What is Love?

In 2012, the phrase “what is love” was the most searched on Google. To me this is kinda precious: in our modern world with all its problems, the most searched term in 2012 had nothing to do with celebrity gossip, the Mayan apocalyptic prediction, or the London Olympics. No, what people most wanted to know was simply, “What is love?”

Love, the capital L romantic type love, is a big deal in our world. Every other song on the radio is singing about it, entire Pinterest boards are dedicated to it, and countless poems, novels, and plays feature it. Our culture places heavy importance on the life goal of, “finding love”, like it’s this magical object that we are questing for in our lives, just hoping to one day stumble upon.

We are captivated by love for a reason, and it is this: we exist to love and be loved. (*I know, that premise requires a substantial amount of background to establish its validity and explain its origins in both philosophy and theology, but for the purpose of this post and brevity, I’m not going to expound on that. Yet.) We exist to love and be loved. What a fantastic purpose, right? But what does that mean. In Western culture, such a purpose would include pretty much just a whole lot of gooey feelings, chocolate, and sex. The prevailing popular notion is that love is simply an enchanting amazing feeling that a person gives you.

I’m not calling any of those things bad, but I am saying that this view is limited. A real existence of giving and receiving love is so much bigger. Our purpose is much more epic that fleeting feelings and physical pleasure.

Love means self-sacrifice; to will the good of another; to devote yourself to the service of the beloved; to die to yourself and put another first. Therefore, and to me this is the epic part, love is an action. Phrases including, “I don’t know if I love him” or “how do I know if he really loves me?” or “I just don’t think I love her anymore”, misidentify emotion with real love. Love certainly has an emotional aspect, but the most important part are the actions we commit, because our choices are something we can always control unlike our emotions. Emotions are fleeting; they come and go. I know from personal experience I can go from feeling like giving hugs to every person in the immediate vicinity to wanting to crawl under my covers and never face people again in a matter of minutes, seconds even. That’s why love doesn’t base itself solely in emotion. If we limited its definition to something as one dimensional as a feeling, people would be flickering in and out of relationships constantly, with commitments lasting only as long as the warm fuzzies do. Unfortunately, such ramifications from a changed understanding of the nature of love can be seen in modern society.

The modern take on love, that it’s all about you, how you feel around a certain person, the happiness they make you feel, belittles something that is in fact all about the other person. Love is not about you, it’s about the other.

The idea that love is the most powerful thing in the world stems from the fact that it is a choice. We choose to love. Our own autonomy and free will empowers love because it is an action that comes wholly from ourselves. Emotions come and go with fluctuations in the chemical synapses of our brain but our decisions and actions are entirely our own. They are our most pure gift of self. Peter Kreeft, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, said, “Feelings come to us, passively; agape [the Greek word for selfless love] comes from us, actively, by our free choice.”

Certainly when finding your own special someone, chemistry and emotions have their part. You don’t want to spend the rest of your life with someone who you don’t really like. But there will always be times in relationships where the only thing you feel towards a person is anger, or annoyance, or frustration, and this is when love gets harder and becomes supernatural. To pursue a person’s good, even when you don’t want to because your emotions are telling you they’re just the worst, is still to love that person. You can love a person without liking them at all.

422a3ff52bc93292c145656d8c4636cdI think our world needs to take a breath and stop worrying over whether you “really love them” or not. Relax people; you choose who you love. To define who you love merely by the emotions they stir in you is to live enslaved to the whim of those emotions. That is the worst type of slavery: to be powerlessly bound by your impulses, feelings, and urges.

This is our purpose, what we are made for, and consequently what gives us the most happiness. Our freedom exists so love can exist, and people find joy in giving this freedom away to others. Personally, I feel pretty blessed to be a creation with such a great purpose. Coffee makers are made to make coffee. Cars are made for transportation. Pens are made to write. But me? I’m created to love the heck out of the whole world, and be loved in return. I’ll take it.

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