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What is Love?

what_is_love-t2Most of us, in the June of our lives, have experienced the blissful feeling of ‘falling in love’. The stress of everyday living suddenly vanishes, time seems to stop and the only thing that matters is closeness to the beloved. However, is that really love? For if it is, then why is it regularly so transient, so temporary. There are childhood romances that continue for a lifetime, and then there are some that fade out over few years. How do we distinguish between genuine love and infatuation?

Most of us, in the June of our lives, have experienced the blissful feeling of ‘falling in love’. The stress of everyday living suddenly vanishes, time seems to stop and the only thing that matters is closeness to the beloved. My own experience as a starry eyed teenager was no different. Life revolved around just catching a glimpse of the beloved, and, I swear, her one smile was infinitely more important than all material possessions. Hours really flew by when we were together, and I – otherwise ‘creativity challenged’ – actually gifted her more than a thousand cards, most handwritten! Indeed, we were ‘madly in love’.

Then… we got married. And have been so for the last twelve years. And we can now empathize with Erich Fromm: “Love is perhaps the only activity which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet, which fails so regularly!”

Well, jokes apart, we are still in love. But we often wonder, isn’t this a ‘very different love’ than being ‘madly in love’. Why is the sight of the same beloved, in itself, not the ultimate panacea as it was before, and why has the stress of everyday living – the towels, the spending, the habits, the personal space, the relationship with in-laws – started showing its ugly face once again? These challenges were there even during courtship, but somehow were ignored, just didn’t matter. It is as if we were simply oblivious to everything that could cause stress. And it resurfaces after years of staying together.

Psychologists like Scott Peck distinguish between ‘genuine love’ and ‘falling in love’. In typical Darwinian style, they label the latter ‘a trap genes lay to make procreation easier’. And sure enough, Dr. Helen Fisher suggests that there are real ‘pleasure chemicals’ getting secreted and actually influencing (or ‘fooling’) our senses: Dopamine in the mid-brain (activating feelings of euphoria, obsessive thinking and intense longing) and Norepinephrine in the blood stream (causing butterflies in the stomach, paleness, increased pulse). While we profess our love for the beloved and our desire to get the moon for her, it is actually our selfish desire, in this case pseudo-sexual, that our body is trying to meet.

This is not to say the ‘magical feeling of love’ is wrong. To the extent something gives us joy, ideally without making anyone else worse off, how can it be wrong? The ‘intense and passionate feeling’ we may have for someone or something is a wonderful emotion and those goose pimples and deep longing increases the excitement, even if temporarily, in an otherwise difficult life. Krishna taught us that our body and its feelings should be celebrated instead of being ashamed of.

But, apart from these feelings, Genuine Love may have four defining traits:

  • True Love is a collapse of ego boundaries, where the lover and the beloved become one. ‘Love means never having to say sorry’, the unsaid words and feelings are easily understood by both sides. A smile conveys all that has to be said and those in love could spend hours together without talking and yet understanding what the other is wanting to say. There is no justification, no worry on what the other person would think, no need for any explanation, since the two are emotionally (and spiritually) one.
  • We focus on the development of the individual – like a parent’s love for the child, the elder sibling’s love for the kid, the teacher’s love for the student or the love for the spouse after the ‘feeling’ has run its course. We try to meet the needs of the beloved, and not our own needs, often at significant cost to us. The instinct of love at the first sight of the child is usually replaced by a more stable love, but only after years of putting the child’s interest above our own. This is an acid test: true love is self-less, and our own needs must come a distant second.

  • We respect, very often celebrate, the individuality of the other person. We accept that the other person has right to his/her own views, which may be different from ours. It follows then that dependency, which tries to inhibit freedom rather than liberate and celebrate free will, is also not love. Dependent marriages, like we often see in India, maybe lasting and secure but this security is purchased at the price of freedom and the relationship serves to retard the growth of the individual. The over-protective mother who continues to shield her adult son ‘from the ways of the world’ may be guided more by her own insecurities and biases and her need to strengthen the attachment, than her son’s real (and long-term) welfare. It is very easy to condone such retarding behavior as ‘innocent love’, but the driving force in this case is often the mother’s (suppressed and subconscious) need to have someone dependent on her. The unintended long term consequences of such a dependency can be disastrous.

  • It requires long term commitment. The ‘feeling of love’ – while blissful and completely natural – is often transient and starts waning when the underlying instinct, often sexual consummation, is fulfilled. It may (or may not) then grow to a more mature love, with deep and long lasting commitment. So many young boys and girls profess their ‘everlasting love’ for each other at age 16, only to move on to the next partner within 2-3 years. Most of them are not trying to cheat, but just do not understand that the feeling they are confusing as ‘love’ is, by definition, infatuation. There will be universal conflicts in any relationship – other distractions, dependency and ‘space’, my relatives and your relatives, ‘differences’ and acceptance – which can be resolved only with the comfort that the obvious tiffs over these issues will in itself not destroy the relationship. There will still be fights over issues, but not fights over the person, and certainly not fights over ‘should this relationship continue’.

