Chapter 4 Learning Objectives

Upon reading this chapter, the student should be able to:

  • Express, recognize, and describe their feelings.

Watch this video or scan the QR code to understand more about the science of love.

There are three things, easily overlooked, to keep in mind concerning one’s feelings toward another: (1) there are different kinds of feelings, two broad categories I am particularly interested in being feelings of attraction and feelings of aversion. (I will discuss indifference or not having feelings toward another person later). Within these categories there are such different kinds of attraction as intellectual attraction, physical attraction (which may mean finding a person’s face and/or body attractive but not necessarily sexually stimulating), sexual attraction, emotional attraction, romantic attraction, attraction out of loneliness, attraction out of sympathy or empathy, parental attraction, brotherly attraction, and various unnamed attractions often referred to as simply chemistry or perhaps just referred to as love, loving feelings, or friendship. Likewise, there are feelings of aversion such as intellectual disdain, sexual repulsion, physical repulsion, aversion due to self-withdrawal, dislike of “chemistry” (often usually expressed something like “I don’t know why I dislike the man, I hardly know anything about him; I simply don’t like him.”), and again, probably a number of feelings simply catalogued under hate or having no name at all. These are only some examples of feelings; it is not meant to be an exhaustive list.

And feelings may be directed even more specifically than these—one may be attracted toward another’s mental capacities in one area, such as business, but not in another, such as philosophy; attracted toward another’s face but not their legs, or vice-versa. One may narrow the focus even further and be attracted to the way someone talks about educational philosophy but not to the way they talk about political philosophy.

There is no reason that one cannot have feelings of aversion and feelings of attraction toward the same person at the same time. For example, one might be sexually attracted toward another, but so intellectually repelled by them that the hope is the partner will keep quiet in bed, if indeed the conversation does not prevent them from getting there. This particular combination seems fairly common in fact. Or, of course, one might have a friend one is intellectually attracted to or fascinated by in some area(s) but in whom one has not the slightest sexual interest. This is, of course, true of friends of the same sex who have no homosexual interests, but it can also be true of any friends of the opposite sex who just simply are not sexually attracted to each other. [In this book, unless I state otherwise, or unless it is obviously not the case, what I say about relationships will fit any relationship, whether heterosexual or homosexual, professional or personal, romantic or familial, or whatever.]

(2) The second thing to keep in mind about feelings is that many, if not all, of the different kinds of feelings, occur in various degrees. There are various degrees of sexual attraction or aversion, intellectual attraction or aversion, etc. There are no names for these various degrees, usually, outside of such a continuum as I loathe him, I hate him, I dislike him a lot, I dislike him, I don’t really care about him one way or the other, I like him, I like him a lot, I really like him, I love him, I am really crazy about him. Or, there are degree statements such as “I’d go to the ends of the earth for you but would only stay there X long,” where X represents some period of time commensurate with the strength of the feelings of attraction. There are various vulgar, erotic, or funny— depending on your mood or point of view—measurements of sexual attraction characterized by the degree of sexual arousal one evokes, as measured in some physical characteristic(s) of that arousal that can be observed or quantified. There is also, from time to time, the attempt to standardize a woman’s attractiveness mathematically–the numbers 1-10 (or 11) since the movie “10”, but prior to that, in terms of the number of milli-Helens. Since Helen of Troy had the beauty to launch a thousand ships, one milli-Helen is the beauty to launch one ship. (Some girls then might be a 348; others a 652, or 0.5, etc.) But for the most part, the strength of one’s feelings of attraction or aversion toward another, though often known inwardly obvious or easily discerned by others, has no standardized conventional verbal description. “How much do I love you” is a very meaningful question (if the aspect at issue here is a feeling or attraction), even if a verbal answer, particularly one specifying some sort of meaningful measurement, is difficult to state.

(3) It must also be kept in mind, something that seems easily forgotten, that no particular feeling often lasts for a very long time, the amount of time being dependent, at least in part, upon the immediate circumstances of the person with the feeling. For example, the way a woman feels toward her husband after making love with him is quite likely different from the way she feels toward him when she is playing golf, doing dishes, writing or reading a book, or worrying about getting to an appointment on time. If she is an attorney, she may have no feelings whatsoever about her husband while she is digging precedents out of a law library or cross-examining a witness. In short, other things often occupy our minds and/or influence our feelings toward other people; and quite often we don’t even have feelings toward either loved ones or adversaries when our minds are on other things. Certainly the lady lawyer might have feelings of some sort were she to be thinking about her husband, but insofar as she is not, she does not.

