What is Love?

>> Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"In a world without love, it is better to be dead." - Count Dracula, Love at First Bite

Old topic, often kicked around, but, hey, I’m a traditional kind of gal so I’m kicking it around again. Partly because I’m trying to understand things in my real life (though not all of these questions apply). Partly because I write characters and, if I have a skewed notion of love, it can warp my fiction.

So, since I have a blog devoted to answering your questions, in this one I’m posing a question. What is love to you?

Now, don’t panic. Such an open-ended question can be a brain-breaker so I’m going to give you some examples/more specific questions on what I mean and what I’m trying to understand.

  • Do you think you can truly love someone without being vulnerable to hurt from them? In other words, can you protect yourself from any emotional harm from another person and still love them wholeheartedly?
  • If you believe you can remain invulnerable and still love, what makes what you feel love? How do you know something’s love if another person has no power to affect your happiness?
  • Do you think love is something you can dictate and control?
  • Do you think self-sacrifice is an inherent part of love – putting someone else’s happiness above your own – or is that notion archaic, codependent and/or warped?
  • Noting that everyone’s different, is there anything someone can do that would demonstrably prove (in your mind) he/she does not love someone else?
  • Is there anything one can do that would demonstrably prove he/she does love someone else?
  • What are the features in a love story, whether real or in fiction that you find most compelling?
  • How important is physical love to romantic love? Can someone be physically unfaithful but emotionally faithful? Can someone be emotionally unfaithful but physically faithful? Which is more important? Why is faithfulness important and would it be less important if your partner were entirely honest about it?
  • If you need/love someone more than he/she needs/loves you (even if he/she does need/love you), does that mean there is no real future for your relationship?
  • Can two people define love differently and still be happy together? Or is that par for the course?
Betcha didn’t think there’d be a quiz, did you? I’d appreciate any feedback you can give me. I don’t know if there are any right answers, but I’m curious to see if my own views on love are skewed from reality (or, rather, what others think) or indicative.


  • The Mother

    Romantic love is a combination of hormones and psychic mumbo jumbo.

    It doesn't last.

    Anyone who has been married as long as I have can tell you that you fall in and out of love with your spouse. What's left in the middle?

    Respect and friendship. Both of which can be seriously jeopardized by things like, oh, extra marital affairs and back stabbing and immature behavior.

    So--yes, I think it's possible for two people to define love differently and still manage a couple, since the "love" thing is variable anyway.

    Physical love is important, but that also changes with time.

    It is most important to pick a mate with whom you have a significant amount of rapport. That's what carries you through the bad times. The whole "opposites attract" thing is fiction.

    The romance and candlelight thing is, too, after the first blush. Anyone who tells you different is either lying or embarrassed.

  • Stephanie B

    Well, good, we have cynicism covered, then. While I agree that being friends is key to any long term relationship, I'm not quite ready to believe love (at least romantic love) is all nonsense. But, then, I believe in souls, so you can't go by me.

    I can't discount the possibility that you're correct, but, I hope you're wrong. No offense.

    Love does exist in my novels, though, because, hey, I'm a dreamer.

  • The Mother

    I don't see myself as a cynic. Just a realist with a biology and biochemistry degree.

    I have been married for almost thirty years. First and only marriage. For us both. So I think I do know a thing or two about how it really works.

    Here's the thing--while marriages all around us have crumbled and fallen apart, and while I have listened to many, many women whine about how their husbands don't "love" them anymore, ours works. Not because we believe in superstitious nonsense, but perhaps because we ARE realists, who understand the world and don't wear rose colored glasses that tell us things should be different.

  • Stephanie B

    When I read your response to my husband, who tends to be more practical than I am, he said it was important to point out that love isn't the same for everyone.

    I was asking what love was to you. And I appreciate your frank response.

  • Jeff King

    True love is what I feel for my children, it is much deeper than words and goes beyond explanation. I would sacrifice my very sole to keep them safe. And I would crumble inside if they were ever taken away from me.

    Love for my wife or a friend is what you would call a learned love which can fall in and out of favor depending on what kind of response you get back. In other words if I express love and do not receive love back I would eventually move on.

    In so many words love is personal it is something you feel close to in a way that words just don't explain. And yes I feel that if you love a person you would be willing to sacrifice yourself to save that person...

    To answer your questions, working top to bottom.
    1: no you can truly love someone without opening up yourself.
    2: feeling so close to something it hurts not to be close to it.
    3: yes, outside my children.
    4: yes no question
    5: cheat on or lie to that person would prove they don't love you.
    6: respect, listen, show emotion and let me feel love. After all love is felt more than it’s shown.
    7: connection between two people
    8: to me the go hand in hand. if you love that person you will be faithful in both aspects..
    9: no there is always hope if, the other person cares for you. But if they won't even talk to you then move on..
    10: no defining love is different for both people, what matters most is showing love and being there no matter what. And really enjoying the other persons company above all others (excluding kids)

  • Stephanie B

    Thank you, Jeff.

  • Sheila

    The romantic notion of love, of falling in love, isn't a long lasting state and is generally focused on one person. The love we have for our children isn't exclusive. I think almost all agree that we love our children unreservedly, and other family members too. We seem very able to love more than one child, parent, sibling. Why then do we feel we can (or should) love only one partner or member of the opposite sex, unless it's something that society has instilled in us? Its original purpose presumably was to give children a stable upbringing but nowadays, when life expectancy has far exceeded the dependency of children, things could be looked on very differently.

  • Poetic Shutterbug

    I think that being vulnerable is allowing the ego to take control over the heart. If we learn to shed all expectations that we have unconditional love sets the tone. The problem is we expect too much of ourselves and others. As a result, we are often hurt and we blame the other person. We must learn not to expect and not to judge. Believe me it's difficult and even though I know this to be true it's very hard to apply this to everyday life. In order to be happy however, it's something we all need to learn. Great post.

  • Tony K

    Hi Stephanie,

    I am trying again to post here. Thanks for the encouragement to repost.
    The following is thinking of love in a context of an adult relationship, not children.

    I think most people think of love as a strong feeling. It is what hits you when you first establish a relationship with someone to whom you are sexually attracted. Then over time for most people, the feeling fades, they fall out of love. The honeymoon is over. The problem is that thinking of love as a feeling so often leads to failure because it is uncontrollable. This is when marriages fail, the eyes stray, we get the seven year itch.

    But that's when love truly begins. It's easy to "fall in love" when your hormones are raging and everything from both of you is focused on each other. More difficult is when the hormones die down and we are back to what we truly are. That's the point at which you accept your partner for who he or she is and continue to give love even though you don't "feel" it.

    So I think that a more useful way to think about love is as a choice. It is the actions you take to give love to another in a way that they receive love.

    I wrote a lot about it over on Emotions For Engineers.


  • Stephanie B

    You have a very interesting blog, Tony and I appreciate those links. I'll likely discuss what you have to say with my husband tonight.

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