When someone says the word love what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Is it two star-crossed lovers silhouetted against the backdrop of nature? A sunset just so, their lips inches from each others? Or do you think of a mother nursing her newborn child?

Or, perhaps you think of your own parents or grandparents—the way they protected you and nurtured you in those vulnerable early years. Maybe you think of iced cold lemonade or a Sunday brunch. Maybe you think of your best friend, your dog, or the Eiffel Tower.

what is love

The word, “love”:

The word love stirs many different images in each of us and is one of the most indefinable and transcendent concepts on earth. There are dozens of books written about this and yet … none of us are certain what it is. Just stop a random stranger and ask them, “What is love?” you’re going to get a mix of answers like the ones we’ve already listed above, but you’ll also get a plethora of blank stares.

Most people will be caught off guard by this question and not know how to answer it on the spot. In fact, if you stop reading this right now and try to define it on your own, it will take more thought than you may realize.

The Definition of Love

If everyone finds it so difficult to define, how can we possible begin to write an article on the concept of love.

  • Is it an emotion?
  • A chemical surge of chemicals?
  • Is it a mystical or spiritual experience?

what is love

What is love?

How do we begin to define it?

First, it begins with breaking it down. Love can be a vague word, especially when we say we “love” movies. There are different kinds of love, but first we need to realize that when we start addressing something like this the best thing we can do is start off with the understanding that the definition is subjective. Each person is going to tell you something different. There’s no one single objective definition of love.

Love is unable to be defined. In fact, we shouldn’t spend our lives trying to define that which cannot be defined anyway. This article won’t give you a neat definition of love—for that you can consult the dictionary and you’ll get something basic. Something that doesn’t at all resonate with you as a living breathing human with depth and purpose.

There is no definition.

Love would be so boring if it were easy to define anyway, don’t you think? The very fact that it transcends our own comprehension makes it one of the most treasured things we could ever experience. The mystery is one of the things that pulls us in and makes it so powerful. So defining love isn’t the goal with this article. Think of it more like an exploration of love.

Romantic Love

Love is romantic at times, yes. Of course that’s the main perspective people are going to have when asked about love. It’s the first thing most people will think of. Yet even romantic love can take many forms.

It’s more than a chemical dose of neurotransmitters. It’s more than the rush of falling in love and unraveling the depth of another human.

It’s deeper and more profound than the most intense love story you’ve ever watched or read. Fifty Shades of Grey? Twilight? The Notebook? They are nothing compared to true romantic love. They are each just a simple vignette, a brief snapshot, a small fictional account of this thing we call love.

What is “true love”?

True romantic love is dangerous and unshakable. It’s adventurous and determined, able to transform and grow with time, yet still remain through it all. It’s the reach and the climb and the ground beneath your feet—all at once.

what is love

It’s a deep and unfathomable connection to another human that defies all sense of logic. It defies rationality and cannot be solved by a mere equation. It’s mysterious and we would never want it to be anything else. It’s the ability to become so intimately connected to someone else that their pain becomes your pain.

You no longer have to ask if they’re okay. You know. You feel it. And because you feel their pain so profoundly you will do absolutely anything to make it go away, because healing them is healing your own self. Saving them is saving yourself.

The Changes of Love

  • Is love always self-sacrificing?
  • Does it always mean you choose the other person’s desires over your own?
  • Does it always mean honesty?

Not at all.

Love changes, grows, and manifests itself in different ways in different moments. Perhaps your boyfriend has asked if the jeans he’s wearing (which don’t suit him at all) make him look terrible and you know he’s asking from a vulnerable spot. Perhaps a lie is called for here. Or at the very least a diversion. Again, love takes many forms.

Whether it’s a parental love, a friendship, or a romantic partnership, one thing is for certain. Love exists. It transforms lives and not even death itself can take it away. In fact, often the loss of someone makes the love even stronger.