Scenario I

Imagine you are looking for a lifelong mate. What attributes, qualities, or other elements are you seeking in a mate — particularly a lifelong mate?  Why are those particular qualities important to you?  Do you think any of them are important in general or to everyone for a relationship being a good and lasting one?  Do you look for or accept other attributes or elements for friendships or for going out with someone?  If so, is that not in some way lowering your expectations or wasting time in the search for a mate, or is it okay to (‘using actor Paul Newman’s phrase’) settle for hamburger, even short term, instead of seeking steak.  (The context in which he used the phrase was in reference to never even being interested in cheating on his wife, Joanne Woodward, “because why go out for hamburger when you have steak at home?”  But I am asking why even be interested in hamburger for a date if you are looking for a mate with higher qualities or value).
Lunch in the Car-Hylan Boulevard, Staten Island 06/1973

The U.S. National Archives Follow
Lunch in the Car-Hylan Boulevard, Staten Island 06/1973
Original Caption: Lunch in the Car-Hylan Boulevard, Staten Island 06/1973
U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: 412-DA-5364
Photographer: Tress, Arthur, 1940-
Persistent URL: catalog.archives.gov/id/547851
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Use Restrictions: Unrestricted

Attraction in General

In light of the transitory nature of specific feelings or “episodes” of feeling, it is not the case, and it should not be expected to be the case, that for a person to have an attraction or aversion (in general) toward someone means they always are actually experiencing the feeling of that, or any, attraction or aversion for them. Neither, I think, does it mean that they would have that or some feeling were they to think of that person. One might only be distracted from an important task if they were to start thinking loving thoughts about a loved one, and thus, out of conscientiousness, seek to keep such feelings and thoughts out of the way. Or a person who is extremely tired or under stress might not be able to think lovingly about his loved one, even if he wanted to. Further, one might be temporarily angry with or disappointed by a loved one, and that feeling might outweigh any “general” feelings of love he has.

Sometimes, people seem to get feelings of attraction at the strangest times, for seemingly no reason, toward their loved ones, and often not to get them under what would seem to be the most conducive conditions. Attraction might arise in a bomb shelter and may not appear in the most seemingly romantic of restaurants. Some people become very sexually aroused just by being in a hotel with a loved one; others find that environment too artificial, contrived, or institutional to get very sexually excited. Further, conditions that may stimulate feelings of attraction for one person toward another, may not stimulate that person’s attraction toward a different person, even if that person is equally loved. (Say, a widow who remarries may find two different (kinds of) environments romantic with her different husbands.) Hence, I think it doubtful then that we could mean by two person’s being attracted (in general) to each other that they experience feelings of attraction for each other under certain conditions.

It would be better, though not totally accurate, to mean by “A is attracted (in general) to B” that A often has particular feelings of attraction toward B and/or that A often has them under some or many of the kinds of conditions that are normal (in that culture) for people who often have particular feelings of attraction toward others.

Unfortunately, even this characterization, because it involves some sense of normalcy of having feelings, does not allow for the wide variety of individual differences involving feelings that people have. While one person may feel terribly romantic at one time at a candlelight dinner with wine and soft music, another person (or the same person at another time) may feel the situation so contrived or so demanding of romantic feelings that he can have none. Some people may feel terribly loving at the resolution of an argument with a loved one, while others may not feel so loving, but would rather seek time to heal from the wounds earlier inflicted or from one’s own shameful behavior in the argument. One person may feel very close to another after a particular shared experience (say, seeing a certain poignant movie) while the other may feel the need to withdraw and contemplate the experience in quiet isolation. There are those who after intercourse feel especially affectionate and want to cuddle more and perhaps talk, while there are those who at that time would rather turn over and go to sleep.

How often then, or when, should people have specific feelings of attraction for each other in order to be correctly said to be attracted to each other (in general)? Aside from the impossibility of it being all the time, it would seem that it needs simply to be at least as much as is reasonable to expect, allowing for the emotional constitution of each and the circumstances they are in. Some people simply feel affectionate, or have feelings of attraction, more often or more easily than others. And at any given time or period in life, any given person may find himself or herself in circumstances more or less conducive to his or her having romantic feelings. Hence, to say that A is attracted to B (in general) (as opposed to feeling attracted at just some particular moment), should mean something like “A often has particular feelings of attraction toward B under conditions that are normal (in that culture) for people who have such feelings toward others—with some consideration to be allowed for A’s responses in general to such conditions.” So that if, say candlelight is not generally conducive to a romantic feeling for A, it should not be a sign of his not feeling attracted in general to his companion just because he does not feel attracted toward her in some particular candlelit setting where all other couples’ feelings are waxing romantic. One should not have to feel attractions or romantic feelings in settings that perhaps most others do. One may have his or her own kinds of settings or conditions under which attraction flourishes for someone, if it is ever to do so for them at all. I myself seem to become particularly attracted quite often when a woman displays wit, barbed and playful but not unkind humor, and intellectual insight or prowess; this can be more sexually or emotionally stimulating than any amount of candlelight and cuisine in a cozy restaurant. Other men are obviously often different from me.

