What is love? (baby, it can hurt me)


We tend to get bent out of shape and let our emotions and biases throw off how we view all sorts of things in life.

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

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

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

It’s to find anyone who doesn’t believe that there is a thing called “love” that is important in human life.  Nearly everyone agrees on that.

But what in the world is it?

There are a lot of problems surrounding the word “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 parts and see if we can agree on its core.

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 indeed probably all love is.  That’s why the divorce rate is so high – if love is a feeling, when I stop feeling a certain way about you, it must mean I don’t love you anymore.

While anyone who has a decent amount of life experience understands that feelings are fickle and can change all the time, even so many of us would consider ending a marriage if our feelings were acting strange.


And maybe that actually is 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 (committing till death do us part, among other things).  But when the rubber hits the road and feelings change, our actions carry out what we truly believe instead of what we say we believe.

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

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

Just as with fleeting emotions, just as with the consumerism that is embedded in our subconscious, love becomes 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. Something else to buy and sell according to however we feel on any given day.

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

Yes, emotions are connected with love.  It’d be weird 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 part is that 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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