Thursday, June 20, 2024

Love Advice, Italian-Style

San Valentino was a Roman priest believed to have lived in the third century.  Legend holds that he married young lovers in secret, going against the law of Emperor Claudius II, who had outlawed marriage; decreeing that single men made better soldiers. Valentino was put to death for his actions around the middle of February, and thus the day of love was established to be February 14th ever since.

On one Valentine’s Day, many years ago, I sat at the kitchen table of an old Italian immigrant, who came to America at the age of 16 in the steerage compartment of a large ship. Accompanied by a husband twice her age and their infant son in her arms, they were tossed and shoved over violent seas, elbow to elbow with illness and death. She had no idea where she was going, or if she would ever again see her mother, father, and sister. The families had arranged this marriage, and she knew her only determination from this point on was to be a good wife and mother, and do whatever would be necessary to make her new family survive. Their marriage lasted for several decades until death did them part.
“But Nonna, “I said, interrupting her narration, “were you in love with my grandfather?”
“Well, sure,” she said matter-of-factly. We had 5 children together. Good boys who helped with the wine, the fig trees, the animal stalls.  We had supper together every night. Our little grocery store made it possible to send money back to the “old country”.
“But were you IN love”? I insisted.
My grandmother looked at me as if I was speaking Martian. The concept of “in-love” was not something that was considered in her day. Practical partnerships of companionship and a common goal of a thriving family were the greatest satisfaction one could ask for. A nice bowl of pasta e fagioli, after a hard day’s work, with a glass of vino e pane fatti in casa—true love to my grandmother consisted of the simple pleasures that decorate the life of a close-knit famiglia. The notion of falling ”in love” was only something that was conceived of in more modern times.
Back then, love needed no commercialism, no hype, no candy, jewelry, or rose bouquets. The half-crazed euphoria of ‘love at first sight’ was not a thing.  Instead, my grandmother’s advice to me, was that instead of the external fanfare, just find someone with whom I can grow in mutual respect, appreciation, admiration emotional support, and a desire to work together as a team to get through the ups and downs of family life.

Nonna was not the first, nor the last Italian to share her insights on the age-old topic of love. Here, in a nutshell, are a few other “interesting”(some perhaps even helpful) perspectives from renowned figures of the bel paese:

OVID (43BC-17AD), the Roman Poet gave these pearls of advice:

  • ON MAINTAINING ONE’S APPEARANCE. It is important to look attractive if one wants to attract love. His recipe for female beauty was to take 2 lbs of skinned Libyan barley and an equal measure of vetch (an herbal plant from the pea family). Moisten with ten eggs. Dry this mixture in “the blowing breezes”, let the “she-ass” (female donkey) break it on a rough millstone, then grind it with the first horns that fall from a nimble stag. Next, sift with a hollow sieve. Add 12 narcissus bulbs without their skin and let a “strenuous hand” pound the on pure marble.  Add gum and Tuscan seed and nine times as much honey. Ovid promised that whoever shall treat her face with this “prescription” will shine “smoother than her own mirror”.  (I’m off to skin some barley right now!).
  • ON WHERE TO FIND LOVE. Ovid wrote, “Chance everywhere has power; ever let your hook be hanging; where you least believe it, there will be a fish in the stream”. He also recommends women avoid men who profess “elegance and good looks” and who arrange their hair perfectly.  It tells a woman that they have had a thousand women and are likely to wander.
  • ON HOW TO CHARM A WOMAN. “Admire her arms as she dances, her voice as she sings, and find words of complaint that she has stopped. Oh, and take care not to show by your looks that you are feigning.” (Note: we women can usually tell a feigner!)

FRANCESCO ALBERONI (1929-) An Italian journalist and sociology professor, Dr. Alberoni clarifies the phenomenon of il colpo di fulmine ( love at first sight). An imprinting happens in this situation, which is often mistaken for true love. It may or may not be. Falling in love, he writes, is instead a process and goes beyond a singular initial fascination. Gradually as love grows, there is a repeated experience of un colpo di fulmine as the couple continues to discover new and wonderful things about each other that they hadn’t seen before. This is how true love grows.

