What Is This Thing Called Love?
You don’t know exactly how it began. He was just another date until . . . you looked across your chocolate malted, caught him staring fondly at you and you both began to smile, then laugh, and your heart did a double flip. On the way home, he held your hand; the walk seemed much too short, you both agreed, and reluctantly you said good night. The next day you could hardly wait until he called. It all began as simply as that—and before you knew it, you were daydreaming during English, writing his initials on the corner of your notebook and wearing his class ring. Sometimes now, you feel like skipping; other times you can hardly eat. Folks wink and say you’re in love. But how can you tell?
“Is there a way of making sure?” you ask. Are there tests to take, any questions to ask to help you distinguish between love and infatuation? Love gives companionship, peace, security. infatuation leaves you with nothing but a scorched and heavy heart?
We posed this question to Donna Reed and Terry Moore, and both girls believe there are ways of making sure it’s love. While Donna and Terry are temperamentally unalike, they have one important thing in common. They’ve both had youthful marriages that did not last. Donna has since remarried, happily, and is the mother of three children. Terry’s being cautious. But from their first marital mistakes, they feel they’ve learned something that may help you.
“When you’re young—sixteen or seventeen—love seems so overwhelming,” Donna said. “You’re so vulnerable then, so wanting to be loved and so idealistic that it’s difficult to analyze the heavenly State you’re in. But it can be done.
“Love is a word that has been highly abused. Today it’s almost impossible to define. But before you can understand love, you must know what it means.
“If you’ve suddenly been swept off your feet by the curly-haired boy who just transferred to your school, you’re not in love. For infatuation comes suddenly, while love takes more time.
“Perhaps you’re in a State of bliss when you gaze into the dark brown eyes of your date and murmur to yourself, ‘This is it.’ Then when you don’t see him for a week you forget he ever existed. This isn’t love. For infatuation may change quickly, but love doesn’t.
“And if you feel that your attraction to him is all physical—his big broad shoulders, the way he walks and talks or combs his hair-you better face facts. You’re infatuated. For while physical attraction is essential to love, you will find that there are many more traits that are equally important. When you’re merely infatuated, physical attraction is the extent of your interest.
“Which brings me to an important point. In order to love, you must know yourself. Sometimes you can be in love with love. Going out with a campus big shot, a guy you idolize (along with a dozen other girls) is an accomplishment, a buildup for your ego. But if you look closely at your affections, you often will find that you’re just searching for a solution to a personal problem. You may be unhappy at home, undecided about a career or feel unwanted and unloved-even bored. Such feelings lead not to love but to infatuation.
“If you look up the word infatuate in the dictionary, you’ll find that it means ‘to make foolish, to affect with folly . . . to deprive of sound judgment; to inspire with a foolish and extravagant passion.’ Under love, you’ll see: ‘a feeling of strong personal attachment induced by . . . sympathetic understanding. . .’
“Time is the big difference between the two—and time is the surest test. I have known some love-at-first-sight marriages that have turned out happily, but these are rare. Love at first sight usually happens, psychologists explain, because you identify your loved one with a dream image. He may be a little like your favorite movie star or remind you of a hero uncle. Then, bang! Without any more thought, you’re won over by a crew cut in gray flannel pants. A pretty flimsy way to pick a mate, you’ll have to admit—especially when there are lots of boys around to fit that description. For whether you believe it or not, marriage counselors insist there are thousands of persons you could fail in love with and be happy. (Words of wisdom if you’re toting a torch.) The only problem, they explain, is that there may not be a choice in your circle of friends. But don’t let the absence of other men in your life shove you into marriage. For marriage means the sharing of mutual interests and goals, the building together of a future, the developing of both individuals.
“Before saying any rash, ‘I do’s,’ you’d better each ask yourself: What are my goals, my interests? What do I want to be like? What do I want to do with my life? These are difficult questions to answer, but before you can determine whether you’re in love for keeps, think them through. If you find you don’t agree, you may be happier staying single.
“But suppose, you say, we do. Then what? The next step is getting to know him. the little things about him. And what you’ll need is time. Time to discover his habits and faults, his quirks and qualms.
“For instance, suppose he is never punctual, never arrives when he’s expected, never calls when he promises. Does it bother you? Or perhaps he lacks a personal fastidiousness that may not annoy his friends but drives you to distraction. Or he may not hold open the door for your mother or have patience with your younger sister, which inwardly makes you cringe. He may be smart-alecky, lean toward telling a fib instead of the truth when he’s late for a date or have no interest in your favorite charity work. You’re making a mistake if you say, ‘Oh, well, I guess we can straighten these things out later— they’re not really important.’ For they are! Just as it is important that you be honest with him. Straighten things out first.