All of these things can make us appreciate and love someone even more:

  • Distance
  • Death
  • Space
  • Time

Whether we’re apart or sharing the same space as someone we love, the love grows stronger. And when you’re in the presence of this person, time no longer has meaning. Clocks are no longer important. It’s enough to just be here. Right here. With the one you love. Whether it’s a child in the arms of a comforting parent or a friend sitting beside a friend in class. Love makes everything else okay. Your greatest obstacles are suddenly trivial. You can overcome anything with this person by your side.

what is love

Love urges you onward. Whether it’s the love of a parent or the love of a romantic partner doesn’t matter. Love takes many forms and when it does … it inspires you, enlivens you, and gives you the breath you’ve been holding in for so long. It’s the light seeping through a crack in a dark room.

Sometimes the only thing that keeps us going.

We could have nothing. We could live in the most destitute of circumstances, yet with love anything becomes possible. We are happy. Content. Able to smile. All because we have love.

This is why it can be devastating for those who are bullied or broken up with or treated unfairly throughout life. Often the one thing we are seeking in everything we do is love. Perhaps it’s masked by a desire for recognition or prestige, but it’s a need for love and connection brewing beneath that guides us toward most things we do in this life.

Love in History

Some of the biggest moments in history had love behind them. Most films we watch have love as the catalyst in some way, even for wars many times. Love is a force incomparable. It can even drive us to jealousy and murder. Love can make you do crazy things.

It is like fire. It can be controlled in a nice little area, but it can also become wild and unruly.

It can completely take over our lives for the good, but also for the bad. Love truly is bigger than we are and bigger than anything we could ever define.

Just as love is truly indefinable, love is also limitless.

  • It’s restless, unable to be tied down or made stable.
  • There are no fences with love.
  • No cages.
  • Only endless possibility and adventure.

what is love in history

Love is the source of some of the most genius creative endeavors in the world—even scientifically. Love is the driving force of the world—and hate, the opposing driving force in the world.

Love pushes you to overcome challenges and become a better person than you were before. It urges men to send rockets into space and keeps families together. And whether we like it or not, all of us are connected by this powerful source.

It urges you to never give up, to keep going through every struggle in life. Love is the grandest thing you’ll ever know and yet one of the simplest treasures in life. So easy to find, yet so few appreciate the gravity of this. So rarely do we stop and consider the absolute magic of love and the way it drastically alters our lives—and the entire world.

Love In Nature

Love. It’s all around us. It’s even in nature. In the birds tending to their eggs.

We could say it’s just a biological response within them, but we could also say the same of our own brains. We could argue that love is just a product of our brains, but deep down we all know there’s something more here. Something we can never quite make sense of.

what is love - natural response

  • Sometimes it hurts.
  • Sometimes it’s tragic.
  • Sometimes opening ourselves up to another in any way can be the source of the greatest pain we’ll ever know.
  • Some may choose to imprison their hearts to avoid this pain, where others may wear their hearts on their sleeve and welcome the potential of future pain.

Whether it’s worth it or not is up to the individual, but the question is … can one ever truly deny love? Can anyone ever truly banish all sense of love from their lives?

Doubtful.

That person who avoids human relationships because of their fear of pain may instead pour their hearts into love of music, becoming one of the greatest musicians of all time, but in the end still be just as hungry for love as the rest of us.

what is love

However, as Lao Tzu says,

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

Allowing this love to seep through the cracks of the dark room will eventually light up the room, and the exit door, and the way toward a more beautiful life. It genuinely takes courage to love and many would choose to love and experience the possible pain, rather than never love at all.

No Greater Love

John 15:13 says,

“No greater love hath man than this, that he would lay down his life for his friends”

This is talking about a self sacrificing love. Truly when we sacrifice our own desires for those of another, there is deep joy and lasting satisfaction found.

That’s how powerful love is. We’d risk anything for it. Even our own lives.

