There are those who believe that love is just an emotion. It can’t be explained and you shouldn’t even try. You can only know it when you feel it. I’m not one of those people.
I’m in the camp of “keep asking why until you understand”. Some topics require a lot of asking. Lately I’ve been pondering love, in particular what does it mean to love someone. One way to try to understand is to examine how things change when what you’re thinking about is there vs. when it’s not there. Love is one of those things that lends itself to this kind of consideration. The first thing that I notice is that “not love” is simply the absence of love. It’s not hate or any form of “anti-love”, it’s simply absence. Nothing needs to rush in to fill the gap when love isn’t there it’s just something that doesn’t happen to be a part of your life. Daily I experience “not Ferrari” but “not Ferrari” doesn’t imply “in Nissan” even though that’s what I own. Life is rich and full and there are lots of things to fill it up. Those things that aren’t a part of your life may make you poorer in some way, but we’re all poor in some way if you want to be negative about it.
If not loving someone doesn’t mean anything other than the circumstances haven’t arranged themselves so that I might love them, then when I do love them what’s different? I’ve come up with the following …
- I care about that person’s wellbeing. In other words, I want them to be safe, secure and healthy.
- I care about their happiness.
- I want them in some way to be a part of my life.
Notice that I numbered these. I believe they are in priority order. Even if it makes someone I love unhappy I may feel motivated to arrange things to keep them safe. If you’ve ever had kids you’ve been there. The trade-off between 3 and 1 or 2 can be hard. Sometimes for their wellbeing or happiness they can’t be a part of your life at least for a while. Not a pleasant circumstance but it’s what you do sometimes when you truly love someone. For me it’s the last item, wanting them to be part of you life, that distinguishes love from general good will. For the most part I want everyone on the planet to be safe, healthy and happy, but I don’t need all of them to be a part of my life. I do want those that I love to be part of my life.
I don’t think the list is any longer. There is a lot of clutter that gets piled on top of loving relationships; often to the detriment of those relationships. The various promises made during a traditional wedding have little to do with love, have a fair amount to do with trust, sometimes have to do with authority and control, and still occasionally carry the remnants of being a transaction. The various significant other relationships often tend to be weaker versions of this. These agreements aren’t necessarily bad and may be very practical, they just don’t have anything to do with love.
Part of the clutter that often comes with traditional loving relationships is the requirement for the other person to sacrifice in some way. If you’ve ever seen the movie “A Knight’s Tale” you’ve seen an example of this. That isn’t love in my opinion. That’s either a power play or a transaction (I’ll give you what you want if you give me what I want). This happens in politics and business all the time, but at least they’re honest about it.
A danger that can occur when you assert that you love someone is that all of the above comes along for the ride. I believe that assumptions and misunderstandings are the overwhelming cause of relationship disasters. Unfortunately, and thank God, we can’t all be Howard Hughes and have an attorney with us whenever we start a relationship. Most of us err on the side of caution. This is unfortunate because love may not be expressed for fear that more will be read into it than is really meant. This in turn limits the ability for many to know they are loved and that’s sad. There are so many people in my life that I care for, want to be happy, and want to be a part of my life but I have to be so indirect about it that sometimes the message doesn’t get through. It’s strange that when we can’t really say want we want we default to saying too little (though we may talk a lot) because the language gets in the way.
Nothing here talks about how intensely we may love someone. That’s a different discussion.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on the subject at the moment. If anyone else happens to read this, I’d love to hear yours.