After my last post on friendship I had a very dear friend of mine come to me with a request to write my next post on the subject of love. I enjoy getting requests and a good challenge, as well as adore this friend, so I happily agreed to write the post. Love, after all, shouldn't be a difficult topic to write on. I have plenty of practical experience so this should be a no brainer.
I should seriously learn to not underestimate the depth and breadth of a subject. I have been pondering on this post for almost two weeks now and I still haven't come up with a satisfactory answer to the question of 'What is love?'.
Here is the problem; love is complicated. I think that love is perhaps the most complicated simple subject in the world. I could give you the Webster definition of love but after reading it I realized that it is completely lacking in accuracy. It makes the whole concept far too simple to be a true definition of what love is.
English uses only one word for love, which is a problem in some ways. We use context clues, inflection, and adjectives to determine the type and severity of love instead of mucking about with multiple words to mean love. Most other languages do the opposite and assign a different word for different types of love; Sanskrit, ancient Persian, Eskimo, Greek, Hebrew, Japanese, Arabic, and the list goes on.
What all of these languages point out by having multiple words for love, is the fact that love is very complicated. There is not just one type of love. The love you have for your significant other is different than the love you have for your children, or for your parents, or for a friend, or for a book series, or for your pets, or for those really cute sling back sandals, or for cheese.
When it comes to love of a person you can love someone but not be in love with them, which adds an entirely different layer of complication into the entire love scenario because loving and being in love are two different things completely. Of course it is hard to explain the difference to someone who has never actually been in love with someone before. Quantifying the concept of being in love will typically leave you with analogies to bright lights, fuzzy feelings, butterflies in your stomach, radiating warmth, contentedness, and joy, but nothing truly concrete.
So what is love?
Love is unpredictable. Love is messy. Love is caustic. Love is terrifying. Love is one sided. Love is fickle. Love is fleeting.
I bet those were not the things you were expecting me to say. Allow me to elaborate.
Love is this ridiculously complicated emotion that has no real rhyme or reason to it. You feel love towards people and things generally because they make you happy and feel comfortable and good. This is a wonderful thing. The problem is that just because you love something or someone does not mean that your affection will be returned. It is a total crap shoot.
Whether it is love for a friend, a family member, or a lover, there is absolutely no guarantee that they will love you back or that their love will remain true. This is why relationships end; people fall out of love all the time. Those warm happy feelings that we initially have for people can fade over time. They call time a test for a reason people; not everyone passes that test.
This is a very sad truth about love that you have to be willing to accept. It is not all sunshine and lollipops and if you don't accept that, you will someday be in for a very rude awakening. At some point in your life you will feel the bitter sting of lost love.
And that is enough from the cynical realist side of things.
Once you move past the downfalls of love (which I desperately hope you can move past them) you are left with all the good happy things. Love is a wonderful thing that fills you with joy and happiness. At its most basic form, that is all that love is; happiness. Loving someone or something means that they make you happy. Easy peasy.
I had a friend in high school who used to get freaked out when I said I loved him. It was the truth, I loved him. I was not IN love with him, but I loved him none the less. I come from a family that is very big on loving people and letting them know that you love them, so sharing this affection with others is in no way weird to me. He wasn't from such an open background.
We finally came to the conclusion that there is love (with a lower case l) and then there is Love (upper case L). Lower case l was designated for love of a friend and far less serious (in his mind). If you used the upper case version of the word it was more romantic and toward being in love with someone. He was comfortable with me saying I love you once we gave it strict definitions. In the end I would just say 'little l' and he would get the idea.
Some people don't choose to designate the feeling they have for their friends as love, and that is fine. Again I was raised in a family where loving your friends was just what you did. I heard the words 'I love you' so constantly that it is second nature.
It never devalued the term to me though. Just because I love lots of people does not mean that the love is any less. I do not have a certain quotient of love that I have to dole out in a lifetime. If I choose to love lots of people the love won't thin out and become smaller. True I might love some people more than others but that is just dependent on our relationship.
Love is also not something that is made less valid with time or distance. There are people that I love without question that I have not seen or spoken to in years. Love has no set expiration or use by date, it is not a dairy product. Much like friendship does not have to be constantly engaged for the friendship to remain valid, neither does love.
Love still is not always going to be reciprocated. I have friends that I love dearly who would not share that sentiment with me. They would say they are fond of me but love is not the emotion they would choose to describe our relationship. This is perfectly fine. I have no intention of defining a word or an emotion for them. It doesn't change how I feel about them though, that isn't how it works. I can love them even if they don't love me back.
So love is a risk, and it can end terribly, and cause pain and a whole host of messy problems, but love is completely natural and totally unavoidable in the end. Despite your best efforts love is something that will creep in when you are busy doing other things and slap you upside the head so hard you see stars. You can deny it all you like, but it will be there.
In the end I have come to the conclusion that love is not something you should define or control. It is a force that defies words and logic and simply exists. The best we can do is embrace love, cherish love, accept love, and try and find it in as many places as possible because in the end love is the most wonderful thing in the world.
In the immortal words of the Beatles:
In the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.