Why are so many of always wondering what the meaning of love is? Is it out of fear of uncertainty in a relationship? Or is it because we ourselves have been accused of not showing love for someone? And why is it that, even when we don’t fully understand what exactly love is, we tend to make decisions–good and bad–based on love?
DEFINING ‘LOVE’ IN DIFFERENT VARIANTS
Love is one of the most profound emotions we experience as humans. It’s bigger than us, meaning, though we can invite it into our lives, we do not have the control over the how, when and where love starts to express itself. Maybe that’s why 72% of people believe in love at first sight. Sometimes, love truly does strike like a bolt of lightening to the chest, and you aren’t prepared for it.
Since love is inherently free, we spend nights tossing and turning in an attempt to understand what it is, and how to know if we have it. How do you define something so uncontrollable and versatile?
That’s the tricky thing about love, we can feel it in a variety of different states–when we’re happy, sad, angry, confused or excited–and our attitudes about love can range from affectionate love, to infatuation and pleasure. We even use love as an action, as a force to keep our relationships with partners, or friends and family, together.
The ancient Greeks used seven words to define the different states of love we can experience:
- Storage: natural affection
- Philia: friendship
- Eros: sexual and erotica
- Agape: unconditional, divine love
- Ludus: flirting
- Pragma: committed, married love
- Philautia: self love
Though there are many different kinds of love to experience, the romantic and affectionate expression of love is what, on some level, we’re all seeking. The reason being that the majority of us find fulfillment through the comfort of a deeply committed and romantic relationship. In fact, 88% of Americans cite love as being the top reason they choose to get married, so it’s easy to acknowledge that the idea of love plays a pretty big role in all of our lives.
THE NEED FOR A DEFINITION
But, because love takes on different forms, we can each experience love in our own way, which is why defining the term ‘love’ is so complicated. And so we find ourselves lying awake at night, searching the Internet for an exact definition because our culture creates a need for one–we want to know how others perceive love so we can determine how our love stacks up against that definition. Think about it: if you say you’re in love with someone, but your friends or family don’t see the chemistry, you might be angry when they tell you that it “doesn’t look like love.” Are they wrong? Or are you? How does one know who to believe–thus, as we do in this age, we search the Internet, desperately seeking to know what, exactly, is love.
WHAT IS LOVE? LOVE IS CHEMISTRY
From the scientific point of view, love is a powerful and permanent neurological condition. Love is chemistry and it’s not something you can necessarily control. Take, for example, the difference between lust and love. Lust is a temporary desire fueled by an increased release of testosterone and oestrogen–it lasts for a little bit, then you normalize and it’s gone. But, when you feel true love, the brain can release a whole set of chemicals, allowing you to experience it in different expressions.
WHAT IS LOVE? LOVE IS COMMITMENT
Love is so hard to define because it doesn’t exist as one thing. We can feel love for our significant others, our parents, friends, children and pets. Some of us direct our love toward God, or celebrities, and we can hold love for our neighbors, country and objects. Love can be blind, misguided, tragic, unconditional, steadfast and inconsistent. It takes on many different variants, yet, at its best, love is a passionate commitment that we constantly work to develop and nurture.
WHAT IS LOVE? LOVE IS INFATUATION
When you take away the aspect of commitment, love is infatuation. When you’re no longer passionate about someone, you’re simply dedicated to him or her. Love that is infatuation is not really good love because, well, we often let our obsession become the root of the relationship, which might mean you’re focusing more on the idea of being in love, or the idea of the relationship, than the actual relationship itself.
WHAT IS LOVE? LOVE IS COMPATIBILITY
Lastly, when all is said and done, love is also about compatibility. When you break down and analyze different relationships, one of the key factors is how compatible two partners are. When you share the same values, likes and dislikes, interests, political or philosophical views with someone you are much more likely to be compatible and thus, are more likely to fall in love. Sure, there can always be situations where “opposites attract” but there will always need to be some common grounds for the relationship to grow roots on, or it might fall into one of the other categories of love. Love and compatibility work together to build a relationship, so at the end of the day, you want to find someone you know you know you are going to be compatible with, right?
Why Do We Ask, “What Is Love?”
Whenever we ask, “What is love?” it’s usually because a) we’re unsure if a certain special someone really loves us, or b) because a certain special someone just accused us of not really loving them.
When we are truly engaged in giving and receiving love, we don’t ponder such philosophical questions. It’s only when something is lacking that we begin to analyze and contemplate what that thing actually is. For example, nobody sits down to a full meal and asks, “What is a pastrami sandwich?”