However, I think there is some need to consider cultural norms in that it would seem odd if, say, a fellow only felt attracted (even if this is a frequent occurrence for him) when he saw his companion in a robe and curlers and not under any other normally conducive circumstances. Or if an exceedingly “cold” person were to feel some spark toward another, which may be a milestone for him, but hardly a blip for someone else, would we say that either of these comparatively unusual fellows was in general attracted to the object of his affections? My definition does not give a clear answer to these kinds of cases, but then neither does ordinary language or our ordinary notions about attraction or love. But at least with my analysis, we can verbally describe the relationship to others without having to state, one way or the other, whether A is attracted in general, or loves, his companion or not. Instead we can say it is not so simple as that; that A is attracted to B whenever, but only whenever B is in curlers. Or that A has more and stronger feelings of attraction for B than he ever had for anyone else, but that it is not very often nor very strong compared to most people. That describes all there is to describe; there is no need to try to add then whether A could be accurately said to be attracted in general to B (or in love with B) or not. That addition under the circumstances would be so vague as to convey no message accurately. I think my characterization of general attraction is not particularly more nebulous than the notion itself, and my explanation of that characterization certainly brings to light the kinds of things one can say in order to be more specific when it is important to be specific.

Understanding Specific Feelings

I think it is true that unless one has felt a particular kind of feeling, or something very similar, one cannot know exactly what that feeling is like. This is so even if you can accurately identify someone’s having a feeling from their external behavior without having experienced that feeling yourself. You can identify it because someone before named such behavior as typifying that kind of feeling. So that a little child might be able to identify an older sibling’s being in puppy love because he then “acts goofy” whereas otherwise he does not. But that is not to know firsthand what the feeling feels like. This is true even of some particular pain someone else might have, though you may have experienced pain of a different sort yourself. Therefore, if a young person, has not experienced romantic feelings toward another person, it may be difficult to explain or describe (the feeling of) love to him or her. Poetry or movies may be of some help here to possibly induce the feeling and show what it is like; but more likely they will only help illuminate the feeling for someone who has already actually experienced it. Hence this discussion will be of little value to one who has never experienced feelings of attraction, or the kinds of feelings I will be talking about. It is only after such experiences (or at least something sufficiently close to them) that such a discussion can help sort out whatever puzzling problems there might be about them.

This is not to say one has to have had all these kinds of feelings to appreciate most of what is said here. I myself, for example, am not sure I have had the kind of feelings I name here as physical (apart from sexual) attraction in the way some of my (female) students indicate they have. They were the ones who wanted to make this distinction and who have felt it and therefore understand it. They talk about it in terms of wanting to watch the other person and admire his beauty without it being sexual in any way; yet it is somehow attracting. I am not sure that I have felt that way toward a person, though sometimes I meet people I wish to photograph because of their beauty and because I think I can get a beautiful photograph that captures and reflects it. I may even stare at them sometimes, but I couldn’t say I was attracted to them. In fact, I know I have taken what I thought were exquisite portraits of extremely beautiful women for whom I did not feel the slightest attraction. In that case, it was not unlike taking pictures of beautiful sunsets, landscapes or still-lifes. I found them fascinating to look at for a time, and fascinating to have as a subject, seeking the best angles and light direction, etc., in order to create a good picture, but was not in any way drawn toward them in what I would consider to be a feeling of attraction. As Cervantes wrote in Don Quixote: “All kinds of beauty do not inspire love; there is a kind which only pleases the sight, but does not captivate the affections” (Roberts, 1940, p. 58). But, as I said, many of my female students have said they can discern a feeling of physical attraction that is not related to romantic, sexual, or emotional attraction, but is a kind of attraction just to the way a man looks.

And I make a distinction also between emotional attraction and romantic attraction that many men seem not to understand. One type I often have experienced is what I call my Tuesday Weld complex—the tender, protective, emotional attraction I get for almost any girl or woman who has that vulnerable, fragile, almost-but-not-quite pouting look on her face reminiscent to me of the Tuesday Weld look from her early movies and photographs. It involves a feeling to comfort her in my arms, and make everything all right. And though there is sometimes a slight sexual feeling also involved, it is not at all primary.

