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Love between the Sexes

( Originally Published 1957 )



Two Kinds of Love

THE IMPORTANCE of the difference between sexual love and what we have here called "love between the sexes" was stressed at an earlier place. Since the distinction appears most clearly in the writings of H. T. Finck, a brief review of his treatment may serve as preface to some contemporary discussions of non-sexual love.

As an erudite amateur in the study of the amorous emotion, Finck, though not always scientific in attitude, marked himself a pioneer in this field of sex behavior. After exploring many sources he concluded that despite a universal belief to the contrary, sexual love is an emotion which has developed through the ages instead of being, as he himself had once thought, "too much part and parcel of human nature to have ever been different from what it is today." (5) Only after examining thousands of volumes in American and continental libraries, he tells us, did he find his surmise concerning the modernity of sexual love to be confirmed. That no one else had made the discovery he traced to a failure to see the important difference between the romantic passion and the more enduring bond that grows, with time, in marriage.

Sexual love is, for Finck, a name for several different feelings, sentiments, and impulses bound together. First among them are the aesthetic emotion aroused by personal beauty and the kindly feelings that are expressed in unselfish acts of self-sacrifice and gallantry. The response to personal beauty, never to be confused with sensual desire, is practically a new sense, a new product of social evolution. Feminine beauty, among "savages and Orientals," is largely synonymous with traits that arouse physical sexuality. The same must be said, Finck feels forced to admit, of the majority of Europeans and Americans; the higher appreciation of beauty, he thinks, is still a rare capacity. Nevertheless, such appreciation is the central interest of his first book on the subject.

A change in Finck's view of sexual love was mentioned earlier. In his first statement he had proposed aesthetic admiration as "by far the most important" element of the amorous state. In his second volume, several years later, he shifted his emphasis in the direction of the "altruistic" factor.

His method is to show the growth of the different feelings and sentiments of which the amorous state is composed. Admiration for example, was impossible during ages when woman's status was that of an inferior creature. He then considers in turn the sexual behavior of various peoples, "pointing out everywhere the absence of the altruistic, supersensual traits which constitute the essence of romantic love as distinguished from sensual passion." (6) In examining information from a great variety of primitive, ancient, and oriental sources, he repeatedly rejects cases of supposed "romantic" love on the ground that evidence of altruistic feeling is lacking. This he varies with an occasional judgment that what might on the surface look like an aesthetic response to "supersensual" beauty is in reality but a mark of lustful desire.

Application of the altruistic test led Finck into some curious results, sometimes proving, as William James observed, the opposite of what he intended. A few samples may be noted. In considering classical ancient and modern examples in which men have risked their lives for what he doubtfully refers to as "love," he raises the question, with an air of reproving solemnity, whether these heroes had truly experienced a "disinterested affection," such as a mother may feel for her child, for the objects of their passion, and whether they would similarly have risked everything solely for the welfare of their sweet-hearts without gain of any kind for themselves. The verdict, he finds, is that such passion is too clearly "sensual and selfish" to deserve to be called romantic love. Of this emotion he finds no trace in the literature of the ancient world, at least in the form in which moderns know it. Elsewhere he rejects certain amorous hyperboles as signs of true passion on the ground that the poet reveals only his own pleasure in the lady's beauty, without a trace of intention "that he is eager to give her pleasure; . . . that he would be willing to sacrifice his own pleasure for her, as a mother . . . would for a child."

In reviewing a collection of ancient Hindu love poems Finck found evidence of strong individual preference, "ardent longing" for the presence of the lover, professed grief, even to thoughts of death, over his absence. He felt forced to grant, at one point, that there might be a "higher phase" of sexual love, even without the altruistic note. For the rest, however, he continued to apply his touchstone to the expressions of amorous emotion, and to rule them out as no more than "possessive passion." Either it did not occur to him that there could be a sexual interest that was not sensual or he had forgotten the theme of his early study. It is obvious that his view of sexual love as a complex of several different feelings was an asset in defending his argument that sexual love did not exist until modern times. When attacked on one "front" the amorous experience as an aesthetic sentiment he was able to retreat to another the altruistic impulse. Our judgment on Finck's work must be equally clear: that what we have termed the amorous emotion is the only authentically sexual kind of love (its antiquity often indicated by Finck's own materials), and that the kind of love to which he resorted as his final standard of the sexual emotion is, somewhat ironically, not sexual at all.

The "altruistic" impulse is, nevertheless, commonly enough included in present-day discussions of sexual love, under such labels as "tender emotion," "affection," or "true love," as to be taken as an essential of this emotion, or even as equivalent to it, when added to the genital impulse. "True" love, says Leon Saul, ". . . implies that the content of the sexual feeling is largely unselfish interest in the loved person, with impulses to give to her or him of one's own energies and even to make sacrifices and take on responsibilities for the loved one." Again, "One can speak of love," according to Fenichel, "only when consideration of the object goes so far that one's own satisfaction is impossible without satisfying the object, too." (4) The sentiment of sex love in McDougall's statement includes "the protective impulse and tender emotion of the parental instinct . . . normally combined with the emotional ... disposition of the sex instinct, restraining, softening, and ennobling the purely egoistic and somewhat brutal tendency of lust." Beyond "instinct," sexual love includes, for Ribot, "a certain degree of tender feeling."

