What is Love?
I was asked today what love is. My first thought was “delight, mixed with unconditional acceptance” – but I don’t think that will really do. So to expand:
Love is a decision, not a feeling. In almost all circumstances, there are feelings – the “delight” mentioned in my original thought – but love is the result of an act of the will. Someone should only have to declare their love once – and that should stand forever. If it doesn’t – it was not love to begin with.
Love is an abstract noun, with as associated verb “to love” and the associated adjectives “loving”, “loveable” and lovely”. So, love is a concept – and here is the problem with love:
If someone says “I love you” and the recipient is pleased with that, it is because they have a concept of what love is and they are pleased that the speaker has declared this/feels this way. The speaker may be expressing an honest assertion. The problem is that there is almost a 0% chance that their concept of love is the same as that of the listener. Between them there may be the idea that “I love you” means any or all or none of : I like you; I think you are attractive; You’re hilarious; I want to see you again; I really feel you understand me; I want along term monogamous relationship with you… but the chances of them both holding the same concept simultaneously is unlikely.
There are the associated words “lovely”, “loveable” and “loving” which may deal with this. It is, by definition, only possible to love “lovely” things. Perceptions would differ according to subjective preferences. And to “love the unlovely” is paradoxical – the fact that people manage this shows that these things are in fact lovely – just not conventionally so.
To be loving is to do with behaviour: being attentive, thoughtful, considerate, helpful, appreciative etc – all of which are behaviours that occur as a result of an act of the will – consciously or unconsciously. To love is to deliver a message – whether verbally or practically.
The word ‘love’ is problematic as it is conceptual as described above. The apostle Paul had a good ‘go’ at describing it in 1 Corinthians ch 13:
“Love is patient love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
Here again, love is described in terms of qualities and behaviours rather than feelings and whims.
So, why do we love some people and not others? Why do we love some music, some activities, some entertainment, some styles, some books – why are they lovely? Why are we loving to them/love them?
There is, of course a role here for feelings and preferences. When you buy someone a present, you use your knowledge to figure out what they would be likely to love – I’d buy my Dad a classical CD rather than “Hits Of The Eighties” as I know he’d love the classical one. He’s never going to love A-ha. When you are picking out a life-partner – you don’t just think that anyone will do and you’ll learn to love them, (well, not in my culture – but in others’cultures – people might).
When Capulet was trying to talk Juliet into marrying Paris, she says that she’ll do her best to love him, “if looking liking move” – but she liked Romeo – that was her preference, even though her “only love” sprang from her “only hate”.
Love, as it is a concept and a commitment, needs to be embodied to exist, or at least to mean anything. Love is a message – declaring that someone or something is good, loveable, lovely, worthy – worth the unconditional acceptance – even though, paradoxically, they may well be unworthy. Being told you are loved is no good, without the behaviours that show what love is. In Paul’s description, love is personified – and it is only in a person that love can be known, and love can only be shown by a person. (I am not a pet owner – feel free to disagree!)
So, experientially – what is love? I return to my “delight, mixed with unconditional acceptance”. The “delight” part is the added bonus – your choice, your preference, your likes. The unconditional acceptance part is potentially universal – but not so personally gratifying. The “delight” part is a catalyst to bring the qualities and behaviours to bear. Ideally, the love is reciprocated, but it needn’t be – if true love is “unconditional”:
Romans 5 vs 8
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
God considered the readers of Paul’s letter worth dying for even although they weren’t and we aren’t. That is his choice, his preference. This is love.
So for us – if the message is love and the “message is the medium” we have to embody love so that it is real. And how is this done?
Be patient, kind, humble, selfless, forgiving, trusting, hopeful…….
Love never fails.