I love a lot of things. Some people love sunshine and rainbows. Some love the warmth of summer and the chill of winter. Others love the smell of hot coffee in the morning, and the coziness of their bed at night. Some love to travel and go on crazy adventures.
According to the dictionary, love is a mix of emotions, behaviors, and beliefs associated with strong feelings of affection, protectiveness, warmth, and respect for a person, or a thing, or even an idea. But can we really define love? How do we explain a word that you can use to describe what you feel for everything from people to cars to intangible ideas?
To fully understand what love is, we have to look at the ancient Greeks. Instead of one all-encompassing word, the ancient Greeks used seven different words to explain love in its many different forms.
Eros, which means passionate love, is the most common type of love we see in our world today. It’s fueled by a desire for pleasure. It’s love at first sight, seeing someone’s physical appearance and immediately getting attracted to them, even without knowing their first name.
Most romantic relationships start like this. It’s passionate, it can even be a bit obsessive.
But love like this is confusing. It’s the age-old question of “love vs. lust.” Both lust and eros come with intense physical attraction and a strong desire to be close to the person, even if you just met them.
Some people like to differentiate them by the length of time they stay around. If it was a fleeting emotion, it was lust. But then if it lingered around like the best man at a wedding, then it was definitely love. But is that really true? And if it is, then is love simply lust that has stayed around for long enough? If lust simply becomes love, how long does it take for the switch to happen? At what point does lust become love?
It’s a complex question, and you don’t normally give it much thought, so I’ll do it for you.
According to science and human biology, there are three stages to falling in love, and it all starts with stage one - lust. It’s driven by testosterone for men and estrogen in women. So when does lust become love?
Well, that’s stage two.
When we start feeling a sense of a “high” when we see them or speak to them or even just think about them. A high similar to the feeling you’d get from drugs or alcohol. When we start to feel a sense of euphoria when we’re around them. When testosterone and estrogen are replaced by dopamine, making us happy and excited, adrenaline triggering our fight or flight, and norepinephrine keeping us alert.
This is why falling in love feels like an addictive rush. Like you’re driving at 120 miles per hour with no brakes in your car. Your palms are sweaty, your knees are weak, and your arms are heavy. Your heart is racing.
Love is this feeling.
Sometimes love doesn’t start with lust, it starts with friendship. Knowing someone well enough that you can predict their reaction to every situation. Love is intimacy. It’s authentic, it’s kind, it’s warm, it’s encouraging.
Love is a best friend you’ve known since you were a child. It’s always wanting the best for the other person, selfless goodwill.
In today’s world, philia is dying. We have millions of followers and subscribers, but very few friends. We have a multitude of people seeing the perfect view of our lives, everything we want them to see, but no one who’s welcome to see what’s behind the curtains.
Philia is a sense of camaraderie. It’s calling someone brother or sister, even when they are not related to you by blood. Love is loyalty, sacrifice, and vulnerability.
Love is a choice.
Love is not always serious. Love is not always permanent. And when it’s fleeting, love is not always lust. Ludus describes a love that is built on infatuation, flirtation, and fun.
Sometimes love is simply having a crush on someone and acting on it. It’s going out for drinks with a friend and acting like a romantic couple for the night only. It’s random kids pushing each other on the swings in the playground, basking in that joy that their friends are having alongside them. It’s going to the club and dancing with strangers, or singing karaoke in a room full of people you’ve just met.
Sometimes love is casual, exciting, fun. It doesn’t need any obligations or implications to be love. Love doesn’t need physical attraction to be love. Love doesn’t even need friendship to be love.
Love simply is.
We often say that love involves commitment, time, mutual trust, and acceptance between two people. But is that really the case? Because none of this exists between a mother and her child, but love does.
The truth is that sometimes we can love someone even when we don’t like them. If you have any siblings, I’m sure you’ll understand this concept a lot. The Greeks called it Storge: unconditional, familial love.
The kind of kinship love that only exists between family members, and of course, family does not mean you have to be tied by blood. Lifelong friends who become family, adopted children, step-parents, when we consider someone our family, we often develop a need to protect them, even when they might not be the nicest people to hang around with.
Storge is a strange type of love. Most times when we love someone, we are drawn closer to them. We want to spend all our free time with them, go on adventures with them, laugh, smile, cry, do everything with them. But sometimes love is wanting to go home, even when you might not talk to the people there very much. It’s simply a sense of security, like a weighted blanket.
This love is being able to give someone a kidney without hesitation, but not your phone’s charger. Even when in truth, only one of those is easily replaceable.
And this strange feeling is not only towards people. It’s the same for sports teams and fans. Every year you cheer for your team, every year they break your heart, yet the very next year you glue back the millions of pieces and wear the badge with pride chanting “this year will be our year!”
Because love is unconditional. It’s not dependent on who the person is or what they can give to you. Love is a one-way ticket. It’s loving someone even when they might not have the ability to love you back.
Aristotle once said “all friendly feelings for others are an extension of a man’s feelings for himself.” If you don’t love yourself, you can never truly love others. This is why philautia, the love of one’s self, is something we shouldn’t take for granted.
