What is love? (baby, it can hurt me)


We have a propensity for getting bent out of shape and letting our emotions, biases and incomplete understanding totally skew our perceptions.

Perhaps more than with any other issue, this is especially true when it comes to defining love.

Misunderstandings over love are more foundational to bad communication, bad philosophies, and bad policies than misunderstandings about anything else.

How we begin to define what love actually is directly influences every other idea we have regarding interaction with other persons.

You will be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t believe that there is a thing called “love” that is central to human life.  Nearly everyone agrees on that point.

But what in the world is it?

There are a lot of problems surrounding the term “love” because we use it to define a number of different things: infatuation, lust, happiness, passion, desire.

So let’s try to break it down into its constituent parts and see if we can agree on the core of the issue.

The first thing that comes to mind when we talk about love is feelings.  Our society often uses feelings alone to define love – if I love you it’s because you make me feel a certain way, so love must be a feeling (sorry, Boston).

For many people, that is probably the extent of the meaning of love.  That’s why the divorce rate is so incredibly high – if love is a feeling, when I stop feeling a specific way about you, it must mean I don’t love you anymore.

Anyone who has a decent amount of life experience understands that feelings are fickle and can change sporadically, but nonetheless most of us would consider ending a marriage if our feelings were acting strange.


Maybe that is indeed the extent of love; maybe it is only some kind of emotion.

But that is a very recent idea and not how love has historically been understood.  Within the Judeo-Christian mindset, the core of love is a principle – a decision of the will.

We still give this lip-service in wedding vows.  But when the rubber hits the road and feelings change, our actions carry out what we deeply believe.

As a society our actions are stating that we think love is a feeling and marriage is contingent on that transitory feeling.

I think the efficacy of this belief is evident when we take a good look at the health of the West – it ain’t very good.

Just as with fleeting emotions, just as with the consumerism that is imbedded in our subconscious, love becomes just another thing to be picked up or discarded according to our whims, because we think it’s only about one person: me.

Love becomes another commodity.

No, this is not love.  True love comes down to two principles: commitment and sacrifice.

Yes, emotions are connected with love.  It’d be odd if we never had positive feelings toward someone we love.  But they are not mandatory nor to be constantly expected.  Love is an oath I take, implicitly or explicitly, and it looks differently depending on the context.

I make it a priority to tell my daughter “I love you” a lot, and I tell her what that means so that the word “love” has a definition attached to it.  It means I will always be available to help her; I will care about her no matter what; and I care more about her health, well-being, and life than I do my own.

The commitment aspect is that will never change, and the sacrifice is that I will take away from myself – even when it hurts – to give to her.

The level of commitment and sacrifice will differ depending on what relationship is being considered, but they are foundational to all forms of love.

If that’s true, we should expect that love is going to hurt.  It isn’t going to be easy.  It’s work; hard work; the hardest and most important work in our lives.

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