The Different Types of Love

But let’s get technical for a bit, and let’s begin with Ancient Greece. Long ago the Greek philosophers knew that love was as indescribable as it still is today, so they came up with different “states” to try to explain each version.

There are seven different states of love.

  1. Storge: is the natural affection you share with family
  2. Philia: is the love we have in friendship
  3. Ludus: is being playful flirting and youthful love
  4. Pragma: is longstanding love
  5. Philautia: is negative or positive love of self
  6. Eros:  is erotic desire and love
  7. Agape: is unconditional love (sometimes referred to as divine love)

They differentiated types of love to define it with more depth, since there are so many varied types of love. Even using the word “love” so many times a day can cause your brain to no longer recognize the profundity of what you’re saying. Try counting how many times a day you hear someone say they love something (including yourself) and you’ll realize just how overused this word is.

what is love

We love ice cream and shoes and pets and clothes and hairstyles and celebrities. We also love our family, ideals, friends, and lovers. Do we really love chocolate pretzels? Or do we just enjoy them? You can see how easy it is to get the definition of love stretched and misconstrued in our minds when we use daily language like this.

Love is something that stops us in our tracks. Is it possible to love a stranger? To love a homeless person you’ve given lunch to? Absolutely. Especially when we look at love from the Greek philosophy perspective. When we split love into various “types” or stages we can see that there are definitely levels of depth when it comes to love and it’s helpful to keep those in mind throughout life. Just to know where we stand in each situation.

The Ultimate Love

Often we think the ultimate love is romantic love (eros), but romantic love is fleeting. It’s hard to maintain as well. When a couple sustains a long relationship over years and years the high of the romantic feeling will inevitably fade. There’s no getting around this.

What you can do, however, is keep things exciting by making sure to do things out of the ordinary frequently. Either way, however, familiarity breeds a different kind of love. Does that mean it’s not as deep as that romantic high you had in the beginning?

what is love - family

Does it mean you should end your relationship simply because you no longer get butterflies in your stomach when you see the one you love? Not at all. It’s just a different stage of love.

The modern philosopher Alain de Botton is a huge proponent of “classical love,” rather than the romantic ideals pushed in movies and songs of today. He’s written several books and created plenty of YouTube videos revealing this perspective. It’s a great perspective because he encourages others to fight for love and to realize going into a relationship that it’s going to take work. Often it will be difficult, painful work.

RELATED: Check out these TED talks from Alain de Botton on other topics here. 

When two flawed humans come together there are going to be conflicts and painful lows. There may be times when the person you were once so enamored with is someone you wish you could get away from for the night—or even month! These things are normal and, according to Alain, preparing ourselves for this inevitable moment in a relationship can help us overcome the obstacles and find lasting love.

Which proves that love is far beyond butterflies and lovemaking. What is love? Again, how can we possibly answer this? One of the simplest ways we can answer it is by saying that love is an action that is ever evolving. It never ceases changing and transforming along with us. We change, love changes. It’s an action. A verb. A movement. A moment.

Love; Deeper Than Emotion

Love isn’t an emotion. It’s not a feeling or a neatly packaged definition of relationship. Love is something we do, not something we have. It’s something we give and receive. It’s organic, changing, and different from person to person, moment to moment. Just think of your own self.

How to ask a girl out -without caring if she says yes or no

Imagine a five-year-old you explaining what love is. Better yet…

  • Ask a child in your family to tell you what love is. They’ll either stare blankly or say something within their small worldview.
  • Ask a teenager what love is and you’re going to most likely get some sort of romantic answer. As teens we’re focused on finding a partner and feeling accepted for who we are, so love is going to involve the quest of a romantic partner.
  • In our twenties, we may say friends or romantic partners.
  • In our thirties, we may say love is family.

Love grows with us.

So. What is love? How can we answer this question in as few words as possible? What is this mysterious thing we call love? Well, we don’t know.

In the end, it’s up to you to define love for your own life. The pen is in your hands. What is love to you?