Love then, like Dr. Stephen Covey says, is a verb… an action: we choose to love someone. It is also relatively easy to satisfy the other person’s material needs and we all are guilty of showering gifts on our beloved but keeping them neglected emotionally. Gulzaar’s daughter mentioned in her memoirs that her fondest memories were of the ‘brand new poetries’ Gulzaar saab wrote specially for her on each birthday. And we are amazed by the gift Nehru gave to his daughter – one letter every day for years, outlining practically the entire history of the world. That requires effort and time, and like all of us lost in this ‘mart of economic strife and gain’, I am often guilty of instead settling for the relatively easier nicely packaged gift from the local Archies.

See, beyond ‘love the feeling’ lies ‘love the action’, and that requires effort and discipline…

– Nishant Saxena

 

 

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15 Comments on "What is Love?"

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Retambra
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Retambra

Cant agree more. Love is fragile and has its phases – when its young its wild its exciting its adrenaline rushing and when it matures it grows on to become comfort selflessness respect and freedom. It kind of settles one down with time. Unfortunately not many cases see love getting matured. A matured love is pure bliss and peace . Thank you for writing it so well!

Member

Jim Rohn, talking about discipline says, “discipline is the foundation upon which all success is built. Lack of discipline inevitabley leads to failure.”

I concur with the effort and the discipline principle when it comes to love.

This is the love that will make the world a better place. Full of patience, kindness and edifying.

Thank you for a thought provoking article.

Thabita Radebe
Guest
Thabita Radebe

Phenomenal…..

Buhle
Guest
Buhle

The issue is we are never taught that love is an action. As young girls we are sold the idea of meeting our Prince and living happy ever after. That message is continuously communication in the movies and music we listen to. The consequences of that is we just want the feeling that come with love and not the work. I’m a firm believer that love is a verb . We need more articles like this that state the reality of love.

Lefa
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Lefa

Ellen White writes in Letters to young lovers, “True love is a high and holy principle, altogether different in character from that love which is awakened by impulse and which suddenly dies when severely tested.
True love is not a strong, fiery, impetuous passion. On the contrary, it is calm and deep in its nature. It looks beyond mere externals and is attracted by qualities alone. It is wise and discriminating, and its devotion is real and abiding.
Love is a precious gift, which we receive from Jesus. Pure and holy affection is not a feeling, but a principle. Those who are actuated by true love are neither unreasonable nor blind.”

I agree with love being a principle and a doing word rather than just a feeling. Feelings are deceitful and cannot be trusted.

Thank you for reminding us what the true essence of love is.

Tsholofelo Kwatala
Guest
Tsholofelo Kwatala

The sooner we all learn this the better

Neo
Guest

Thoughtfully written

Sinikiwe Simakani
Guest
Sinikiwe Simakani

I fully agree. Love is a choice more than a feeling. Even when you don’t feel “like it” , you can still chose to love and do it well. We often think love is depended on feelings however , I believe love can also exist when the human heart fails to love.

Tsiko
Guest
Tsiko

This is thought provoking. We need to focus our dialogues on this truth.
Love is what is left after the passion and fireworks have died. It’s not to say it’s boring but more resilient.
Thank you for making me think.

Bontle
Guest
Bontle

What is love without a giving of oneself in sacrifice to commitment. Indeed a powerful read.

Nwabisa
Guest
Nwabisa

I never understood why they said love conquers everything. From the article, one gets a sense of assurance why, it’s not the feeling that conquers, but the principle. The principle that knows the definition of effort and discipline.

Member

‘Love means never HAVING to say sorry’… I had to read it , reread it and then break it up to truly understand it. Very meaningful statement with a connotation so strong.

Member

“Except for the decision to follow Christ, there is no decision that affects the total lifetime of a person, more than the decision of life companionship…” this i was told by a retired marriage counselor. He also shared an illustration that shares another dynamic to Love, that marriage or (relationships) are like a car. There are two things that a car needs to get the couple where they are going. One is power to Go and the other is power to Stop. Do we need both? Well yes, of what use is a car that will go without anything that could stop it? Who would want to ride in that kind of car? Nobody. On the other extreme is a car with only brakes,it cannot take you anywhere and rendering it without use… A successful drive requires a couple to always be balancing those two powers ,the power to go and the power to slow down or stop. This is love and self-control, two sides of the same coin.

Tumisang Molopa
Guest
Tumisang Molopa

“Love fades out” and others say “love dies out”.
Other couples decide to move on, and other couples decide to look at the same situation as a stage that makes love stronger.

The couples that decide it’s a stage is wiser based on the fact that they look at love at a principle which helps them not to make hasty decisions based on emotions.

Relevant topic. Thank you.

Thabisile
Guest
Thabisile

Really great piece! I’ve always believed love to be a principle and this piece illustrates it in a beautiful and practical manner. I liked how you outlined the fact that we often confuse sexual tensions with love.. really something to think about… Thank you

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