What is Love?


There have been a couple of moments in my life when I encountered someone who said, “I don’t know what love is.” One was a girlfriend of the distant past, another was recent. A young man from India whom I was debating about non-traditional marriages with. I’ve also heard it said in movies and watching videos of people I don’t especially know. So I’m aware it is not an entirely uncommon question.

For me, I don’t think it was ever a real question. I “knew” what love was from a pretty early age. Thanks in part to loving parents, family, and others. Also, TV and stories. Love seemed pretty self-evident to me. Enough so that it really wasn’t something I questioned in any way until someone said to me, “I don’t know what love is.” I knew enough to know it was a bad sign when someone you love says that. I didn’t know enough to give a good answer.

So what is it?

Love is an emotion we feel. I believe that it is an emotion that drives us to socially cooperative behaviors and thus is a key element in what it means to be human. To love a person is to identify them as part of your own identity. Their hardship is your pain, their triumph is your joy. Love is the emotion that binds us together.

Love is a continuum, or, you might say it comes in different levels of intensity. This intensity corresponds to how much you feel those you love are part of yourself. You may have a general love for your fellow human beings and experience sympathy and empathy for anyone you meet. It is not uncommon. You may also feel a much deeper love for a specific person, even to such a degree that you may feel they are the bigger part of who you are, and you would gladly give your life for theirs, for without them, you just would not be a whole person anymore.

What it isn’t

It is not an external force. Love comes from people. It is ours, we generate it, we act on it, we live it. We are not always all that aware of what we are doing, just as we are not always aware of the origins of any of our emotions. It can feel like an alien power because it’s not an act of our conscious mind, it’s an innate drive. We can certainly rationalize it (like I am doing now). We can manipulate it, and perhaps with drugs or the like, squash or enhance it, but it’s still just part of ourselves.

It is not black and white. It is a whole range. Not all love is equal. Some loves are just stronger than others. Some people simply feel more love than others do. Different people will put different boundaries on it. So if you find yourself asking “is this really love?” and you are asking because it seems to you to be different than what someone else is feeling, then the answer is yes, its love, but not all love is the same in degree.

It is not inherently balanced. Because it is an emotion, and we are all different, we all love in our own way. Because love is about identity, the way our love manifests is as unique as our identities are. Some people can express it easily and comfortably, for others it can be scary and awkward. And for this reason, not every couple is equal in love. Or even if they are, each will express it in their own way. But it doesn’t just balance itself. In love, it is really two connections, not one. It doesn’t have to be perfectly balanced but if it is too far out of balance, it often becomes painful. It is hard to feel someone is a part of you when they clearly don’t want to be part of you and constantly reject the idea.

Most of all, it is not the whole of a good relationship. It is the driving emotion that brings us together, but desire alone is not enough for anything. Relationships also need skill, trust, balance, wisdom, and a host of other factors to really be as wonderful as they can be. Love is the fuel for most relationships, but it is not all you need.



Comments are closed.