One can understand the distinction of sexual attraction that is not romantic or even emotional, in terms of, say, a fantasy about someone that one might find very sexually arousing but who one knows one would not really want to have much to do with, sexually or otherwise, in real life or under any normal circumstances. It is the kind of fantasy where one knows he or she enjoys thinking about having sex with the person more than he or she would enjoy actually having sex with the person. In fact, the latter joy might be known most likely not to occur even if the opportunity did; hence the fantasy is simply enjoyed as a fantasy, and is not sought to be turned into a reality.

And one can separate romantic feelings, or loving feelings, from sexual attraction in other ways too. For example, if one has a feeling of tenderness for or of wanting to be around or to caress another even after all sexual desires have been fulfilled (say, just after a very satisfying sexual time together), then this seems different from such feelings that involve just wanting to have sex with someone whom you have no feeling for afterward and whom you cannot wait to leave, even if this also involves wanting to hold and caress them before sex with them.

Intellectual attraction is fairly easy to separate from other sorts of attractions like sexual or physical attractions in that it can usually be fulfilled by letters or telephone or other sorts of communications where each person’s intellect or thoughts can be stimulated by the other without their being together physically. And one can be intellectually stimulated by a roommate, parent or sibling without thereby having homosexual or incestuous tendencies. Intellectual attraction is more for another person’s ideas or mind than toward their body or physical presence. One of the stranger cases of this for me was when I came across Jane Austen’s novels at the age of 37, devoured all of them in quick succession because of her warmth, wit, charm, perceptiveness, and style of expression and then found myself for the longest time thinking about the lady herself, missing her, and deeply lamenting her death (though she was much more than 150 years my senior), and disappointed she had no opportunity to write me more of her thoughts.

Of course, one may be attracted to another person in more than one way, and sometimes one sort of attraction, such as intellectual, may lead to another, say sexual, though, as in the above example of roommates and relatives, that is not necessary. In fact, quite a lot of attractions may lead to sexual attraction. But it also works the other way around as well; initial sexual attraction may lead to, or be accompanied by, emotional or intellectual attraction. All kinds of attractions may accompany one another or induce one another; but they need not. Since they can occur independently, I think they can be considered to be independent. And certainly they may be thought about as separate entities for purposes of analyzing them in order to understand one’s relationships and one’s self better. It is important to be able to distinguish one’s feelings so that one might act appropriately in regard to them. This is harder for young, or otherwise inexperienced, people since they have not always had a great number of kinds of feelings of attraction for other people, and so may not realize the variety of attractions they might be able to have. It is easy for them perhaps to mistake, say, their own gratitude toward another for love, or to mistake the actions of another as those expressing desire instead of simply the kindness intended.

It is also difficult, and often disastrous, for people who think there is only one kind of attraction and so who get unnecessarily perplexed when they have, for someone other than the only person they feel they should truly love, what are “only” feelings of intellectual attraction but which they think must be some kind of attraction of a more intimate sort. Likewise for people who may get jealous when their spouse becomes intellectually stimulated by another for the same reason. Likewise with perhaps other sorts of feelings of attraction. One might find oneself with natural emotional feelings about more than one person at the same time and then feel not as monogamous as one thinks one should. Yet those feelings may not be romantic

ones, but simply feelings of close friendship about which no one should feel ashamed. This is not to consider here (but to save for later) questions concerning actual romantic feelings toward more than one person (at the same time). I think many college students mistake intellectual attraction for a teacher — finding the teacher intellectually stimulating or finding his/her classroom personality and style fascinating and impressive — as romantic attraction. And it is important to be able to understand one’s feelings and emotions in order to understand what behavior they might warrant. It is also important to understand other people’s feelings. It would hardly be right, say, to take sexual advantage of another’s feelings of gratitude or a student’s intellectual attraction just because the other person or student confused those feelings with romantic or sexual attraction or with feelings of love. And this is not even to talk of understanding one’s emotions simply for the personal sake of self-knowledge apart from any actions they may involve or engender. I myself think such self-knowledge is important and interesting.

