What is love?
Baby, don’t hurt me; don’t hurt me no more.( Sorry, couldn’t resist. ;-p)
Getting serious, though, let me start out by saying that relationships are completely irrelevant to my definition of love. One person may love another without having a relationship at all, & people can have a relationship without really loving.
I particularly tend to avoid the term “in love” but for a few specific circumstances, because what people really mean by it is that they’re romantically infatuated. Literally–do you know the old definition of romance?
A romance is a story( i.e., a fiction; or, by some overly-strict standards, a lie) in which an idealized version of something is related. At one point, it referred to tales of adventure featuring fantastic situations & idealized heroes who overcame the seemingly-insurmountable odds to win the day. Eventually, this gave way to “romances of love”; tales in which, rather than the heroic figure, it was an idealized passion( sometimes still involving a similar figure, now the “knight in shining armor” or “prince charming” archetypes) that would “conquer all”; either uniting lovers when the world endeavored to keep them apart, or otherwise allowing them to accomplish, together( or “for” one another), feats that had been thought impossible by those who had previously tried & failed( either alone or bolstered by a passion that was somehow less than the “true love” of the heroes).
So now, with this idealized “love” firmly implanted in our cultural awareness, is it any wonder that people who fall “in love” & have a “fairytale romance” are disillusioned when reality sets in? They really shouldn’t be so surprised.
Sometimes, to say one is “in love” can be justified, when there’s more to it than just the romance; but “True Love” as we now see it in fiction, then, would be the rare-in-real-life case in which two( or more?) people not only develop a mutual romantic infatuation, and real love, but also manage to maintain that romantic interest, preferably expressed as a domestic/sexual partnership, perhaps a marriage, for the rest of their natural lives( or at least until robbed of parts of their personalities by brain damage/dysfunction) & beyond. “True Love” is a misnomer for this sequence of events; “Happily Ever After” is a better label.
(One popular culture phenomenon which completely subverts this misunderstanding of love is the excellent Disney animated film Frozen. If you haven’t seen it because you have some preconceived notion about Disney or musicals or Idina Menzel or animation or whatever, you are doing yourself a great disservice. It gives the impression of being overhyped, but this is actually due to it being so excellent that it naturally makes people enthusiastic. It is one of the best films I have ever seen, because it conveys a lot of hard-but-necessary truths about relationships in an easy-to-swallow manner that even kids can understand, running counter to the usual crap with which Hollywood fills our heads.)
I definitely believe in Happily Ever After as a phenomenon, I know couples who have been that to each other... but I think that a lot of people pursue H.A.E. so single-mindedly that they miss out on opportunities to both discover other real loves, & to attain fulfillment through a variety of more temporary domestic/sexual partnerships.
Love, even real & mutual love, provides no guarantee that people are suited to live H.A.E.; it’s not even a guarantee that they won’t hurt each other badly.( We’ll deal with abusive relationships in a future entry. For now, I’ll just say that the love can be real, but that doesn’t justify staying together when dysfunction in expressing it becomes dangerous.)
So then, what is love? Here’s my definition:
“I usually define love, at least as far as love for another person goes, as an intense certainty, beyond reason, & beyond any other emotion; that for at least a single critical instant one’s life was better, or the universe as a whole was greater, or something was just *right* that would have otherwise been wrong; simply because that person, just as s/he was, with all his/her strengths & weaknesses, all his/her flaws & paradoxical perfection, existed & was right there in that moment, to make all the difference; either by luck when no one & nothing else available would have sufficed, or because the person in question had another choice yet chose to be there instead–especially if others who could have been chose not to.
Love for another, then, is nothing more or less than the unqualified belief that if one had never crossed paths with that person, one’s world would be poorer for it.”
I’ll have more to say in a future post.