An attempt has been made by Robert Briffault to correct the notion that "affection" is essential to the sex relationship. "It has been almost universally assumed," he states, "that feelings of tenderness and affection are part and parcel of the attraction between the sexes. That attraction is commonly spoken of as love,' and the sentiment is identified with the sexual impulse." This widely current habit of thinking and of speech rests, he believes, upon a profound error. There is no basic connection between the "tender affection" and sex attraction. The former came late in animal evolution, he thinks, and in a very different way from that of the sex relationship. The genital impulse is, in fact, more commonly linked with brutality than with tenderness. The latter comes, not from sex, but from an altogether different "instinct."

The source of the tender emotion, according to Briffault, is something far older, more powerful and primitive than the sentiment of tenderness between man and woman. This source is maternal affection. The true beginnings here lie deep in the animal world. "Manifestations of tender feelings, of affection, occur throughout the larger portions of the animal world in connection with one relation only, that of mother and off-spring." Nowhere else, he thinks, is there evidence, at the animal level, of feelings of this kind.

Not only is woman's affection for man rooted in the maternal emotion, in Briffault's view; all feelings that are "sympathetic, compassionate, altruistic" have the same source. Within the sex relationship this emotion is bound not to sex itself, but to a quite different motive, namely, to that of mating. That is, to the association of the sexes for the care of offspring. The purpose of the motive is to keep the sexes together for this, and also for the protection of the female. Her affectionate impulses, whose primary object is the offspring, are "extended" to the mate in order to retain his aid and solicitude. But this is "mating," not sexual, behavior. "Love," therefore, in the sense of the tender-protective feeling and impulse, is a product of feminine evolution. It is an expression of the nature of the female. The male inherits it from her, Briffault thinks, as a "transfer" from her sex to his. The male is much weaker, in this impulse, than the female, and his "family" behavior is more a product of social influences.

In Briffault's view, then, an emotion whose association with genital desire is widely regarded as contributing the essential "love" element to sexual love is conceived as "entirely foreign" to sex. He thinks it may even be a factor in sexual impotence. It nevertheless provides, he believes, the stabilizing factor in the relations of the sexes. His position with respect to amorous emotion as a "sublimation" of the genital impulse was mentioned earlier.

A different treatment of the "origin of love" has been offered by Ian Suttie. While the setting of his study is individual development rather than animal evolution, the basis of love, as in the view of Briffault, is the relationship between mother and child. Like so many others, Suttie defines sexual love, "the complete passion of love," as composed of the sexual impulse and tender feeling. He considers that the tender affection first appears in infancy as a self-preservative need of the mother; it is a social need, a reaction to the discomfort of loneliness and helplessness. Thus, he thinks, the child's feeling toward its mother has the quality of tender emotion from the beginning, nor is this emotion the "aim-inhibited" sexuality of Freud; its development is independent of the sexual impulse. Love, in this sense, is "social rather than sexual in its biological function."

Unlike many students of childhood, Suttie believes that the need of the mother is not the same as "the sum of the infantile bodily needs and satisfactions which refer to her." He points out that this need "remains after all the sensory gratifications connected with the mother's body have become superfluous and have been surrendered." At first mainly a physical relationship, expressed in tender fondling, bodily satisfactions and caresses, it becomes finally a need for "mental sympathy," for social companionship. Once it has been weaned away from its closely maternal setting, this need spreads out upon the whole social environment and into all social activities.

Beyond its character as a need, this love motive has its benevolent side, according to Suttie; "the need to give is as vital . . . as the need to get." This "need to give," he maintains, "continues as a dominant motive throughout life . . ."

It is the denial and the repression of this need at the adult level, he suggests, which has led to a certain restraint upon references to it. Such avoidance (the "taboo on tenderness") might be compared perhaps, with the "prudish" avoidance of erotic stimuli by a sexually repressed person.

Whatever its origin, the "affectionate" or tender-solicitous feeling has given to the term "love" its most common meaning and has been offered, by far the most frequently, as that which makes sexual love when added to the sexual impulse. That it represents the "highest" form of love is, of course, an issue out-side the limits of psychology. That it appears to be a frequent part of the emotional relationship of the sexes is one reason for including discussion of it in this study. The wide currency of definitions that make it the essential element of sexual love has undoubtedly tended to retard recognition of the amorous emotion.

We have suggested that the essence of the amorous motive is the desire to possess. In this lies what may be its sharpest contrast with nonsexual love, namely, that it must undeniably be seen as "selfish" in opposition to a motive that impels us to minister to the needs of another. Nonsexual love, on the other hand, not being limited even to human love-objects, is of vastly wider scope, and is further, by a high consensus, of much greater potential duration. This duration, moreover, appears to be consistent with close association, other factors being favorable, whereas some degree of decline in amorous feeling seems more or less natural to prolonged sexual association, as within marriage.

The distinction between amorous and altruistic feeling parallels at several points that between the two kinds of love treated in a study by Nygren, centering upon the classical pagan and the Christian ideas of love. The Greek words "agape" and "eros" are, Nygren points out, both represented in English by the single word "love," yet they have entirely different meanings. Taken out of the religious and historical setting of Nygren's discussion, these differences may be compared with the two kinds of love with which we are concerned here. We note first that "eros" is egocentric and self-assertive; it is a desire to have something for oneself; it is "the desire of good for the self." It is a desire and a will "to have and to possess." It is evoked by a perception of the beauty and value of its object. The object is loved because of its value. This kind of love is thus not "spontaneous," but is "determined by and dependent on the quality of its object."

"Agape," which is "completely separate in origin and different in nature," is the unselfish form of love. It means a free giving of the self. Eros-love of a neighbor, for example, is a self-gratifying motive, while agape-love is "self-offering and self-spending." It is, moreover, in a sense independent of its object, in that it bestows itself regardless of the worth of the object. It is indifferent to "real" value and merit, and, in fact, itself gives value to its object.



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