And I do not see how Rollo May’s four categories help much. Considering just feelings alone, how do the distinctions among eros, agape, philia, and/or lust fit into the situation of wanting to play tennis with someone but not to go to a movie with them, or of wanting to go to bed with someone, but not while you are in the middle of an exciting tv show or book. Is it agape or philia if you stop to change a stranger’s flat tire when you have time, but neither when you don’t because you are late to an important appointment. What about temporary anger or disappointment when a loved one displeases you or does something wrong? What about when you are engrossed in work or play to the extent you are not even thinking about another person? Couldn’t you still be one who loves them? I think there are too many kinds of feelings and situations and too many combinations of feelings of attraction and aversion to try to combine them meaningfully in just a few simple categories.

Feelings Concerning Others, Other Than Attraction and Aversion

For my purposes, feelings of attraction and aversion will play an important part in this book, but it is important to recognize that we can have, and often do have, other sorts of feelings concerning ourselves and other people. Some of these feelings I put into five broad categories: feelings toward your own actions; feelings toward the actions of others; feelings toward others; feelings toward yourself; and feelings arising out of others’ circumstances and feelings.

For example, you might feel guilty or ashamed about something you have done to cause a friend a problem (or glee at causing an enemy a problem)—feelings toward your own actions. You might feel angry or embarrassed at something a friend or enemy has done—feelings toward another’s actions. This is different, I think, from being, say angry with the person; for example, someone you might love and respect might do exactly the same thing as someone you regard less highly, and though you might deplore or be angered by the actions of both, your feelings toward your friend may be only one of disappointment, while you might be very angry with the other person. Or you may be angry with your friend but may not be with the other person whose actions in this case you might only dismiss as another typical example of his impossible behavior.

More clear-cut feelings toward other people, as opposed to their actions, are feelings of comfortableness or discomfort in their presence, feelings of respect, awe, or admiration, feelings of kindness, gentleness, or protectiveness toward them, though maybe not for any particular thing(s) they have done, and maybe even in spite of things they have done. This may be because of the way they look, or it may just be a matter of your combined “chemistries” or some long- forgotten experience of which they trigger stirrings.

Feelings toward yourself are those such as self-doubt, self-respect, self-hate or self like (in spite, or because, of what you do). They may be inspired by comparisons of yourself with others or by what others have said to you or about you, and to that extent have a relational aspect; or you may have feelings of pride, fear, doubt, or joy concerning whether a loved one loves you or not; or feelings of regret that someone does like you and you cannot reciprocate.

Other sorts of feelings are simply the joy you might take in—the joys of loved ones or the problems of those you intensely dislike. Or the sorrow you feel for the grief and suffering of loved ones, and jealousy, disdain, or resentment in the joys of adversaries. And, as philosopher Thomas Nagel has pointed out, feelings can build upon themselves or other feelings too. The excitement you feel in being stimulated by another person in some way, and by stimulating them, is often made further pleasurable and exciting by the knowledge you do excite them and they do enjoy exciting you and being excited by you, etc.,etc., in a kind of rising spiral.

Other Feelings

Finally, there are feelings one can have that have little or nothing to do with relationships: feelings of apathy, energy, tiredness, listlessness, boredom, withdrawal or wanting to be alone, nausea, sickness of one sort or another, feelings of coming unglued or falling apart, feelings of pulling yourself back together again, and many more.

More than one feeling may be experienced at a time; for example, pride in another’s accomplishments and at the same time fear that you will not be able to measure up to his or her new “worth.” Or, for example, remorse and guilt over an action of your own, and yet simultaneous anger and disappointment that your friends do not sympathize with or understand your feelings and behavior, or that they do not see your mistake as an aberration rather than as the result of a flawed character trait.

Various feelings may also accompany feelings of attraction and aversion. Easily seen together are anger toward a person one does not like in the first place anyway. But one can also be angry with a loved one and, in some rare moments, find oneself feeling both angry and loving toward that person simultaneously. It is especially important, as will be discussed later with regard to commitment in a love relationship, that one should be able to distinguish one’s own, and others’, feelings and be able to understand that they can often be experienced simultaneously or in quick succession of each other. One does not want to mistake, say, anger (which can be temporary and directed at something quite specific) for some more permanent kind of loss of feeling of attraction or concern for the other, and then behave or react in a compounding or devastating, inappropriate manner.

Some kinds of feelings may be difficult to distinguish. One of my students said he used to steal empty soft drink bottles and return them to stores for deposit refunds. He “stole” them out of trash cans. He said he used to feel guilty about doing it even though he felt it was not really wrong to do it. I suspect what he really felt was not guilt (which I think first requires a belief of wrong-doing), but fear that he would get caught and punished. Sometimes, such fear feels very much like feelings of guilt. And it is often hard to distinguish between them because sometimes you have to wait until you are secure from discovery to see whether you still have the feeling—if you do, it was probably a feeling of guilt, since you are still guilty, though safe; if you do not, then it was probably fear of discovery.

