Anywhere you look, you are bound to see something having to do with love, whether it is a couple, a commercial, a book, a movie, or even a holiday. What is Love? I feel that love is a very intriguing but complex emotion. It is also difficult to quantify.
In order to attempt to define love, a general understanding of several questions is essential:
- Is there a difference in the way men and women define love? Knowing that men and women are distinct can lead to the assumption that each group defines love differently. Because men are men and women are women, their motives in pursuing love relationships vary. “Although men and women face the same existential problems in life, death, aloneness, insufficiency, and imperfection, they attempt to solve these problems in different ways and utilize love differently. For women, the passionate quest has usually been interpersonal, and has generally involved romantic love; for men, it has more often been heroic, the pursuit of achievement and power” (“Some Differences between Men and Women”, The Atlantic Monthly). Women are lured into love by romance (flowers, dining, intimacy, and so on), which to them represents love. Men usually only use romance as the “get the woman” and once they get her, they go into a state of content, which, for them, is love. Women experience love as part of their destiny, while for men, love is not usually of the utmost importance in consolidating his selfhood. “Women establish their feminine identity through loving, whereas men must be sure of their masculine identification before they can fall in love” (Some Differences between Men and Women”, The Atlantic Monthly). Just as there are differences in men and women’s motives for romantic involvement, so too are there similarities. “Both men and women put forth friendship as primary to love, deeming romance and passion less important than support and warm fuzzies” (“The Lessons of Love”, Psychology Today).
- Is there a difference in how various cultures or ethnic groups define love? In America, the tendency is to define love according to romantic choice and independence. In other countries, such as parts of India, marriages are arranged. “College students in India are the most likely to marry without love; only 24 percent say no to marriage without love” (“Is Love a Luxury?”, American Demographics). Romantic love is known in 147 of 166 cultures. However, few cultures outside the West embrace romantic love with the vigor that we do. Fewer cultures still build marriage, traditionally a social and economic institution, on the individualistic pillar of romance. Research shows the U.S. as the lead in belief in romantic love–86 percent of American college students say they would not marry without love; Brazil comes in a close second; Japan and the Philippines fall in between, with 62 and 64 percent saying no to marriage without love (“Is Love a Luxury?”, American Demographics). The capacity to love in an individual living in any given culture depends on the influence this culture has on the character of the average person. However, a cross cultural validation of predisposing influences (U.S., Russia, Japan) suggests that reciprocal liking, desirable personality and physical features” may be universal elements of love (“The Lessons of Love”, Psychology Today).
- Does age affects one’s perception of love? The answer seems a simultaneous yes and no. Human beings are born with the potential to love themselves and their neighbors. Hate, in contrast, is not natural. The more we understand ourselves, others, and what it means to be a person…the better we can understand love. Love is a capacity of the mature, productive character. Because maturity doesn’t necessarily imply age, “People, whatever their age, retain their capacity for loving and aged people need love at least as much as when they were young” (Rubin, “Real Love”). The difference lies in accordance to individual needs. “As people continue to grow and evolve, their needs and desires change and shift as to emphasis” (Branden, “The Psychology of Romantic Love”). We love ourselves, so we try to do things that make us happy, and because we also need other people as a supplement to fulfill our own needs, we develop love for other people.
- What’s the difference between being “in love” and love? To be “in-love” is like an impermanent high. “Love has little to do with the in love state of temporary romantic insanity” (“Advice from The Pros”, Psychology Today). You may like the highs and lows of being “in love” so much that you look for a repeat of that phase with another person (and another, and another). Or you may take a more realistic view of who the other person is and go on to the next phase toward “real love” (which is friendship and partnership) by getting to know the other person’s actual thoughts and feelings, sharing our own, and offering emotional support, much as friends do. Consider this: You can’t get her out of your mind. You love the way he talks, the way he looks, the way he moves. You can’t wait to see her. You feel so comfortable, so open with him. This feels so different from the other relationships you’ve had. You both find yourselves thinking about the future. Are you in love? A good question and a tough one. Often we expect to “get something out of love” rather than approaching it as something you put yourself into. That’s why most of us aren’t able to truly love someone. “Rather than trying to figure out if you are in love, it may be better to decide if you have a loving relationship, ask yourself these questions 1) Do you both feel at ease with each other? 2) Is there intimacy (intimacy is not just physical affection and hushed conversation)? 3) Is there honesty in the relationship? 4) Is there respect in the relationship? 5) Is there room for change?” (“How Can I Tell When I’m In Love”, Current Health). Knowing whether you are really in love is not easy. The answer, lies inside you.
