this quote because it emphasizes the importance of allowing for uncertainty in love. We may want to time the act of meeting someone and settling down, or want to control where it happens and why. But sometimes mystery trumps all in love. It's essential to let go of that need for control.
Stage 2: Doubt & Denial
The things we initially fell in love with can begin to annoy us. We become more conditional, less vulnerable and normal troubles begin to show up. These next quotes help remind us that developing patience, communication tact and compassion are necessary skills to help us grow as individuals and succeed at love.
5. "Behind every complaint there is deep personal longing." — John Gottman
The work of relationship is to understand the main idea of this quote with empathy. If Jake complains, "You NEVER hold my hand," he is aching for connection. One of the most important skills we can learn is not to criticize when we want connection. But above all, we can try to understand when the desire to connect is really what's underlying a complaint or blame.
6. "A good marriage is a contest of generosity." — Diane Sawyer
Research shows this again and again: generosity is essential in all aspects of our relationships — hot sex, forgiveness, remembering our partners, like us, deserve what they want to get from us, rather than what we want them get.
7. "Love isn't something natural. Rather it requires discipline, concentration, patience, faith, and the overcoming of narcissism. It isn't a feeling, it is a practice." — Eric Fromm
Falling in love is easy. That's why it's called falling. I did it at 11 for the first time — so how hard can it really be? That said, sustaining the act of loving is a skill set — involving communication skills, self-awareness, adaptiveness and other virtues that wisdom traditions have taught for centuries ... kindness, empathy, acceptance and humor. The list goes on. In effect, this quote sums it up: loving is not just a feeling we "fall" into, but a practice. It takes work, but it's all work that's worth it.
Stage 3: Disillusionment
We become entrenched in what's wrong with the relationship. Repetitive arguments abound, as do low or impossibly matched libidos. Just about everything seems to be a power struggle. Our work here is to find the self we have lost and also find ways to give the relationship a chance to come through this winter season.
8. "Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then."
— Katharine Hepburn
Of course, Hepburn is limiting her idea to heterosexual relationships in the way she puts this quote. But her core belief is about the difference between love and codependency, not gender. For instance, I consider myself to be in a good and long-term marriage. There are times of wonderful togetherness, but other times I just want to go at my pace, with my music and my own company and thoughts. The heart of healthiness in relationship is differentiation, when we master the art of togetherness and solitude. Both are needed and both take time to learn.
9. "Apologizing doesn't always mean you are wrong. Sometimes it means you value your relationships more than your ego." — Unknown
This is a tremendously difficult idea to accept. Most of us hate being wrong, and the idea of apologizing seems totally undesirable. But more often than not, letting go of the need to be right and apologizing with integrity is so much more productive than clinging onto our egos, which can ultimately become toxic.
10. "All my life I've thought I needed someone to complete me, now I know I need to belong to myself." — Sue Monk Kidd, The Mermaid Chair
If you can understand this in your 20s and 30s, you are far ahead of the game. I have to have a "self" first who is whole to love wholeheartedly; otherwise, I would be waiting perpetually, desperately wanting someone else to make me whole. This has never worked, and never will.
Stage 5: Wholehearted Love
This is the final stage, once we've learned we can love from a place of wholeness. Wholehearted love is realizing that there is no other half, we are already whole and enough; it is learning to love from fullness, not emptiness; it is seeing love as a practice and as skill set more than a feeling. A relationship has humor, resiliency, separation and togetherness. We must accept where it doesn't work and where it does all the same.
11. "The strongest relationships are between two people who can live without each other but don't want to." — Harriet Lerner
This sums up the essence of wholehearted love: we are most deeply and healthily connected when we can love from a place of wholeness and abundance, rather than codependency and lack. In other words, we can be alone, though we may not want to be.
12. "I felt amazed at the choosing one had to do, over and over a million times daily — choosing love, then choosing it again ... how loving and being in love could be so different." — Sue Monk Kidd
We sometimes think of our lover as a photograph frozen in time, as though life, and love, aren't changing moment by moment. Being in love gives us a feeling of freedom. Loving is a decision which we sometimes make even when the feeling seems far away.
13. "To be fully seen by somebody, then, and be loved anyhow — this is a human offering that can border on miraculous." ― Elizabeth Gilbert
We all know that thing that happens once we fall in love and enter into a committed relationship: we start out as the best versions of ourselves, and quickly let ourselves be fully seen. The first stage happens because, on some level, we worry about what might happen when our lovers discover the parts of us we judge or wish to change. Then, a funny thing happens. When we find that our partners ultimately accept the parts of us we may have more trouble accepting, they become more acceptable to us. From there, we continue to risk being ourselves more and more.
14. "Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. 'Pooh?' he whispered. 'Yes, Piglet?' 'Nothing,' said Piglet, taking Pooh's hand. 'I just wanted to be sure of you'"― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
This is, perhaps surprisingly, my favorite quote about love above all. Our beloved Piglet of Winnie-the-Pooh reminds us of the vulnerability we all carry inside when we open ourselves up to caring for another person. It is this vulnerability, and our willingness to accept it, that enriches the quality of friendship. And it is this quality of deep friendship that is most essential to every love affair.