Feelings play such a great part in relationships and in life that it is important to be able to analyze and understand them so that you and your loved ones can strive to eliminate the avoidable, harmful, and unpleasant ones, and so that you can respond appropriately and beneficially to your own feelings and those of others. Being able to understand and analyze your own feelings can also be a pleasurable end in itself, as well as being useful in promoting better feelings.

Describing Feelings

In order for you to be better able to get along with others concerning the areas of feelings, it is often important for you to be able to communicate your feelings to them and to be able to appreciate the descriptions of their feelings, sometimes having to elicit those descriptions from them. Since, as mentioned earlier, few feelings have names that express adequately their description and intensity, often one must use indirect means to explain or understand them.

There are a number of ways to do this. Some feelings, such as anger, easily lend themselves to expression in the form of fist pounding, lamp throwing, yelling, etc. Unfortunately, although that might show you are angry, it does not always show whom you are angry with (it might even be yourself, though you appear to be taking it out on someone else) or what you are angry about, and, moreover, it can easily tend to lead to (further) hostility, rather than understanding on the part of the one facing your wrath. It is usually better (from a relationship point of view— assuming you are dealing with someone who cares how you feel about this matter and who would like to set it right, even if they were the offending party to begin with) if you can gently verbally explain to another how angry you are and what the cause is. (If you are dealing with someone extremely obtuse or extremely uncaring, then this may all be a futile gesture and, in order to get redress, you might have to end up pounding your fist and slamming doors or whatever to show that you really are displeased, and just how much.) This can be done often in the same way that other feelings can be explained, first by giving the closest descriptive name, if there is one, that you can (e.g., anger or disappointment) and then narrowing it down even further to show the specific feeling and its intensity in any of the following ways. (These ways would also be useful to begin with, if what you feel does not have a name that you know.) (1) In the case of something like anger, instead of throwing something, you might simply say you are so angry you feel you could pick up the desk and throw it out the window. In other words, instead of doing some extreme action that might be characteristic of how you feel, you could simply describe the action you feel like doing. (2) If the other person has been in this state of mind before, you might remind them of the time and circumstances and their feelings. (3) You can describe the circumstances, as you saw them, that led you to your feelings, perhaps thereby leading your listener to nearly the same state of mind, or leading him to see what yours might be. (4) You could perhaps cite literary passages or scenes from movies or television that captured or express similar feelings. (5) You could act out the feelings— for example, you could throw something you know will not break in a direction you know will not do any damage or harm, pretending to be in a rage, and then immediately, in a calm, rational voice, say, “And that is about how I feel about this,” showing that you were not really in a rage but just pretending to be.

With any or all of these efforts, the other person might still not understand how you feel, and you may have to try to think up whatever method you can as time goes by, to get your point across if it is a matter that is important to pursue. Someday, you may be together watching a movie with a scene portraying your past indescribable mood, and you will then have the means to describe it. “Remember when I …; well that’s it, that’s it!!!”

Trying to describe and communicate one’s feelings can be very difficult and exasperating; but it can be extremely rewarding, particularly when success is hard won. The better you can discuss and describe your feelings, the better you will be able to understand them and their origins or causes, and the better you will be able to help someone else describe theirs to you and deal with them. Feelings are not always as straightforward as they seem to be. I will discuss jealousy and also the pleasure of physical contact later in this book to give some examples of this. At this point, however, I would like to try to give a description, not an analysis of its causes, but simply a description of one important kind of feeling of attraction— romantic attraction.

Romantic Attraction

There are two meanings to the terms romance, romantic attraction, romantic feelings, romantic love. One is the general sense used in order merely to distinguish the kind of love or feelings between, say, married or engaged couples on the one hand from familial love, brotherly love, friendship, etc. The second sense, and the one which I wish to try to describe here, is the more specific reference to a kind of excitement and/or passion or passionate attraction. It is this sense of the word, not the first, that is meant in a sentence such as “although we still love each other, even more than when we first married, there is not the kind of romance in our relationship that there used to be.” Sometimes when people distinguish between loving and being “in love” they mean by being “in love” this second — more passionate, magical, exciting, and gripping — kind of state.

Romantic love, in this specific sense of exciting, magical, passionate, or breathtaking kind of feeling of attraction or love, is not the only kind of feeling of attraction or feeling of love, even for someone you might strongly want to marry, but it is a typical, often sought, kind of feeling about which there is at least one important misconception, and on which there is, in western society, perhaps too much of a wrong kind of emphasis in its relation to marriage.