- Does the definition of love in modern day differ from the past? A marriage counselor in Jacksonville, FL shared her thoughts about this with me, “Well, I think people yearn for the same thing but are not willing to settle for the same things.” There are so many more alternatives. There is more blending, such as gay couples and interracial relationships. “Men and women are marrying later and demanding more of each other–more effort, more perception, and more character” (“Romance in the 90s”, Life). Driven to assume more traditionally female functions, they (men) have developed greater gentleness and warmth. Men today are more balanced, more complex, they make better lovers, better parents. At that time, it was said that love in the 90s- would be a meeting of the minds as well as collision of the flesh, an inn calm on the expressway of change.
- Is there such thing as “love at first sight”? Some people believe that from the moment they met the one they love, love, like magic, was already there. Fascination, attraction, and passion may be born “at first sight”, but love is not. Love requires knowledge, and knowledge requires time. People sometimes speak of falling in love at first sight. That is how it can seem in retrospect when the powerful emotional response of the first moment is validated and confirmed by later experiences in such a way that love does indeed evolve. As an example: The marriage counselor shared that her residence in Jacksonville was actually the result of her being “in-love” two different times. To make a long story short, she came to Jacksonville because of a guy she was in love with. When he moved to another city, leaving her here with no friends, she met her present love and husband at a party, the same guy she was “thunderstruck” by on the beach earlier, without him even knowing she existed. That, for her, was “love at first sight” which grew into something deeper.
- Does love last forever? Love works in two ways; you get back what you put in. If you make a real effort to make things work, meaning compromising, it will. “What make relationships hard is that our needs change over time” (“How Can I Tell When I’m In Love”, Current Health). In order for relationships to last, they need to have a way of changing as the people change. “Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new” (“Advice from The Pros”, Psychology Today). The desire for permanence, especially when we are deeply happy, the desire to hold the moment forever may be thoroughly understandable; but such an arrangement cannot be had. Not because love is impermanent. Love can be the most permanent thing in our life but because change and motion are the most natural things in this universe (Branden, “The Psychology of Romantic Love”). Our greatest chance at permanence lies in our ability to handle change. Love has the greatest chance to endure when it does not fight the flow of life but learns to join with it. This may be the ultimate challenge of romantic love. Everybody has their own expectation of what love should be and when it doesn’t happen, they are quick to jump rather than seeing it through. Love is something you have to work at continuously. Romance can be brought back. To quote the marriage counselor, “I’ve seen it happen”.
So, what is Love? Ask for a definition of love and you’ll get a hundred different answers.
First, I tried to define love by looking it up in a standard dictionary. I found love defined as
A feeling of attraction resulting from sexual desire
Enthusiasm or fondness
A score of zero in tennis
Love is the most complex, mysterious, and difficult of the human emotions to understand. Definitions don’t help.
Next, I surveyed people of various ages, races, marital statuses, and sex. In response to the phrase “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with”, romance targets varied. I did not get any consistent responses. Some of the responses were:
- “If there is no way to be with your true love, some love is better than none at all.”
- “You never settle when it comes to loving someone!”
- “One might find out, as time progresses, that the person he/she is with, is the one he really loves.”
- “The whole point of a relationship is to be with the one you love–the ultimate goal and once achieved, one will be much happier and feel more accomplished.”
I found that ambitions of love are individualistic.
Finally, my research reaffirmed that love is difficult to quantify. Love is more like a sum of parts. Some of the components include understanding, altruism, hope, peace, honesty, sportsmanship, interests, and support, just to name a few. There are also different kinds of love: the foremost self-love; between parent and child; between family; between friends; between spouse and all others. “Love, it’s more than physical attraction, more than infatuation, more than friendship and having things in common. There’s affection, there’s caring, there’s something deeper that you feel, that you sense” (“How Can I Tell When I’m In Love”, Current Health). It endures only when the lovers love many things together, and not merely each other.
The marriage counselor prescribed her definition of love: “Love is a combination of a best friend and family within a partner”. There must be trust as with a best friend and perseverance as with a family, the only way love in a relationship will grow.
THIS IS WHAT I THINK “LOVE” IS:
Love is an individualized emotion, different for each person. Love, no matter with whom, where, when, or why, takes time and energy. It is the giving of one’s self, but not a loss of one’s self.
Blog based on a research project from my undergraduate years. Telling my age a bit, but I had to covert the original “Microsoft Works” file (which was saved on a floppy disk) to a current format.