It’s only when something is lacking that we begin to analyze and contemplate what that thing actually isSo, if we’re even asking the question, “What is love?” it probably means that we don’t feel completely loved, or that someone doesn’t feel completely loved by us.
But since we’re asking, let’s try to answer the question.
“Am I Loved?” Vs. “Do I Love?”
The two scenarios that usually cause us to contemplate “What is love?” give meaning to the question. Either we wonder, “Am I loved?” or we ask, “Do I love?”
It is easier to first address the “What is love?” question in terms of the love we feel coming toward us. If we understand how to recognize when we are being loved, we can also learn to recognize our love for another.
When we are loved, we tend to feel it intuitively in our guts. But how does it work? Is there an extrasensory perception in the heart that is able to read the feelings in another person’s heart?
In fact, it’s really not that ethereal or supernatural. On the contrary, it’s pretty practical and down-to-earth. Our hearts take cues from our senses. Everything we see, hear, taste, touch or smell teaches us about our universe. We don’t need to contemplate or ask questions. Our sensory organs report to our brains, and our brains interpret the data and send the report to our hearts. So, if we see a loving smile, hear loving words, or feel a loving touch, the brain processes this information and concludes, “Hey, we are being loved right now!”
In short, when we are loved, there is tangible proof. It’s not an abstract thought or feeling, it’s concrete and evidenced. As King Solomon wrote in his book of Proverbs (27:19), “As water reflects a man’s face back to him, so is the heart of one man to another.” This means, when you are treated with love, your heart feels that love.
Love is an Action
Now we can address the second part of the “What is love” quandary—how to know if we love someone else?
The answer is straightforward. When we behave lovingly towards someone, it means we love that person.
When we ask a question like “What is love?” we assume that we’re trying to define an abstract concept similar to “What is freedom?” or “What is good fortune?” But truthfully, love is not a concept. It’s an action.
To ask, “What is love?” is like asking, “What is running?” or “What is swimming?” If you’ve ever seen someone run or swim, you know exactly what running and swimming entail.
In order for love to be real love, it has to be expressed as an actionThe Hebrew word for love, ahavah, reveals this true definition of love, for the word ahavah is built upon the root consonants h‑v, which means “to give.” In order for love to be real love, it has to be expressed as an action. If you love your beloved, then you must show it. By the same token, if you are loved, that will show, too. You will recognize it by the way you are treated.
G‑d Teaches Us How to Love
G‑d commands us “And you shall love the L‑rd your G‑d.” This precept leads us to voice the age-old question, “How can we be commanded to feel a feeling?” Either you feel it or you don’t, right?
An answer offered by our tradition explains that we are not being ordered to feel a feeling in the abstract sense. Rather, the command is for us to behave lovingly. In this light, “And you shall love,” actually means, “You shall perform acts of love.”
This is the true test: action, deeds, performance.
Feelings can be deceptive. Sometimes, what we perceive as love may in fact be another emotion. But actions cannot be mistaken. So, rather than ask, “What is love?” we must ask, “Do I perform acts of love for my beloved?” and “Does my beloved perform acts of love for me?”
In this post, we will look at the many theories that try to explain love.
The Components Of Love According To The Triangular Theory
According to the triangular theory of love, true love is a combination of three components. These components are intimacy, passion, and commitment.
Intimacy is the strong connection you feel with someone. A good friendship requires intimacy. Otherwise, it’s just an acquaintance. Intimacy can occur in family bonds, too. It doesn’t have to be sexual or romantic but instead talks about the bond you share. Intimacy can occur because the two of you share the same beliefs, personality, or just hit it off. Sometimes, the intimacy isn’t as explainable as you may think.
Then, there is passion. Passion is simply a sexual attraction to someone. The person gives you a feeling of lust, and chemicals are set off in your body. Passion may go down with time, but there should still be some passion in a long-term relationship. A relationship without intimacy is one that will fail. A lust-based relationship will eventually fade.
Finally, there is commitment. If you truly love someone, you will probably want to have some form of commitment to them. For example, you may find yourself talking about the future with your love. You’ll want to move in with them, start a family, build careers, or do anything else that progresses with what you consider to be life.
With the love triangle, there is more nuance to it, and we could write an article about it alone. Let’s look at some other definitions of love as well.
Types Of Loves
In ancient Greece, there were seven types of love, and we will look at all of them.
This is physical love. In other words, lust. In Greece, Eros was the god of sexual desire, who shot arrows into people to make them attracted, just like Cupid. The Greeks believed this love could be dangerous, as lust can be blinding and can lead to some drama.