Although very young children may not be able to experience and understand romantic feelings, I do not think one has to be very old to have some experience with them, with the kind of feelings that love or infatuation involve. I can remember having romantic feelings toward a girl in my second grade class. I couldn’t wait to be around her. We walked places together, talked together, played checkers together. I enjoyed all of that, and I would think about it and her again at night when I was alone in my room. It was difficult to get her out of my mind, and I didn’t particularly want her out of my mind anyway. Of course, then, for a second grader, it was not very masculine or popular to like girls, so I never shared my thoughts and feelings and even some of my dreams about her with anyone, not even her. And, of course, I did not recognize these feelings as romantic ones or think about them in those terms, but I could look back on them later as not being very unlike the kinds of feelings toward girls and women that I did recognize as romantic.

This kind of case is also one example of why I believe that romantic feelings do not have to involve any sorts of sexual feelings, though often (but not always) at later ages the two do occur together. I didn’t have any sorts of sexual feelings or even desires to hold her in my arms or to cuddle with her—or anyone, at that age. Sexual feelings, when they did arise, even at that age, and a bit later, were not associated with anyone in particular, and not for a long while with the girls I felt romantic about and tended to put on a pristine pedestal. When I was 10 or eleven years old, I found that nude or nearly nude pictures of women in Playboy, Life magazine, National Geographic, or Rubens’ paintings could arouse certain sexual feelings; but that had nothing to do with love or romance; and the way I felt about any real girl in a pretty cotton dress with a pony tail or pageboy hair style had nothing to do with those sorts of (sexual) feelings. And even today, it is fairly easy to distinguish romantic and emotional feelings from feelings of sexual attraction. And although both sorts of feelings may have the same object at the same time, they don’t always.

In Romeo and Juliet, there seems to me to be a feeling of romance and even of the desire for physical contact and tenderness of touch by Romeo for Juliet which is yet devoid of sexual desire or longings. It is expressed by him when he sees her from a distance he cannot then shorten, and feels:

“See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand! O, that I were a glove upon that hand,

That I might touch that cheek.” (Rom. 2.2.23-25)

When Juliet awaits Romeo for their wedding night, her feelings of sexual or physical attraction are made apparent in part of her soliloquy, but that is hardly the main element of their love for each other. And even in that soliloquy, there is no sexuality, but only enchanted affection, implied in lines like:

“Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die, Take him, and cut him out in little stars,

And he will make the face of heaven so fine, That all the world will be in love with night,

And pay no worship to the garish sun.” (3.2.21-25)

I think particularly in young love, and particularly in many natural cases where young people cannot imagine sex to be anything but disgusting (which is the way many people feel about it when they first hear about it…”gads, why would anybody want to do that?!”), sexual attraction simply is not an element, or is hardly the most important element, in the kinds of feelings that do occur. This is also true at times in the relationships of people who are not children. Not all walks in the park together on a rainy day lead to the bedroom or even the desire for that. Nor may affectionate admiration for someone’s professional, athletic, moral, or intellectual ability spark sexual arousal. People incapable of (further) sex are still capable of affection and tenderness; and particularly after quite satisfying sex, one might feel both the most loving tenderness toward one’s partner and no desire at all for (further) sex. I will say more about this later.

And just as romantic feelings of attraction may accompany (but do not require) sexual feelings of attraction toward the same person, so may such romantic feelings also either accompany or fail to accompany (for there is no necessary relationship here either) other feelings of attraction — intellectual (being drawn toward someone’s intellect or toward someone because of their intellect), artistic or creative (being drawn toward someone’s artistic sensitivity or ideas or drawn to the person because of his or her artistic traits), “fatherly” or protective, or whatever. Romantic feelings are different from these though they may occur at the same time with all or any of them, or with other feelings.

At any rate, though in some cases sexual attraction may be a part of love or may accompany romantic attraction, it is not, even then, necessarily its sole or its most important component. Other aspects are things like simply feeling great about the world and other people. As the song goes, sometimes “Everybody loves a lover. I’m a lover; everybody loves me; and I love everybody, since I fell in love with you.” Or as John Byrom wrote: in A Pastoral:

“When things were as fine as could possibly be, I thought ’twas the spring; but alas it was she.” (cited in Roberts, 1940, p. 466)

Many movies show people jumping or running about or dancing cheerfully, often while exuberantly shouting. There is often the feeling of simply finding one’s thoughts turned frequently and happily toward the loved one; often wanting to be near the loved one, or at least in contact with their thoughts through phone or letter, or in contact with their image as in dreams, for without such dreams, even sleep can seem an impediment to being together. Again, Juliet, when time has come for Romeo either to leave or to be caught by her family:

