Posted on November 21st, 2019
Love, love, love! We have it or we want it. We chase it or it finds us. We ‘get it’ or we don’t know if we’ve ever felt it. We talk about it endlessly, or we keep it so private that we imagine no one else knows.
But what is love?
We often talk about love as a special emotion, but love isn’t an emotion at all. Emotions are strictly internal experiences. We might take actions toward people because of the emotions we feel, such as yelling at someone when we are angry, but the emotion itself is only our own. In contrast, love is not internal. It always happens between two people. Because we love, we may have all kinds of emotions—happiness, delight, awe, confusion, even anger, but love itself is an action.
Love is the action of connecting, dissolving some of our individual identity—our sense of this is me and that is you—into the experience of connecting with another being, a person or an animal. We also talk about our love for inanimate objects, a favorite car or ice cream flavor, but here the word love is a synonym for strongly like, an internal emotional experience which is not actually love.
The moment we feel love, we are thrown into conflict between our self-protective identities and the open connecting of love. When we love, we are not as separate as before. The more we love, the more this dissolving of our identity happens. For this reason, those whose sense of themselves is more tightly held can experience love as tearing them from themselves. Conversely, those less strongly attached to an identity find it easier to dissolve into love.
Since love always happens between us, when we love someone, the other person experiences this love too. What they make out of the experience is another matter. They can open to it, deny it, twist the experience to mean something else, even use it to try manipulating us. The ways love makes us vulnerable to other peoples’ purposes and meanings animates countless dramatic songs and novels and movies. Because love is so often misused by what people attach to it, we can easily come to fear the powerful vulnerability which comes with it.
The most intensely experienced love is falling in love. Falling in love is love on steroids, a swamping of who we are by an intense absorption in another person. Someone in love may eventually come to settle into a more manageable loving relationship with the person with whom they are in love, but they may also be opening themselves up to an obsession with the other person which can derail their usual identity. Another person they may not even actually turn out to like.
This points to the challenge of love. The more we open ourselves to love, the more we can gain, and the more we risk losing. Love itself wants nothing, accepts everything. To love is to be vulnerable. Love reveals us.