by Justina Hurley

Loving couple in the park. Vintage retro style with light leaks

What is love and what is a loving relationship?

‘What is the bravest thing you have ever done?’ she asked the old woman.

The grey eyes grew wistful and gazed at Mira in contemplation.

‘I loved, and allowed myself to be loved in return,’ the old one replied.

Mira was astounded.

‘You mean that of all the things you experienced in your life you really feel that to love and be loved was the bravest?’ she said incredulously.

The woman nodded.

‘In every other situation there is room for pretence,’ she explained. ‘You can keep your fears, hopes, inadequacies, and dreams secret, even from yourself. To love is to let another in. They become your mirror and you theirs. There is no longer a secret place because they come to know when you are trying to go there. When love is true you mirror each other equally. You are partners in life.’

(Dance with Life p41)

‘I loved, and allowed myself to be loved in return.’ In just one short sentence this elderly lady sums up the real and deep nature of love and intimacy.

Love is made up of many things. The initial romance and passion of first meeting and the ‘falling in love’ phase is as much a body chemistry process of endorphins, oxytocin release and literally chemical attraction sparking off between two people, as it is an emotional one.

Once that settles, usually at about eighteen months into the relationship, then the process of real love either begins or not. This is why incidentally many people break up at about the two year stage.

For real love to grow it is more about standing up in love than it is about falling in love. There are differences to work out, mutual compatibilities and interests to discover and real life begins to creep back in as the heady rush of romances settles into familiarity and routine.

Real love begins to grow and this is all about real intimacy. It’s when you can look at each other and really see each other. You fall into your partners eyes and have total trust that as they meet your gaze they fall right back into yours.

Composite image of loving couple relaxing on bed

The eyes are the windows of the soul and a great relationship test is to see just how much you really can and do look each other in the eye. And from that place of seeing and being seen, you make love, you argue, you make up you discuss, explore and share. You are partners in a bond of trust and mutual respect.

People in love make love. People without love have sex. That may be controversial, but it’s the truth.

With all the hype going on around Fifty Shades of Grey and the distorted version of relationship that it portrays it’s very important to be aware of that truth.

Real intimacy is scary. There is nothing more exposing than loving and allowing yourself to be loved. Besides the fact that Fifty Shades actually describes an incredibly abusive and dangerous relationship, the idea of bondage itself, even in “healthy” consenting relationships, is still all about the deflection of and the desire for intimacy.

We all crave intimacy. When it is not there then role plays, sex games and submission / dominance activities are just ways of trying to force those feelings of vulnerability and trust. However, real intimacy can’t be faked or forced and separating sex from love just widens the gap.

Misunderstanding the need for intimacy can be dangerous. Writing in the Journal of Women’s Health, Dr Amy Bonomi analysed the violence in in Fifty Shades of Grey. She said:

“Emotional abuse is present in nearly every interaction, including: stalking, intimidation and isolation. Sexual violence is pervasive—including using alcohol to compromise Anastasia’s consent, as well as intimidation. Anastasia experiences reactions typical of abused women, including constant perceived threat, altered identity and stressful managing. [condensed from original]

Our analysis identified patterns in Fifty Shades that reflect pervasive intimate partner violence—one of the biggest problems of our time. Further, our analysis adds to a growing body of literature noting dangerous violence standards being perpetuated in popular culture.”

How love and relationship is presented in books and film is important and influential. This is especially important for young people whose ideas of the meaning of love are forming and for vulnerable people who for whatever reasons are not clear enough on self worth and self identity to be able to separate fact from fiction.

Love is wonderful. True intimacy is the most beautiful feeling a human being can experience, but it never comes at the cost of self or as a sacrifice to the other.

It is two people as whole and happy beings standing up in love and creating a space in the middle where they can meet heart to heart, soul to soul and eye to eye. That space is their place of mutual love and intimacy and the real romance happens when they can go there brave, trusting and open to the possibility of a shared life together.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


Bonomi, A et al, 2013, ‘‘Double Crap!’’ Abuse and Harmed Identity in Fifty Shades of Grey

Hurley, J.M., Dance with Life (2004) Katy Press.