Valentine’s Day isn’t just for people in relationships. It’s another opportunity to show yourself some love, too. Whether you’re currently entangled or free as a bird, there’s comfort in knowing that music will always hold your hand even when it’s clammy and unmanicured. As we know, listening to music can completely alter your mood and trigger certain memories. When I started this series, it was with the intention of combining two of my favorite things: music and psychology. So, what better way to study human connection than to start a dialogue about love and how it presents to different people? So I took to the streets to research– and by the streets, I mean social media.
I asked a varietal group of people what their favorite love and breakup songs were and what those songs meant to them. There were some contrasting variables to what each person claimed to value in a relationship– things that were specific to them as individuals, but at their core, their standards were very similar. In some fashion, each person expressed concerns with emotional vulnerability and sacrificing ego, understanding and practicing love languages, and healthy or insecure attachment. Even those who claimed to have never been in love understood the ethics of intimate and romantic relationships, with specifications of how they envision receiving love. I don’t have any real words of wisdom for you today, but consider what Aniah had to say about the songs she chose: “These songs put me in a magical headspace in which vulnerability not only feels reachable, but freeing.”
We’re cracking love open and taking a peek inside today– a look behind the curtain, so to speak. Inspiration for today’s installment of TGG’s Valentine series arrived in the form of UK-based soul singer-songwriter, Celeste’s “Strange.” With the aid of producer Jamie Hartman, Celeste perfectly encapsulates the emptiness love can leave behind and the ways in which love can evolve or deteriorate between two people. The lead single from her debut album, Not Your Muse, was released with an equally evocative music video. The video opens and closes with the artist standing in the middle of a dark road, surrounded by smoke and embers, symbolizing the sometimes cataclysmic aftermath of romantic love.
The Triangular Theory of Love, developed by psychologist Robert Sternberg suggests that the recipe for perfect love consists of three ingredients: intimacy, passion & commitment. According to Sternberg’s theory, different combinations of these components result in 7 varieties of love: infatuation (passion), liking (intimacy), empty love (commitment), romantic love (passion & intimacy), companionate love (intimacy & commitment), and finally, consummate love (intimacy, passion & commitment). The Ancient Greeks also had 7 words for the different varieties of love. It’s entirely possible to experience each and every variety of love over the course of a single relationship. Say a couple begin as friends (liking), until a mutual attraction forms (infatuation, romantic), they decide to become exclusive with one another and traverse life together (companionate, developing into consummate), but then somewhere along the line, the passion and intimacy may disappear (empty).
What can we do to avoid love becoming empty? In some cases, unfortunately, it’s unavoidable. As scary as change may be, it is the only constant in life. We are forever evolving– mentally, emotionally and physically. Over time, we may grow into entirely different people altogether. This is where we come to the intersection of loving and choosing to love. Actively loving someone takes work, patience, and dedication. A step in the right direction is determining yours and your partner’s love languages.
Dr. Gary Chapman developed the concept of the five love languages with his book, The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts. The theory is that each individual has an internal hierarchy of how they like to give and receive love. The five love languages are as follows: 1. Words of Affirmation Someone whose preferred method of receiving love as words of affirmation finds comfort in verbal validation, encouragement and compliments. This could be as simple as letting your partner know how nice they look today or verbally expressing gratitude for your partner. 2. Quality Time Quality time is defined as “time spent in giving another person one’s undivided attention in order to strengthen a relationship.” Put your phone away and enjoy time together, distraction-free. 3. Acts of Service Giving love via acts of service can be as simple as accomplishing a household chore without being asked, warming up your partner’s car before they go to work, or even just plugging their phone into the charger. Any small act of service can speak volumes in love. 4. Gifts Gift-giving doesn’t have to be as grandiose as it may sound. This could be any small offering: “I was at the gas station and got your favorite candy bar” or “I saw this at the store and it made me think of you.” A lot of little things over a long span of time can be more meaningful than a few big things. 5. Physical Touch Physical touch doesn’t necessarily mean sexual intimacy. It could be as simple as carving time out of your day to just lay with your partner, a hand on the small of your partner’s back in passing or a squeeze of the shoulder.
Discuss love languages with your partner to better understand each other’s preferred methods of giving and receiving love. Communication is a building block for all relationships. Love languages sometimes make it easier to say what can’t be expressed with words. Express gratitude for your partner (and others!) as often as possible and be active in showing love.
Additional inspiration: Charlotte Day Wilson’s “Work”
Hello and welcome to the first installment of TGG’s Valentine series. Although Valentine’s Day may be a cash cow for the capitalist regime, the now-contorted sentiment behind the holiday called to me. Combining psychology and music, I’ll be writing about all things regarding love and relationships leading up to the holiday.
Today’s musical inspiration is brought to you by Philly native Santigold in the form of “Can’t Get Enough of Myself,” the first track on 2015’s 99 Cents. Consider the song’s chorus and remember to always invest in yourself.
