What is love?

You cannot understand love through words, only experience. I still can’t get my head round Je t’aime meaning “I like you” and “I love you”. There are four words for Love in Ancient Greek: storge, family love; philia, friendship; eros, romantic love; and agape, the unconditional love of God. We are commanded to love God, and “Love your neighbour as yourself”- “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets”.

In 1979, Dorothy Tennov coined the term “Limerence”, which is an intense desire for a person, hoping they will reciprocate. Saying “I am in love” when not aware of being loved always felt wrong to me too. In The Makropoulos Case, a man sings “I am in Love, like a soul in torment”. Evolution is a source of suffering: all a bacterium has to do to reproduce is eat until it splits, but humans need to parent someone for twenty years or more, so the drives making us take on such responsibility have to be strong. Evolution cares not that your limerent object does not love you- at least, not yet.

Love is a human need. We are a social species, dependent on our society. Love bonds us together, and if someone is unloved they are vulnerable. There you are, lying on your back. Suddenly the nutrition that was flowing through your belly button has stopped. You cry out for sustenance, warmth.

So later the phrase “I love you” can be reassurance, but also a demand, a question, or a hope- “You love me too, don’t you?” Co-dependence arises when we cannot love ourselves and depend on another. Qoheleth says, “If two lie together they are warm, but how can one be warm alone?”

A child loved and accepted develops healthy self-love and acceptance, but this is never complete. Everyone’s parents hand on some misery to them.

So, other people are having a hard time. Thus, the Commandment. Love your neighbour as very best you can. People need all the gentle kindness we can muster. It is almost like Keynesian economics: our wealth is not in love we can hold, but how fulsomely love flows among us. Feeling loved, I am enabled to love.

I agreed to start off a conversation on Love today, and then join a group where the invitation was to write and bring a love letter/poem to self and share it. I found myself writing a sonnet:

How can I love what I was taught to hide,
even from myself, behind a great pretence?
The feminine soft soul whom I denied
and buried in a quicksand, dark and dense.
My fragile, wounded, narcissistic pride
in intellect unfeeling rose immense,
Beneath the weight of its desires it died
Till I was left with nothing but a sense

of something seeming weak and badly hurt
All I could hear it saying was, “No, no”
and so I tend an ember in the dirt
and mourn it. How could I be brought so low?
But there’s the beauty. That is what is real
My source of love and truth is what I feel.

“A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,” I thought to myself, dissatisfied. But sonnets are hardly worn out, and my problem with it was it was too direct. The ember in the dirt clings on to self-love and survival by my fingernails. I grow to love what I was taught to despise. This is hard work. Strong love and support from others never seems enough. And yet I am getting there.

Love is the way to freedom, but loving myself feels like pulling myself up by my bootstraps. If self-love is based upon what I admire in myself, then it is fragile. My belief in what there is to admire varies. To be stable, my self-love has to be based on a commitment to myself: this is my one life, my one body, my one set of gifts and characteristics, so I want to make as good a go for that self as I can. So loving myself is as much of a commitment and an effort as loving anyone else is.

I did not want to write I love myself because. I have these good qualities therefore I am lovable. No- what if I am deluded? Then my hope for survival hangs on qualities I must assert against all evidence to the contrary. All qualities fail. I am lovable, simply because I am human. I am human, therefore I love.

5 thoughts on “What is love?

  1. ‘The ember in the dirt clings on to self-love and survival by my fingernails. I grow to love what I was taught to despise.’ – You succeeded with just these two lines for me.

    Another beautifully written post. I love you Clare (you need not love me back for fear of a volley of old cabbages either).

    Esme stitching together sonnets upon the Cloud

    Liked by 1 person

    • The reply of the Heart:

      I am the heart
      I can say what you can hear
      I do not die
      I am love
      You are loved.

      Trust is not an effort or a task
      but a plant to tend and water
      Love is a light not seen
      by eyes shut in terror
      Love, and trust, and the sense of being loved
      grow in their own time.

      Humans are beautiful
      Humans are loveable
      humans can come to see this
      and you are human

      Liked by 1 person

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