LEO BUSCAGLIA (1924-1998) was a best-selling author and professor who created an entire course on love. Love takes a more encompassing definition, in his view. He tells us to love freely and especially to love ourselves. Most people, he felt, don’t like themselves. When you think about it, the only thing you can give to anyone else is what you are. So make yourself the most wonderful and unique self you can be. You cannot be someone else, so develop yourself by learning something new every day. He also believed there is someone for everyone.

SILVANO ARIETI (1914-1981) An Italian psychiatrist who is still regarded as one of the world’s foremost authorities on schizophrenia presented readers with these rules when it comes to finding love:

  1. Overcome your personal fears about finding romantic love
  2. Believe in self-worth and dignity; that you have a right to find love
  3. Exposure to situations where you are likely to meet a partner
  4. Don’t look for the impossible or what is extremely difficult to find.
  5. Don’t rush to accept or reject anyone. Love at first sight is a myth.
  6. Ask yourself why, if you are rejected frequently.
  7. Don’t misrepresent yourself
  8. Don’t expect success every time
  9. Commit to finding love. Don’t go about it half-heartedly, but persevere.

SOPHIA LOREN (1934-), an award-winning Italian actress and author, warned readers not to overanalyze love.  In the past, she wrote, couples stayed together because were engrossed with working together for survival, a common pursuit. Like what my grandmother described.  Today, instead, Ms. Loren feels that people seem more in love with the idea of love, rather than the reality; thus, in many cases couples don’t stay together very long.  Remember that no partner is perfect, and that love dies under relentless scrutiny. Do not constantly test, examine, compare, hold it up to the light, question your partner’s love for you.

Finally, for the many who have just gone through a breakup on this Valentine’s Day:

FRANCESCO CAMPIONE (1949-) A physician, author, clinical psychology professor University of Bologna, documented a few rules for healing from a broken heart:

  1. Distance yourself as much as possible and at least for a year from the person who doesn’t’ love you, who no longer loves you, or who never loved you.
  2. Learn to be okay with loving yourself and appreciating the advantages of solitude.
  3. If someone doesn’t love you, find someone else who does.
  4. Be happy with the love you feel in your heart. No one can take that away from you.
  5. If you feel anger or guilt over a love that is no more, give yourself time to get over these feelings, even if you need to get help to get over them.

No matter where you are when it comes to love consider the words of the “Good” Roman Emperor Marco Aurelio, “When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive—to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to LOVE”.

Buon San Valentino!

References/for further reading

Francesco Alberoni (2003).  Il Mistero Dell’Innamoramento. Rizzoli

Francesco Campione (2013) 10 Regole Per Guarire Le Ferite D’Amore. Taita Press.

Leo Buscagli (1972). Amore. Oscar Mondadori Publishing.

Marcus Aurelius: Meditations. Watkins Publishing.

Ovid (232): The Art of Love and Other Poems Loeb Classical Library

Silvano Arieti, M.D. & James Arieti, Ph.D. (1977). Love Can Be Found. Harcourt, Brace, Javanovich

Sophia Loren (1984). Women & Beauty. William Morrow & Co.

Raeleen Mautner
Raeleen Mautner
Raeleen Mautner, Ph.D. a dual citizen (US-Italy), holds a doctorate in educational/cognitive psychology and worked for many years as a university psychology instructor.   Her doctoral research was a cross-cultural comparison of body image and other lifestyle factors between the US AND ITALY.  She has written several self-help books based on the life-affirming Italian traditions she learned through both her research and from her Italian immigrant grandparents, with whom she grew up. One of her books, Living la Dolce Vita: Bring the Passion, Laughter, and Serenity of Italy into Your Daily Life (Sourcebooks) has sold over 22,000 copies and been translated into several languages. Raeleen has given numerous presentations and written for publications such as The Italian Tribune, America Oggi, Italian America, Psychology Today. For several years Dr. Mautner produced and hosted her own radio show called The Italian Art of Living Well, where she interviewed well-known and accomplished guests from the Italian American community. Today in her free time, she sings professionally with an Italian band.

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