Eros can happen during the beginning of a romance before more feelings take over, or it can happen in young couples. It can even happen in older people as well.
Philia is platonic love. You are intimate with someone but may not have any sexual relations with them. This occurs in friendships, or in brothers. You find someone who you form a powerful connection with, be it sharing the same beliefs and values, or you just hit it off. Philia was quite cherished in the world of ancient Greece, and it’s easy to see why.
Ludus is flirtation, but there’s more to it than that. It is teasing, and it can involve laughter or anything else that involves playful flirting. It’s practiced by young people or anyone who doesn’t want anything special in their relationship. If you’ve ever flirted with someone, you are practicing Ludus.
Pragma is the love of commitment. It develops after a long time. Couples have understood each other, reached agreements, and learn to tolerate any differences they have. They haven’t fallen in love; they are staying in love. It’s something that takes years to craft, and it can be considered to be the most honorable form of love due to how long it can take to form.
This love is when you are selfless and love your fellow man instead. Many would consider it to be unconditional love, where you give without expecting to receive. No ulterior motives, no expecting a reward, just loving out of empathy and nothing else.
Agape can be a relationship, where you’re sacrificing a lot for your significant other, a friendship, or just to a stranger. You could say that the world needs more agape love. With that said, don’t be so agape that you end up being used.
This is the love of yourself. However, there are two kinds of love that Philautia can have. First, there’s the selfish kind. You only care about yourself, and no one else. You want it all, and you don’t care who stands in your way. You’re narcissistic, or just plain self-absorbed. This is the band kind of self-love.
With that said, there’s also the good kind of self-love. With the good kind, you’re confident, but not egotistical. You make efforts to care for yourself, be it to eat healthily, exercise, or keep yourself clean. You don’t let anyone put you down. This is the best kind of self-love, and it can be important when being in a romantic relationship.
This is child love. A parent feels love for their children, and that love is regardless of what the child does. You sacrifice a lot for your child, and you share a deep, emotional bond with them. This is the power of Storge, and
Example of Storge love: Think about the kind of love your mother gives you or your very best friend. It is rooted in friendship and understanding, but there is also a deep emotional connection there.
What makes the Greek definitions of love so interesting is the fact that it can apply to anyone. You don’t need to be in a romantic relationship to have the feeling of love. Instead, you need to have a strong bond with someone and then love them no matter what.
This is when you love someone, and they don’t love you back or aren’t aware of you loving them. They may see you as just a friend, or just an acquaintance. It can be hard to deal with a love that is not two-sided. If you are experiencing unrequited love, don’t try to force someone to love you. Instead, distance yourself from the person and try to find love somewhere else.
Love Is Blind
A synonym associated with love is blindness. What is meant by this is the fact that when you experience love, you may not be as reasonable. If you fall for someone who isn’t good for you, you may ignore or resent any concerns from your friends and family. You may excuse the person for some toxic actions they’ve done because you’re in love. When your love breaks up with you, you may get desperate and try to win them back, despite the fact they clearly don’t want you. Same with unrequited love.
Love can interfere with your logic, and this is partially due to chemicals in your brain. When you fall in love, you may experience a dopamine rush that makes you feel good, and when you break up, you desperately want that dopamine rush back. This is the same cause for many drug addictions.
Love Is Beautiful And Tragic
We all know the bad about love, but love has often been portrayed in a good light as well. It’s commonly associated with youth, as most people first fall in love at a young age. The blooming stages of love can be a thing of beauty, as one person tries to court the other and they overcome some hardships along the way.
In other cases, love is portrayed as tragic. Think about how many stories have ended in tragedy because of love, or the loss of love. Think about how many people you know have been burned by love. Not to mention, all the songs that have been written about it.
This makes the definition of love even more complex. It can be the best, and worst thing ever. This is also because the line between love and hate is quite thin. These strong emotions are located in the same part of your brain and can switch rather quickly.
Even if you’ve read a few articles about love, it can still be very hard for you to understand. One way you can understand love better, especially if you’re unsure if you’re feeling love, is to speak to a therapist. A relationship counselor has a grasp on how love works, and they can tell you what you’re feeling and what you should do about it. If you’re unsure if someone loves you back, then the counselor can help find the signs. If the love is unrequited, then the therapist can teach you how to move on.
If you’re having relationship troubles, then a therapist can help be the mediator to let the two of you reach a logical conclusion. Sometimes, the solution can be easy, but you just need a cool head to help.