Love is not just what you can do for others, it’s also what you can do for you. So go out and give yourself a treat once in a while. You don’t have to have achieved anything or crossed any milestone before you celebrate yourself. Just like others don’t necessarily have to do anything before you love them, you don’t either.
Love is when you stop comparing yourself to others. When you forgive yourself for your past mistakes and stop judging yourself for things that are beyond your control. Love is when you wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and be proud of the person staring right back at you.
Love is leaving toxic relationships and not feeling obligated to stay no matter who they are or how important they’ve been to you in the past. It’s choosing yourself over and over again and protecting yourself the way you would protect anyone else.
Love is being kind to yourself. In your thoughts, in your words, and in your actions. Because only when we truly love ourselves can we be able to love others.
Love lasts for a lifetime. Love is to have and to hold, for better or worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do you part.
Love is committed and compassionate. It is accepting each other’s differences and learning to compromise. Love is taking all the broken pieces and putting them together again, instead of throwing them all out. Love is everlasting, rooted in romantic feelings and compassion.
So is love a feeling or a choice? If love is a choice, why do we never know we’re falling in love with someone until we are? Why can’t we ever say to ourselves, “I want to fall in love with this person,” and just do it?
On the other hand, if love is a feeling, then there is no basis for wedding vows. There is no basis for the promise that we’ll love each other forever. Because feelings come and go, and usually they are beyond our control. The only way we can judge that love will remain forever is when we decide that it will.
Is love a feeling or a choice?
Well, it’s both.
Falling in love is a feeling, but staying in love is a decision. It’s telling them you love them even on the worst days. It’s saying to them, “I don’t know how we’ll get through this except that it’ll be together.” Love is being vulnerable even when we don’t feel like it. Love is holding the roses without being scared of getting pricked by its thongs.
Love is an amazing feeling in the beginning. But for love to last a lifetime, it has to evolve into a commitment of never letting this person go for as long as they let you.
Love is giving to charity and helping strangers in need. Love is empathy towards humanity. It’s fighting for change even when you might not be directly affected by the issues.
Love is altruistic, selflessly caring for humans, animals, and even Mother Earth itself.
Love doesn’t expect anything in return for its actions. Love itself is the reward. Love serves as the foundation for societies and communities, without which we cannot thrive.
Scientists have always battled with the concept of love. Some believe that love is a basic human emotion like anger or sadness or joy. However, some others believe that love is simply a cultural phenomenon, something we are drawn towards as a result of societal expectations and pressures. But nothing could be farther from the truth.
If love is simply a cultural phenomenon, it wouldn’t exist in all cultures of the world. And the fact that it does suggests that in truth, there is something innate about love, something biological about its experience.
If love is fundamental to the human experience, then we must ask, what is the point of love? Why do we love? Is it for parents to be able to bear with their kids long enough for them to attain maturity? Or perhaps it's for mates to remain together for as long as is necessary to raise the next generation of humans? Does love exist to create a sense of community and camaraderie that is necessary for a herd community like ours to exist?
We might never know why love exists or what ultimate purpose it serves, but what we do know is how important it is.
The longest study on happiness showed that people who end their life happy are not the ones who are the richest, or the ones who are the most healthy, or the ones who never made a mistake in their lives. The happiest people are those who are surrounded by the most love. Love from spouses, love from children and grandchildren, love from friends, love from religious organizations and communities.
To fully understand just how important love is, we need to juxtapose its experience with the pain of loneliness. Not having that someone to share your inner monologue with because your thoughts are too petty or intense, random or full of anxiety, or too scary to share with just anyone.
You can’t rant, you can’t scream, you can’t fully express your feelings of obsession over your favorite passions, or rage over your most heartbreaking moments. Constantly having to filter our thoughts through the lenses of politeness and political correctness. Being looked at but not being seen, being heard but not being listened to. It’s dreadful, we’ve all been there.
If love is so important, why do we not make it the center of our lives? Why do we chase everything else, but to love we say, “stop searching and it'll find you?” You see, the truth is love doesn’t always find you, and sometimes you have to search it out.
So to those chasing love, listen.
In Plato’s dialogue, The Symposium, Aristophanes the playwright explains love the way many of us chasing love think of it. In the beginning, humans were all androgynous with double the parts we have now, including two faces turned in opposite directions.
This physical form made humans so powerful that they became a threat to the gods. So Zeus cut them in two, one male and one female. And since, every human has longed to be rejoined with their other half like two pieces of a puzzle, two halves of a whole.
Although this is just a myth, it opens up the curtain to why we love the way we do. We often fall in love with people who we think would complete us. People who so perfectly fit together the pieces of our heart’s puzzle.
People who complement our shortcomings and give us hope for the things we are most insecure about. We love in part with the hope of completion. We all have a deep-rooted need to blossom and we can only hope this person is the rain at the end of summer.
But the truth is, we’re already complete. In us are the two parts of a whole. So when people say “stop searching for love,” don’t take that as a message to stop trying. Take that as a lesson to stop looking for completion in another person.At the end of the day, only when you truly love yourself, and completely understand the weight that that carries, can you love others the way they deserve to be.
It all starts, and it all ends, with you.
- EE, MM