First a disclaimer. I'm always a bit hesitant in publishing these kinds of posts, because they are based on my own, necessarily limited, experiences and observations. I put them forward more as ideas for others to work with, rather than as cast iron, unassailable expressions of truth.
It seems to me that there are at least four types of female love. The reason for trying to understand each type is that female love for men is not always as stable as that of men for women. Men's love has the advantage that it tends to trigger the male protector/provider instinct, and so men will feel that they are fulfilling a basic aspect of manhood in directing their strengths toward supporting their family. It is an anchor point. Men also seem better able than women to find a transcendent aspect in their love. The male mind is able to combine a love for an individual and flawed woman with an experience of what is transcendent in feminine beauty and goodness. And men experience this love for a woman as a higher expression of their own nature. All this can be powerful enough to motivate men to remain attached to the same woman throughout the course of a life. Yes, there are other factors that push the other way. Men do have an instinct for sexual variety. Nor are men wholly immune to becoming too emotionally damaged for stable attachments. Nonetheless, it is generally easier for a man to attach in a stable way to a woman than for a woman to a man.
So what are the four types of female love?
1. Libidinal love
This is love that is based on sexual attraction. When women have this feeling, they often describe it in terms of a physical response, rather than an emotional one ("I had butterflies in my stomach"). It is a strongly visceral response in women, one that has little to do with higher, transcendent aspects of mind.
What triggers this kind of love? Unsurprisingly, primal, visceral instinct. For this reason, it can seem baffling to high minded men. Women might, for instance, respond to men who trigger a sexual thrill, perhaps by being bold, or looking menacing, or breaking the rules, or having a certain arrogance. Libidinal love favours bad boy qualities.
You get a sense of this by reading female "romance" novels. These novels are designed to trigger this libidinal love feeling in women. They are extraordinarily primal. They evoke ancient "bride capture" customs: the hero will often simply force himself in some way onto the reluctant heroine. The hero himself is untamed and outside of polite society (but, in a nod to the next type of love, also someone who has inherited tremendous wealth and status).
Female libidinal love is problematic for society. Libidinal love often doesn't last. It leads women to engage in either one night stands or serial monogamy in their party years. Its impact on men is mixed at best. At its worst it encourages a player type culture amongst men, or perhaps even a "gangsta" one - or an imitation of it. It is not a basis for successful, lifelong marriage.
2. Opportunistic love
Women, more than men, have a capacity to love opportunistically. A woman might reach a certain age, want a wedding, a house, children and financial support, and set out to find a man on this basis. If she finds a man who can provide these things, she might then be willing to embark on a relationship, even if there is little genuine sexual attraction (libidinal love).
There have no doubt been countless marriages based on opportunistic love. But there are three problems with these marriages. First, the lack of sexual attraction is likely to be a cause of frustration on both sides, perhaps even eventually leading to the collapse of the marriage. Second, if the woman secures the things she wanted - the wedding, the house, the children, the financial support - the basis for her love diminishes and she may opt out of the marriage. Third, these marriages often have an unhealthy beta dynamic in which the husband must always qualify himself to his wife.
In the days before easy divorce, opportunistic love would not have broken up marriages, but it would have undermined the happiness of the relationship.
3. Altruistic love
This was the type of love most characteristic of my mother's generation of women (those who married in the early 1960s). It was described well by Marie Robinson in 1958:
Related to this feeling in her, to her sense of security, seeming almost to spring from it, indeed, is a profound delight in giving to those she loves. Psychiatrists, who consider this characteristic the hallmark, the sine qua non, of the truly feminine character, have a name for it: they call it “essential feminine altruism.” The ﬁnest ﬂower of this altruism blossoms in her joy in giving the very best of herself to her husband and to her children. She never resents this need in herself to give; she never interprets its manifestations as a burden to her, an imposition on her. It pervades her nature as the color green pervades the countryside in the spring, and she is proud of it and delights in it. It is this altruism, this givingness, that motivates her to keep her equilibrium, to hold onto her joie de vivre despite whatever may befall. It stands her in marvelous stead for all the demands that life is going to make on her—and they will be considerable. When a woman does not have this instinctually based altruism available to her, or when she denies that it is a desirable trait, life's continuous small misfortunes leave her in a glowering rage, helpless and beside herself with self-pity.
I think this is exactly right. This distinctly feminine type of altruistic love was, for most of the women in my mother's social circle, able to hold at bay the resentment and self-pity that women can be prone to, and carry with it a warmth and joy of feminine personality well into old age.
The damage done by the absence of this kind of love can be seen in an excerpt from a biography of Alice James, the sister of novelist Henry James. Alice, a spinster who lived alone, was visited by her two brothers in 1889:
As the three of them sat and talked, as they exchanged memories and opinions, the afternoon became for Alice a soul-quickening experience wherein the family itself seemed to come richly back into being, a revived and reintegrated presence. Her isolation was overcome for the moment by the sense of being once again a surrounded and nourished member of that family.When her brothers left she was plunged again into solitude:
she confessed with bleak clarity that she could never allow it to be "anything else than a cruel and unnatural fate for a woman to live alone, to have no one to care and 'do for' daily is not only a sorrow but a sterilizing process."This aspect of womanhood is not so evident today, perhaps because it stood in the way of the liberal aim of creating a society based on individual autonomy. But it remains a potential within female nature, one that provides a stronger basis for lifelong marriage.
