Love. Where language begins to break down. What many have tried to put into words. I believe love is the most important experience in our existence. Everything we do should be rooted in love. We try our best to describe love by making sounds with our throat and manipulating air through our mouth. That seems like a crude way to convey something so deeply profound. Our words are merely signposts that point to something else. That something else, is what I’m more interested in connecting with than any definition of love. At best, a definition is important for giving us a starting point.
There’s a lot of material out there on love — 1 Corinthians, The Five Love Languages, The Love Dare, All About Love, Love and Respect, The Road Less Traveled — to recommend a few books. I won’t get into different types of love — agápe, éros, philía, and storgē, but rather offer a starting point as the aim of this article. If I were to offer anyone a solid, concrete definition of love, I’d point them to M. Scott Peck’s, The Road Less Traveled.
“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth… Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.” ~ M. Scott Peck
The above definition says quite a lot, if one spends enough time contemplating it. That definition is also not the most popular one. It’s important to note that according to Peck, most people confuse love with something called, cathexis. Cathexis is the process of investing emotional or mental energy into a person, object, idea, etc. Cathexis sometimes presents as the “falling in love” experience people have. Only once that experience is over, can real love begin.
This brings me to the two primary understandings of love that I hear most people say.
Love is a feeling
Love is a choice
I believe it’s a little bit of both, but more so with the latter. Feelings are fickle. They come and go. Feelings can change from one moment to the next. If love was just some magical feeling, then since I’m not feeling it, I don’t love you anymore. How precarious is that?
“If you do not know what you feel, then it is difficult to choose love; it is better to fall. Then you do not have to be responsible for your actions.” ~ Bell Hooks
The more autonomous a person is, the better their ability to love another — with intention and responsibility. If a person were dependent on the other — “I love you so much that I can’t live without you,” — their love would be confused with cathexis. Peck would call this person a parasite. A parasite depends on its host for survival. That is not love.
For me, love is a choice I make every day. Love is the most important thing we can ever experience.
“Real love” – “This kind of love is emotional in nature but not obsessional. It is a love that unites reason and emotion. It involves an act of the will and requires discipline, and it recognizes the need for personal growth.” ~ Gary Chapman