Love is in the air: Valentine cards, red roses and candlelight dinners. But this is romantic love, which is fleeting at best, says human relations expert Sam Keen. It's not the kind of passionate love that will bring people true fulfillment.
"Romantic and passionate love are opposites," Keen said Saturday during a seminar at UC Irvine. "Romantic love is escapism, fantasy; romance is a relationship of public personas--masks we put on during courtship that have little to do with what we're really like.
"Passionate love, on the other hand, is about delving under the surface of romantic love and into our innermost thoughts and feelings about one another. When you marry someone, it's for better and worse.
"After you're married, all that stuff you kept buried during your romantic courtship comes out--the irritations and injuries. Relationships that are intimate--that are truly passionate--are strengthened by these discoveries because both partners grow; they are able to deal with each other on so many more levels than just the superficial, romantic level."
The quest for love--and its varied forms--was the subject of Keen's talk, "On the Passionate Life: Stages of Loving," which was sponsored by the university's extension program.
"We're programmed to love and to be loving, and we won't be satisfied until we find it," said Keen, a consulting editor for Psychology Today magazine and former professor at the Humanistic Psychology Institute in San Francisco.
Keen, who has a doctorate in philosophy and religion from Princeton and a master's degree from Harvard Divinity School, is the author of such books as "Apology for Wonder," "To a Dancing God," "Beginnings Without End" and "What to Do When You're Bored and Blue." His latest book, "The Passionate Life," was 10 years in preparation and was published in 1983.
"I'm not here to give you answers," Keen told his audience of 60 men and women who were mostly in their 30s and 40s and, according to a show of hands, either presently or formerly married.
"I'm here to share a process: how you find meaning in life as an individual involved in an intimate relationship," said the 53-year- old Keen, whose collar-length brown hair is streaked with gray. He was sitting atop a stool alongside the podium, his legs languidly crossed in stark contrast to his arms, which were in almost constant motion as he made one point after another.
"When you set out to lead the passionate life," he continued, "there is no roadway to follow. It's not something that somebody can tell you. There aren't 10 easy ways. Instead, the whole stuff of life will have to be explored before you find the way which is right for you."
One woman in the audience said she had already discovered that compromise was required to make relationships work. How far, she asked, should you be willing to go to meet your partner's needs without losing your own identity?
"Any intimate relationship requires two things: coming together while allowing your partner to have his or her space," replied Keen. "There is no authentic intimacy without the creation of solitude for each partner.
"Especially if you marry young and have kids right away, there's a good chance that 15 years later, one partner or the other is going to say: 'Hey, I've never been alone.' This partner will try to pull away from this suffocating closeness. The form this takes for most couples is that they'll do one of two things; they'll fight or withdraw from each other, sexually or otherwise."
"My own experience--I'm in my second marriage--is that in my first marriage I never knew what solitude was," said Keen, who divides his time between his home in Sausalito and his ranch in Washington state. "Now I can't conceive of a place that I can't call my own."
This attempt to maintain one's identity in an intimate relationship, Keen said, has led some couples astray.
"We've learned a lot of things from the sexual revolution that began in this country in the '60s," Keen said. "Some people found that their sexual passion was released only through sexual anonymity; they made a career out of one-night stands.
"My own personal observation--prejudice--is that most people are not terribly happy being that way. The only people who are happy with this arrangement are those who are going through a period of exploration and don't want any kind of commitment, like people who are ending long-term marriages."
"Fulfilling relationships require commitment and exclusivity . . . so, where there's a conflict between partners over passions or desires, how do you stay together?" Keen asked. "Sometimes you don't. The risk of self-discovery is this: 'I don't belong with you.'