“Tony, my husband loves sports, all sports. When I first met him, I wasn’t even a good spectator. I had never professed any interest in sports to the other boys I dated previous to Tony. But as time went on, and Tony and I went out together more often, I realized that sports were an important pleasure to him. I began to want to understand enough about them to be a good companion. And I did learn to understand baseball and football and to really enjoy them today. On the other hand, the theatre and ballet had been, and still are, my greatest pleasure. To Tony, they used to represent a dull evening. Now, he shares my enthusiasm for both of them as I share his for sports. We both grew a little, developed new interests by our desire to please. If you have a sincere desire to please your guy—and not just a passing desire, either—you can chalk up one more point for love.
“Another important question to ask yourself is, ‘Can we really talk things through?’ Feelings, worries, gripes, misunderstandings, problems and desires need an outlet, otherwise they boil inside and explode into permanent damage.
“ Does he really love me?’ is another question girls often ask, without realizing that this is one question that should never be necessary to ask.
“Throughout our courtship, there was never any doubt in my mind that Tony loved me. He told me often. This is very important, because if a man isn’t capable of making you feel loved before marriage he will never give you this security after wards.
“One of the surest tests you can make to judge his capacity for giving you the kind of love that insures a good and lasting marriage is to find out what his relations are with his family—with his father, sisters or brothers, and most of all, with his mother. For a man ends up treating his wife pretty much the same way he treats his mother.
“If he makes a great demand on his mother, he’ll be demanding of you. If he’s lacking in respect for her, chances are he’ll treat you the same. And if he displays little affection for his family, you can expect he’ll show you little. If he’s dogmatic with his sisters or brothers, refuses to give and take, this may be a danger signal for you. In short, observe his role in his family; you’ll have a pretty accurate gauge of what your own family future will be like.
“Tony has a sister and some nieces and nephews, and his devotion to them impressed me during our courtship, which was during the war years. While the children’s father was in the service, Tony spent time with them each week. Never once, no matter how busy Tony was. did he disappoint them. If he promised, ‘On Tuesday, we’ll go to the zoo. I’ll pick you up at three,’ he was on the spot on the dot. Now that we’re married and have children of our own, he takes the same special care in planning excursions and treats.
“It may seem like a little thing, but it’s important for, after all, children gain faith from the little things.
“To sum up my feelings,” Donna stopped for a moment to collect her thoughts, “I think that if you’ve known your guy for a year or more and you still feel that you like him, respect him, trust and enjoy him, then your enchantment is real. And I’d say your possibilities for living happily ever after, together, are pretty secure.”
Because Terry learned from experience that a whirlwind romance under a tropical tree in moonlit Hawaii can ‘ affect with folly,” she’s in agreement with Donna that it’s wise to take time to make sure it’s love.
But Terry does have reservations. “Because,” she explains, “I think when love is real, you don’t feel you have to weigh it.
“I believe there are many different kinds of love, many different degrees and levels. But the one, great overwhelming love comes only once. Because love is rare, it is so important not to compromise. The trouble is (and it’s trouble we bring on ourselves) we do compromise. We overlook little faults or differences instead of holding out for the real thing. And when you compromise too often, it’s difficult to recognize the real love.
“The way you can tell you’re compromising, I think, is when you feel you are making a mistake or are nagged by misgivings and doubts. For instance I’ve heard girls say when they were practically at the altar, ‘I think it will work out.’
Think! If you can say things like this, or even think them, I wouldn’t call it love you feel.
“Also I think love should be happy. When a girl is unhappy in love, there’s something wrong. How can you be unhappy in love when the entire aim and object of love is to make the loved om happy?
“ ‘Am I happy or unhappy in love?’ is certainly the loaded question. My answer would be: ‘If you’re unhappy, it’s infatuation; if you’re happy, you can be pretty sure it’s love.’
“I believe you know when it’s real love just by the way you feel,” Terry said, “within yourself and about yourself.
“If you don’t look well, if you’re the victim of jealousy, suspicion, doubt of any kind uneasiness and inner disturbance you’re not in love.
“Some people bring out the good in you some bring out the bad. Love should bring out the good, it should change you for the better. If you find you’re a nicer person because of him, it’s love. But if you feel within yourself that you’re not as interesting or as enthusiastic or as nice as you were before you began dating—what you have isn’t love.
“Of one thing I’m sure. Love can inspire—it should inspire you to do better things, to work harder, to be a nicer person. When love is real, it gives you a lift an added confidence, it’s constructive. Whereas infatuation saps your energy undermines your health and ambition.
“I think you can boil it down,” Terry explained, “to one single, but very searching question: ‘How do I feel?’ If the answer is, ‘Happy, good, a better person than I was before,’ then you need question no further. If the answer is, ‘Unhappy, disturbed, a less worthy person,’ then it’s infatuation and never mind asking any more questions either. Just take to your heel and run.”
Still wondering what’s this thing called love? Let’s leave it at—something pretty wonderful.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JULY 1955