What Is Love?
Throughout the history of mankind, we as a world culture have made love out to be mysterious, complex, difficult, and undefinable. It’s the subject of endless poems and literary works. There is an enormous amount of material available out there about love, a lot of it contradictory. We’ve been given the impression that to define love is near to impossible. Maybe there’s a fear that if we define it, it would somehow be less powerful...less impactful...less exhilarating. Maybe we like the mystery of it. But is it really that complicated? Perhaps the complications surrounding love come from all “stuff” we add on to this powerful emotion. Lets drop all the baggage surrounding relationships and define what it is we are experiencing in the moment of love.
Basic Components of Love
What do you feel when you love someone? If distilled down to it’s core components, what would those be? Yes, love is an emotion, a feeling, a wanting, and a “being”. We know it feels good, but what specific feelings, wantings, and beings are present when we feel love? Here are the common denominators of love...
Love is Accepting.
Acceptance is labeling someone as "okay" and having no particular desire to change them. Who they are is perfectly fine with you. You pose no condition on whether you will love them or not. This is call unconditional love. When your love IS conditional, the moment they step outside your set of conditions, love evaporates.Love is Appreciating.
Appreciation is one step beyond acceptance. Its when your focus is on what you like about another. We look at them and feel this sweeping appreciation for who they are, their joy, their insights, their humor, their companionship, etc. When someone says they are "in love" with another, they mean their appreciation is so enormous for this person that it consumes their every thought.Love is Wanting Another to Feel Good.
We want those we love to be happy, safe, healthy, and fulfilled. We want them to feel good in all ways, physically, mentally and emotionally.
How Do We Express Love?
We don’t always express our love. Love is a feeling and the expression of that feeling is separate. It’s an action. There’s a practical reason we don’t always express our love for another. It’s an issue of TIME. We only have 24 hours in a day (if you make it up that way). If the expression of love was a core ingredient to love, we would have to be stingy with who we loved, because there simply wouldn’t be enough time to demonstrate our love for everyone! If you see the distinction between the feeling and the expression, you can then love endless numbers of people.
Love expressed is when you give your attention, your time, your focus to someone. Webster defines attention as “the giving of one’s mind to something."
There are many ways in which we give our attention to another. We use our five senses. Our ears to listen. Being completely present with the one who is speaking. Our eyes, watching another, undivided attention. Tasting/smelling? (I’ll let you figure that one out). Touching, giving a hug, holding a hand, a caress, or sexual expression. How you express your love depends on the type of relationship.
Is Love Painful?
Who hasn't experienced the pain of love? Or is it the pain of rejection? The pain of self doubt? The pain of fear? It's important to distinguish between love and totally separate feelings.
When it comes to pain surrounding love, we're more likely referring to the “add-ons” of love. The love baggage, we might call it. For some reason, many people assume negative emotions are a part or element of love. But experientially we know this isn't true.
Love is not painful, it feels incredible. The pain and hurt we feel doesn’t come from love, it comes from our doubts, fears, anxiety, perceived rejections, broken trusts, anger, jealousy, envy, etc. So why do we as a culture lump all those other feelings in with love?
Perhaps its because we feel these uncomfortable emotions most often in association with our love relationships. Our primary relationships are important to us, so we assume these doubts and fears are all part of the loving experience. But is this really true?
When we are fearful, angry, anxious, unhappy, or jealous, are we truly experiencing a state of love? They sure feel different, don't they? Love feels warm, open, joyous and filled with a deep sense of appreciation. Pain steps into a love relationship when you switch it from a "wanted relationship," into a "needed relationship." You don't NEED any one relationship. Want? Yes. Need? No.
If you go into a relationship not feeling terribly good about yourself, you're more likely to become dependent on your partner to help you feel good about yourself. If we felt empty before they appeared in our lives, we fear the emptiness returning if they leave, so their staying with us becomes paramount. That dependency can create all kinds of fear and unhappiness when there's a perceived threat to you staying together.
If we aren’t giving ourselves the acceptance we crave, we look to those around us to provide it for us. Again, none of this has a thing to do with the love you feel, but everything to do with the fear you feel.
If you really want to remove the love baggage of fear and unhappiness, the first step is to improve your self awareness and self acceptance.
Is What I'm Feeling Infatuation or Love?
There are some feelings we have when infatuated that we don’t have when we’re feeling love. Some of the “symptoms” of infatuation are; feelings of panic, uncertainty, overpowering lust, feverish excitement, impatience, and/or jealously.
When infatuated, we are thrilled, but not happy, wanting to trust, yet suspicious. There are lingering, nagging doubts about our “partner in infatuation” and their love for us. We’re miserable when they’re away, almost like we’re not complete unless we’re with them. It’s a rush and it’s intense. It’s difficult to concentrate. And most infatuation relationships have a high degree of sexual charge around them. Somehow being with them is not complete unless in ends in some type of sexual encounter.
Do any of these “symptoms” resemble feelings of love? Hardly. So why do we become infatuated? Where does it come from? Perhaps it’s biological.
When infatuated we experience a surge of dopamine that rushes through the brain causing us to feel good. Norepinephrine flows through the brain stimulating production of adrenaline (pounding heart). Phenylethalimine (found in chocolate) creates a feeling of bliss. Irrational romantic sentiments may be caused by oxytocin, a primary sexual arousal hormone that signals orgasm and feelings of emotional attachment. Together these chemicals sometimes override the brain activity that governs logic.
The body can build up tolerances to these chemicals so it takes more of the substance to get that special feeling of infatuation. People who jump from relationship to relationship may be craving the intoxicating effects of these substances and may be “infatuation junkies”.
When the chemical flood dries up, the relationship either moves into a loving romantic one or there is disillusionment, and the relationship ends.
Different Types of Love Relationships
We establish relationships with many different types of people. Our family members, neighbors, co-workers, friends, spouses, significant others, etc. We've been taught that the love is different depending on who we're loving. We even have different names for it such as Agape for spiritual love and Eros for sexual love.
The emotion of love is the same regardless of who you feel it for. You want them to be happy, you accept them as they are, and you appreciate some aspect(s) about them. So if love is the same, why does it feel so different depending on who you love?
The distinctions in the loving experience are apparent when we look at how we express our love. The emotions are the same, but how we express and the degree in which we express it are different depending on who we are loving. You may want to spend more time with your friends than your family members. You might enjoy different activities with your co-workers than you do with your spouse.
When and how we express love is determined by preferences. You may prefer to spend more time with someone who is outgoing, rather than quiet, or more serious rather than silly. You may be more physically attracted to someone who is short rather than tall, or older rather than younger. There are an endless number of qualities that we might prefer over others. And those preferred qualities determines who, when, how, and to what degree we express our love.
The focus of this site is on romantic relationships, since this seems to be the area of most interest and concern. This is not surprising since these are the people who we’re choosing to share most of our lives.
What is Romantic Love?
A romantic relationship is one where you have a deep feeling of connection to the other person. You accept them as they are, want them to feel good, and deeply appreciate who they are. They fit in with most of your preferences in a life partner, i.e.; personality, life goals, beliefs and value systems, etc. One of the ways you desire to express your love for them through your sexuality. Sex is the one key element that distinguishes a romantic relationship from all other types.