What is Love?

If there is such a thing as heaven on earth, the passionate attachment that we call love is as close as we get to transcending normal reality and lifting our hearts and spirits to a higher dimension. People who are in love are literally high on life. It is not always so simple to distinguish between needing someone, desiring them, lusting after them, loneliness, horniness, liking someone, companionship, dependency and loving someone. “When you love someone . . . you do not love him or her in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb.” —Ann Morrow Lindbergh

There are different kinds of love. There is love between parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, friends, siblings, between people who care about each other but who aren’t sexually interested in each other, and there is romantic-sexual love (also known as eros). Nathaniel Branden defines romantic love as “a passionate, spiritual—emotional—sexual attachment between two people that reflects a high regard for the value of each other’s person.” Therefore, a relationship is not romantic love if it does not contain passionate attachment, some sense of being soul mates (or of having similar values and outlooks), if there isn’t strong sexual attraction or desire (allowing for normal fluctuations), or if there isn’t mutual admiration between both parties. “Many people when they fall in love look for a little haven of refuge from the world, where they can be sure of being admired when they are not admirable, and praised when they are not praise-worthy.” —Bertrand Russell

Over 80 percent of college aged men and women say they will not consider marrying a person they are not in love with, and over half consider falling out of love a good reason to divorce, which may be one of the reasons we have higher divorce rates these days. Love is usually called an emotion, but in fact, it may consist of a series of emotions (joy, sexual attraction, fear, hope, anger, etc.). These emotions may contradict each other at times, and may include negative as well as positive feelings.

To love another person presupposes that you can see who they are with a reasonable degree of clarity. Love is the most intense expression of the judgment that someone is “beneficial to my life,” says Branden. It incorporates our sense of what we want to experience in life, our sexual arousal and desire, our bodies, our deepest personal fantasies and longing, our most important values, our self concepts and our sense of personal happiness. If someone, therefore, says they love you but doesn’t want to spend much of their time and attention with you over an extended period of time (allowing for normal fluctuations), they do not, in fact, romantically love you.

Romantic love is an experience that, if never reached, leaves people feeling that they have missed the secret of life, happiness and well being. It is my personal experience that there is more joy, more passion and more magic in loving than in being loved.

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