What Love Really Is
“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…” Elizabeth Barrett Browning might have pondered the concept of love in one of the most memorable ways in literary history. She did not, however, encompass what love really is. There are not enough words to try to describe what love is. Love is not a concrete thing; it is only a tangible entity to be felt. But, one can see in the interactions of creatures that love is concrete too. Love is not limited to humans exclusively. Animals have been known to protect their owners, sacrifice for their mate or offspring, and defend to the death. Humans exhibit these same primitive qualities but also render love on a more complex level. Simply put, nothing moves the world more than love and its many facets.
When describing what love is, it is impossible to not split it into different types and degrees of love. The number of books available on the subject is endless. The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis is a classic. Any psychology text will go into great detail about how emotions manifest themselves, the effects on the body of emotions, and the chemical response of the brain to love. Poets, like Browning, simply muse or mourn the idea of love. A common theme in music, despite genre, is about love and the experiences therein. Love is probably the largest creative force. Still, love is a mystery and not fully understood by neither heart nor head.
Love can be subtle, intense, pained, exorbitant, flawless, unrequited. Love can tear down or build up.
The types of love that exist are great in number. The love between a parent and child is perhaps the strongest love bond that can be formed. This is not a chosen bond but rather one created by fate. The intensity of love felt in this relationship can be intense and undying or can be painful and neglectful. Still, love resides there and it is impossible to separate one’s blood from that of its own kind. This is similar in other family ties, like that between siblings. The intensity of love might vary in degree, and change as life passes, but the sense of love and connection are always there. It is up to the people in the relationship to decide what to do with that connection, and how strong they would like it to be. Love means to love those closest to us in mind and spirit.
The type of love between friends is a chosen love, different from that of a family bond only in this way. Sometimes the love for a friend can match that of family members and indeed the friend holds such a cherished place that they are loved and accepted as family. Again, this love can change with time. It can decay and turn ugly or blossom and renew itself perenially. With either type of bond, the love felt by the persons involved is an amicable fondness and concern for well-being, with an indecribable closeness and fierce loyalty. To love is to be loyal.
There is love between strangers. This is generally referred to as kindness toward a fellow being. Empathy is a main component of this type of love connection. Often one stranger feels compelled to reach out to another that may be suferning or in need of some type of assistance. The universal sense of humanity embedded in each soul transcends colour, race, language, or wealth. The urge to care and be cared for cannot be eclipsed. Caring is a simple form of love. To love someone is to care.
Romantic love is perhaps the most complex form of love. The emotional risk and reward are at the highest. Family tends to love unconditionally, and friends tend to love in a forgiving way, but a romantic connection can be all or none of these. The greatest elation can come from a lover’s kiss and the most horrible anguish from that of a lover lost. The bond itself is usually key in life and weaves around all the others into a tangled vine. The romantic counterpart is all-encompassing, and everything, in the ideal relationship. They can be the support of a family and the shared joy of a friend while still being the only person who knows how to truly access the inner being of their counterpart. The multiple functions a romantic lover provides usually makes for the most intense and vital connection in the span of life.
Love can be gentle, cruel, all-encompassing, simple or complex. Love can create paradise in the midst of a wasteland.
So what does it feel like to love? Love should be joyous, assured, comforting, giving, everything. The soul seeks those that it likes, and keeps close those that it loves. No manual can be written on how to love someone, on how to receive love, how to make love perfect, or how to fix love. When it comes to love, the experience may vary from individual to individual but the concepts are the same: feeling special, care or concern, intimacy, loyalty, and a desire to retain a connection. Happiness is the ideal but not always what is real.
Love can be blind, deaf, ignorant, intelligent, selfless, unconditional. Love can be many things, but love will always be many different somethings to many different people. Love is….love.