What is Love?
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Love is a feeling of strong or deep affection. It is one of the basic human emotions, and yet one of the most complex and difficult to define. Love is often associated with such feelings as passion, joy, enthusiasm, admiration, tenderness, loyalty, contentment, and spiritual devotion. Each person has his own way of experiencing love, depending on such factors as personality, temperament, and social environment. Generally, however, love is a source of pleasure and happiness to people.
Love plays an important part in human relationships. Its many varieties include love between a man and a woman, between parents and children, and between friends. The concept of love is not limited to a feeling for another person. One may love life, truth, virtue, knowledge, beauty, one's country, humanity, and many other things or ideas.
Although many people have tried to describe love and its effects, no one description is completely satisfactory.
Love has been the favorite theme of poets and novelists, who have often shown that love may be accompanied by other strong emotions such as jealousy and hate. Modern psychologists have analyzed the various emotional and social conflicts that may be present in a love relationship.
In Christian belief the word "love" is often used to mean feelings of kindness and goodwill toward others. According to the Revised Standard Version of the New Testament, St. Paul proclaimed the most enduring Christian virtues to be faith, hope, and love, and he stated that "the greatest of these is love" (I Corinthians 13:13). In its broader theological meaning the word "love" applies to the spiritual relationship between a man and God, as distinguished from the sensual love between a man and a woman.
Love in Society
Love has a valuable function in society. Deep regard for other human beings fosters harmony not only in marriage and the family but also in communities and even among nations. The love of one's fellowmen, or brotherly love, is an ideal supported by almost all religious and ethical systems of the world. One of the chief principles of the Judeo-Christian tradition is the Biblical command "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Leviticus 19: 18). In his famous encyclical Peace on Earth, Pope John XXIII expressed the view of many religious leaders that society is based on a moral order that "should be inspired and perfected by mutual love."
Infant and Adolescent Love
The need to love and be loved is universal. Most modern psychologists believe that being loved is crucial to the normal mental and emotional development of the human being. In the earliest stage of his growth a child depends largely on the loving care of his mother. Later he also seeks affection from his father and other members of the family. Besides seeking to be loved, the child learns to express affection for other people. Therefore, psychologists stress the importance of a warm and loving family environment in the development of an emotionally healthy child.
As a young person matures, he develops strong attachments to various people among his schoolmates, companions, teachers, relatives, and neighbors. The most intense relationships are often established during childhood and adolescence. In late adolescence and early adulthood a person often develops a special affection and regard for someone of the opposite sex and may later choose that person as a partner in marriage.
The ardent emotion that a man and a woman may feel for each other is often called romantic love. In modern Western society romantic love is frequently the basis for courtship and marriage.
The passionate attachment that characterizes the feelings of a young couple in love may later develop into a strong and lasting bond, founded on common interests and shared experiences.
It is possible for a married couple to develop a deep mutual affection and regard without having first experienced romantic love. In many cultures, both past and present, romantic love has not been the main basis for marriage. Although the concept of romantic love has appeared in literature for thousands of years, it did not become associated with marriage until relatively modern times. Before the 19th century, marriages were often arranged by the couple's parents, whose main considerations were economic and social.
This custom was particularly widespread in such Eastern countries as China, Japan, and India, and it persists to some degree in other parts of the world.
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