What is love? How do you define something so visceral and subjective? February is the shortest month of the year and yet this is the time that we dedicate to and celebrate love. We acknowledge a force so important to our lives; physiologically, psychologically, and spiritually, for such a short time. Valentine’s day begs for large displays of love, grand gestures; the Hollywood definition of love. Ancient Greek philosophers defined love by 4 categories, Eros refers to “passionate love” or romantic love; Storge to familial love; Philia to friendship; an Agape to “selfless love”. Modernly, we tend to group love into three categories: Romantic Love, Platonic or Familial Love, and Self-Love Romantic Love is that which is between you and your partner(s). Romantic love begins as lust, a chemical reaction in our brain that draws us to a person. It is an attraction or spark that blinds us to faults and flaws; it intoxicates us with a rush similar to that of cocaine. This love peaks, hormone levels balance, and we begin to see the cracks. This is where the durability of love is tested, as your partner(s) become human in your eyes. We settle into life and this love becomes a stable force, constant, safe – oxytocin, or the “cuddle” hormone takes control. It wraps us in its calm safety and the chaos of the new relationship fades.
Platonic Love is love without the weight of deep attraction. It is a kind of love that motivates us to become better versions of ourselves, inspires us to pursue greater goals, and brings us closer to enlightenment or the divine. Platonic love and familial love are unconditional, supportive, empowering and have little expectation.
Self- Love is akin to self-esteem. It is the emotional appraisal of our worth in relation to others. It seems to be the hardest of all loves but perhaps the most important. We compare and compete with our own definition of what gives a person worth – when true self-love should be unconditional and compassionate.
As I began my research for this article, I felt a defensiveness rise in my chest. All of these definitions of love, subjective and visceral experiences, were not how I defined it. How you define love may be different than how your partners, friends, or even animals define it. Our definition of love is our own; what we need to feel love or what we do to display love are all subjective things. Is love a feeling? Is love an action? Do you love a person or do you love AT a person? Is love a noun or a verb? We will continue to chase the answer with our analytical, human brains. But we should turn inward; to our hearts and our souls for the answer. Who, what and why we love is something only we can personally define.
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” Rumi