If we’re gonna be discussing the mechanics of love and healthy relationships, there’s really no better place to start than with the self. If you’re alive and breathing, you have probably heard some variation of the phrase, “You can’t love someone else without loving yourself first” once or twice in your lifetime. The validity of this statement is debatable, mostly because love is not black and white. Similar to any other complex emotion or frame of mind, love can ebb and flow based on varying circumstance, environment and other things beyond our personal control. Compassion for self, although ultimately fulfilling in practice, proves to be exceptionally difficult to execute at times. We are often our own worst critics because, for some reason or another, we may hold ourselves to higher standards than those we love. We may forgive someone we love for making a mistake without granting ourselves the same forgiveness. Expressing the same tenderness for ourselves that we show for others can enhance our self-esteem and change the game altogether.
Unfortunately, there’s no rulebook for self-love, but an article written by Dr. Deborah Khoshaba in Psychology Today suggests a “7-step prescription” for executing self-love. This 7-step prescription consists of the following: 1. Be mindful of your own feelings and thoughts. Being consciously aware of your own desires and concerns breeds emotional maturity and intelligence. Acknowledge that what you feel is valid– don’t let your emotional welfare take a backseat. 2. Act on what you need rather than what you want. Avoid impulsive desires for instant gratification, which sometimes manifests as self-sabotage. Instead, commit to personal necessity. Take a step back and look at tempting situations from the perspective of “Will this help or hurt me?” 3. Practice good self-care. “Self-care” is a term that gained recent popularity which, in turn, has distorted its true definition. Self-care is defined as providing yourself with the basic needs to function day-to-day. This includes getting enough rest, proper nourishment and exercise. 4. Set boundaries. A lack of boundaries is a betrayal of self; without clearly stated boundaries, we allow room for others to take advantage and rob ourselves of the right to object the infringement. Setting boundaries for ourselves is just as important as setting boundaries for others. 5. Protect yourself. It is no one’s responsibility but your own to ensure your safety and well-being is preserved. Sever ties, if possible, with people who intentionally or unintentionally bring harm or discomfort. Never forget that you are your first and last line of defense against harm. 6. Forgive yourself. This one is definitely easier said than done, but as stated previously, we must grant ourselves permission to make mistakes and to learn from them. Would you scold your loved one for making an honest mistake the same way you scold yourself? Take your lumps like everyone else, acknowledge but don’t dwell, and do better next time. 7. Live intentionally. Life is simply more enjoyable when living with purpose. Being 100% intentional in how we operate, interact and move in our day-to-day lives can create magnetic energy, and attract others with similar purpose.
I can tell you from personal experience that practicing self-love isn’t always easy but I can guarantee that it’s rewarding. You start walking different, talking different– a palpable, gradual energy shift takes place over time. When you love yourself the way you want others to love you, an exciting, dangerous thing happens. You realize that you lack nothing needed to be enough and that you are indeed plenty all on your own. Everything else is an added bonus, a reward for your hard work. The key word here is Time; when you plant a seed, you have to nurture, water and care for it diligently and patiently in order for it to grow.
Have you ever been driving to the store, minding your business, when you hear a song or certain formation of notes that transports you to a very specific point in your life and you’re met with a wave of memories or emotion? Always having had a fear of forgetting things, I began keeping track of these memories– curating a soundtrack for every year of my life for at least the last 10 years, and keeping journals specifically recounting the memories tied to each song. I like to call this time travel, but science likes to call it MEAM– music-evoked autobiographical memories.
Our memories have sensory triggers, and music is one of the most sensory forms of creativity– whether consuming or producing, the chances that you’re sitting still while doing so are slim. The ways in which music can engage numerous senses at a time is automatically stored in your brain at the time of its engagement. The limbic system, structures within the brain that directly correlate to emotion and memory, is activated when listening to music. There have been countless studies regarding the connection between music and autobiographical memory and why music can trigger certain emotional responses. There have also been studies which indicate mimicking your music selection with your mood– listening to melancholy music during times of turmoil– can provide comfort, which can aid in the healing process. The ways in which grief can manifest in the body are sensory effects to the cause just like the ways we engage with music are sensory effects to the cause. You see where I’m going here?
Music has healing properties, so I encourage those reading to tap into those parts that have been forgotten. Start small—no need to delve right into trauma– think about who you were a year ago, how have you grown? Sift through your library and find a song you remember enjoying this time last year. What kinds of emotions come to the surface and have those emotions evolved from their origin? I recommend sitting with it for a while and writing about what you’re experiencing. Is there a certain song or body of work that comes to mind for you while reading this? This is a call to embrace the elements of life that have brought you to this point, to gain a better understanding of the different components that create the whole.
As important as it is to reflect, it is equally important not to dwell on things that are out of our control or that we cannot change. As you dive into your library, it’s worthy of note that these are memories, and sometimes memory can be deceiving; each time you listen to a song, your neural catalog is updated, attaching a different memory to that song. Listening to Joni Mitchell won’t make your dog come back to life, but it might make you smile when you think about the times he’d stick his whole head out the window just so he could feel the sun on his face.