On Love: The Metaphysics of the Thing We Call Love
What is Love?
What is love?
...No, not the Haddaway song we all know and love. There it is again, the word "LOVE". So, what is it? What is love? It's a question that has plagued mankind since the appearance of womankind, and vice versa.
Lexicographers define the word "love" as follows:
love as noun: (1) strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties; (2) attraction based on sexual desire: affection and tenderness felt by lovers; (3) affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests.
love as verb: (1) to hold dear: cherish; (2) to feel a lover's passion, devotion, or tenderness for; (3) to like or desire actively: take pleasure in; (4) to thrive in.
Somehow, those just don't seem to satisfy, do they?. Let's explore.
What is Love?
Is There Such a Thing as Love?
If there was one true answer, there would be no metaphysical question, would there? However, as prevalent as "love" is, I am willing to forego the existential question of whether there is such a thing as love at all and assume, for the sake of this discussion, that "love" does exist.
The definitions of love in its noun form suggest an emotional response. While these emotional forms of love are familiar to most of us, the suggestion implicit in these definitions is that love is reactionary. We love someone because we are related to, attracted to, or identify with them. In other words, love is a response.
This is also somewhat unsatisfying because of the dynamic nature (perceived though it may be) of this thing called love.
The love-as-a-verb idea addresses this to some degree, but brings a whole host of other concerns to light. The definitions of love in its verb form leaves this very complicated emotion (for lack of a better word) to the subjectivity of the actor. To cherish something, to feel something, to take pleasure in something; all wonderful, to be sure, but all potentially, if not likely, temporary. Does this form of love survive when the sensation has passed? Is this form of love actually a love of the sensation created rather than of the object in question? For example, if you love ice cream, do you love ice cream, or do you love the result produced by the taste of the ice cream? Is this type of distinction legitimate?
What Love Is Not.
Since defining love is so darn complicated, it might be easier to define love by excluding what it is not.
1. An Emotion: Contrary to popular belief, love is not simply an emotion. If love is purely emotional, it would be easily supplanted by anger or disappointment. Yet, we can be angry or disappointed with persons we love. In fact, many times, it is only because we love someone that we would be angered or disappointed by their actions. No, love is not so fleeting as to simply be an emotion. However, but for this confusing of love and emotion, the Las Vegas wedding chapel industry would be out of business.
2. A State of Mind or Being: "We're in love". It sounds so lovely, does it not? What about this one, "I love him/her, but I'm not in love with him/her."? Really? We all, I think, on some level, understand this completely fictional distinction between "love" and "in love", but what does this really mean? Is it not much simpler to say, "I love you, but not that much." Better still, "I like you, but I don't love you." Ideally, wouldn't love have the same conclusive qualities as perfection, or pregnancy for that matter. Can something be more perfect, or slightly pregnant? Does love not deserve as much?
3. A Descriptive for Something You Merely Enjoy: "I love politics," or so I say, but can I truly love politics? I certainly enjoy politics, but the void that would be left if one day all politicians got along could easily be filled by something else, professional wrestling perhaps. This use of love is symptomatic of a society that bandies about significant language insignificantly, and, I submit, the very reason for the confusion about the word love.
So, What Is Love?
It would be wrong to simply say that love is none of these things because, to some degree, love is all of these things.
But, in its purest form, love is a choice, a commitment. Emotions, sensations, feelings, they are all fleeting, but a choice to love should not be. Emotions, sensations and feelings can all be brought in line with a choice.
Admittedly, minds are easily changed, and choices can be changed as easily, but "love" as a decision of one's own will (1) removes the purely reactionary nature of love, and (2) accomodates for changes is particular emotional responses; yet allows for all of the above.
Which would you rather say: "I choose to love someone." or "I love them, and I can't help it."? Although I believe that love is seldom free, in most instances, the ability to exercise your will is. So, choose to love.
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