“‘Tis almost morning; I would have thee gone And yet no further than a wanton’s bird; Who lets it hop a little from her hand,

Like a poor prisoner in his twisted gyves, And with a silk thread plucks it back again, So loving-jealous of his liberty.” (2.2.177-182)

The opposite of all this, of course, is bottomless woe and/or anger at the obstacles when love is frustrated or when desirous of return is unreturned, or when lovers yearning to be together are kept apart. (Love is not always desired to be returned, or even known; in some cases, loving secretly from afar can be a very, very sweet feeling.)

“He who falls in love meets a worse fate than he who leaps from a rock.”—Plautus (cited in Roberts, 1940, p. 476).

“Could I love less, I would be happier now.”—Phillip James Bailey (cited in Roberts, 1940, p. 464).

“Love is a thing full of anxious fears.”—Ovid (cited in Roberts, 1940, p. 475).

“By heaven, I do love: and it hath taught me to rhyme, and to be melancholy” (Shakespeare, Love Labour’s Lost, 4. 3. 13-15).

“I loved you and my love had no return,/ and therefore my true love has been my death.”—Tennyson, Lancelot and Elaine (cited in Roberts 1940, p. 482).

“She never told her love, But let her concealment, like a worm i’ the bud, feed on her damask cheek; she pin’d in thought, And with a green and yellow melancholy. She sat like patience on a monument, Smiling at grief” (Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, 2. 4. 114-118).

And, of course, the death of a loved one causes the deepest of sorrows and is one of the greatest losses. Lovers being kept apart is one of the oldest, saddest, most powerful, and most recurrent themes in literature and film.

For the insecure there is often a feeling of being unworthy of having a loved one, simultaneous with the wondrous feeling that life now, because of finding a loved one, has the greatest value. Hawthorne: “What a sweet reverence is that when a young man deems his mistress a little more than mortal and almost chides himself for longing to bring her close to his heart.” (The Marble Faun, cited in Roberts, 1940, p. 469)

People in romantic love often tend to grin a lot when in their beloved’s company. Among shy persons, sometimes embarrassment is common. A statement true often enough to be an interesting insight is to be found in Jean De La Bruyere’s Le Caracteres: “The beginning and end of love are marked by embarrassment when the two find themselves alone”(cited in Roberts, 1940, p. 471).

People in romantic love often (but not always) want to give things to their beloved; they often like to buy or make presents, or write things (love letters, poetry, books, music) for their beloved. They often like to do things for their beloved. Often they find pleasure in making their beloved happy. Often they find sorrow in not being able to do these things.

I will show later that it is difficult or impossible to see exactly what it is that inspires us to such feelings or desires for another, what exactly it is that incites such passions, such actions, such thoughts, such pleasures in success and such sorrow in failure. Certainly we feel no electricity when we touch or think about someone we do not care for in this way. Nor even do we vicariously feel such enchantment when we see others feel this way about someone we dislike or find repugnant. But one thing is certain—when one is smitten by romantic love, when one falls in romantic love, that magic, that aura, that enchantment, passion, excitement, anticipation (and sometimes devastating disappointment and frustration), that warm glow of joy, cannot be doubted. And though it may never be clear what it is that makes us feel this way, there will be no doubt who it is that makes us feel this way.

Key Takeaways

  • Identify that there are many different kinds of feelings involved in relationships and being able to differentiate them, even on the basis of subtle differences and distinctions.

Key Terms

  • Attraction involves wanting to be in contact with another person in some manner or other to some degree, whether in proximity or in communication with them.
  • Aversion involves to some degree not wanting to be in contact with another person.
  • Indifference involves not caring whether one is around the other person or not, in any particular form or, for any particular purpose.

Chapter 4 Review Questions

  • Question: What things, easily overlooked, should be kept in mind concerning one’s feelings toward another?
  • Question: What settings or conditions may cause attraction to flourish?
  • Question: How do you explain the phenomenon that although some people after a divorce or breakup of a longtime marriage or relationship marry or get into a relationship with someone similar to their first mate, while many people seek and marry someone totally different? Do you think that if your first marriage or long term full relationship ended, you would seek someone very similar or someone very different?
  • Question: If it is a person’s qualities or attributes that make you attracted to them romantically, how is that a representation of their personality?


Chapter 4 The Emotional Aspect— Feelings Copyright © 2017 by jhill5 and Richard Garlikov. All Rights Reserved.

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