This is a love (that both sexes can experience) that is more likely to be found among those with serious religious commitments. It could be described like this: my love of God, and my willingness to serve Him, leads me to love and to will the good of my spouse and my children. This is a love, therefore, that is settled in the will. As a matter of deep conscience, I will remain faithful to my spouse, as to God, and I will serve Him through service to my family. I do not need my spouse to be perfect to retain my commitments, and I will seek to overcome my own weaknesses and temptations that might undermine the promises that I have made. I might see marriage as a sacred commitment, a sacrament that it is not mine to break. I might see family as a sacred community, one in which I am charged with the deep mission of the spiritual welfare of my spouse and children. I will actively orient myself to the love of my spouse.
This is the most profound basis for marital commitments, but realistically it won't ever be universally held within a society. It has declined as a serious orientation to Christianity has diminished. It works best, of course, if both the husband and wife hold to it; a marriage can still fail if only one spouse is motivated by caritas.
It was the type of love that the poet Sir Thomas Overbury advocated as a true basis for marriage in his poem of 1613 titled "The Wife". Although he did want a passionate love, he recognised that this was no guarantee of a wife's loyalty. He thought, therefore, that even though beauty was an important quality, it was most important to look for "good" in a wife. He wrote:
Gods image in her soule, O let me place
My love upon! not Adams in her face.
Good, is a fairer attribute then white,
’Tis the minds beauty keeps the other sweete;
And what did he mean by "good"? He explains:
By good I would have holy understood,
So God she cannot love, but also me,
He is recognising that the firmest ground for marital commitments is the one founded upon the caritas type of love.
You might think that the aim of a society should be to reject the first two types of female love, the libidinal and the opportunistic, and work instead with altruistic and caritas forms of love. That, though, would be a mistake. The first two are fundamental aspects of female nature that cannot be glossed over.
For instance, it is much better if a man is sexually attractive to his wife. We know that if a man is too agreeable, or too nice, that he won't trigger this attraction. We don't want the attraction to be triggered by a race to see which man can cover himself with the most tattoos, or best imitate a bikie. But there are other ways a society can help men to be more sexually attractive to women.
How can a decent man trigger sexual attraction in a woman without going gangsta? Well, he can be physically fit and muscular. He can be self-confident. He can have ambition. He can be rough around the edges. He can show competence in things that women consider masculine (e.g. fixing things, building things, outdoorsy things). He can avoid fawning and simping, and have a sense of his own masculine attractiveness. He can be dedicated to a mission in life outside of marriage and family. He can lead adeptly.
As politically incorrect as it is to say it, men can aim to demonstrate forms of masculine power and dominance and competence. And a society can help this along. For instance, it is normal and natural for mothers to instil in their infant sons some "caring and sharing" values. This is an important part of the socialisation of boys. But after about the age of seven it should be mostly complete, and it then becomes more important that boys are socialised in a masculine way within male spaces. A society should take care to give fathers time to spend with their sons in active masculine pursuits. And between the ages of about seven to sixteen, it is helpful for boys to be educated at boys' schools with a largely male staff. These male environments can be challenging for the more gently natured boys, and some might even come out worse for the experience (by never successfully adapting), but for most boys it will have the positive effect of instilling a more spirited and competitive masculine mindset (e.g. by learning to stand up for yourself, to learn better how to keep boundaries, to hold frame when under duress etc.).
As for opportunistic love, this too needs to be understood as a matter of policy making. Society once did this in a blunt way. Marriage allowed a young woman to leave her parents' house and form one of her own, i.e. to be independent. It gave her children and material security. If she divorced she had only a limited claim to these things. Our society has, with equal bluntness, gone the opposite way by associating independence with being single, and by rewarding women with the children, house and money on divorce. A society needs to get the balance of this right if it wants marital stability.
And how do we restore "essential female altruism"? That requires a rolling back of a number of things. Because liberalism wants to make our sex not matter (as being a predetermined quality), liberals aim at a gender role convergence in which men and women play the same role within the family. This undermines a woman's sense that she might give to her family in a unique way as a woman. Similarly, the liberal emphasis on autonomy means that women are raised to believe that an independent career is what matters and that work done for family is therefore to be thought of negatively as an oppressive limitation, a burden that must be shared equally between men and women or else outsourced.
Marie Robinson thought this to be the case, even back in 1958. She described one of her clients, who was cut off from this feminine altruistic love, as follows:
The whole emphasis in her early upbringing had been on achievement in the male world, and in the male sense of the word. She had been taught to be competitive with men, to look upon them as basically inimical to women. Women were portrayed as an exploited and badly put upon minority class. Marriage, childbearing, and love were traps that placed one in the hands of the enemy, man, whose chief desire was to enslave woman. Her mother had profoundly inculcated in her the belief that women were to work in the market place at all cost, to be aggressive, to take love (a la Russe) where they found it, and to be tied down by nothing, no one; no more, as her mother put it, than a man is. Such a deﬁnition of the normal had, of course, made her fearful of a real or deep or enduring relationship with a man.
Finally, there is the issue of caritas. In a secular society, with a materialistic world view, this understanding of love will not prosper. What I would urge men to understand, even those men without religious belief, is that this is not without negative consequences. The churches did once help to create a more secure setting for family life.