Love is more easily experienced than defined. Google said that the question: “What is love?” is one of its most popular searches.
I like how philosopher Julian Baggini defines love:
“Love is not one thing. Love for parents, partners, children, neighbor, God and so on all have different qualities. At its best, however, all love is a kind and passionate commitment that we nurture and develop. Without the commitment, it’s mere infatuation. Without the passion, it’s mere dedication. Without nurturing, even the best can wither and die.”
We can experience love towards many love objects:
Love of a lover/partner/mate
Love of a friend or relative
Love of animals
Love of nature, plants and wilderness
Love of God, however you experience Her/Him
How do I keep love away?
In my work with clients, I often hear: “Why am I so lonely? Why don’t people love me?” Here are some of the most popular ways that we push love away:
We confuse obsession with love. Obsession says, “I want you to make me happy. I’m going to control you, manipulate you and do whatever I need to do to make you give me what I want”. This isn’t love, it’s more like the movie “Fatal Attraction”. When you don’t get what you need, you’re tempted into Facebook stalking or obsessively thinking about your alleged love object … or worse.
Keeping score: “You did this for me, but I did more than that for you: You owe me.” This is a model of love as a business arrangement, a contract that has little to do with the heart and everything to do with the analytical, measuring mind. This is sure to make any attempt at love into a continual power struggle. Remember that old Janet Jackson song: “What have you done for me lately?”
Not working through our historical barriers to love. Old wounds, hurts and betrayals can become layers of defenses against love. It makes sense not to repeat the same mistakes, but if we don’t figure out how to grow from these mistakes, we just become older and more bitter and cynical about love.
“I only love one person, everyone else isn’t important.” This is a great way to keep love away and to put inordinate pressure on the one person you do love. It’s nice when your lover is your best friend, but be careful: don’t pour all your love onto one person. No one person can ever live up to the idea of being “everything” for their love. We need several people to love; each in different ways and for different reasons.
How do I invite love in?
Love says, “I want you to be happy” and “How can I love you better?” I’m not recommending that you become a martyr, but, instead, focus on enjoying giving rather than getting. Ironically, this is a sure way to get more!
Recognize that love is a verb, not a thought. My Jewish friends tell me that the Hebrew word for love, ahavah, emphasizes the active aspects of love and that the word ahavah is built upon the root consonants h‑v, which mean “to give.” In order for love to “live”, it needs active expression. If you love your partner/friend/pet/God, put it into action.
Don’t confuse lust with love. Let’s look at it biologically: lust is a (temporary) passionate sexual desire where your body increases a release of chemicals like testosterone and estrogen. A deep, connecting love, on the other hand, is a process of attachment and bonding that occurs over time. There is really no such thing as instant love. Instant lust, sure, but love needs time to “unfold”. This unfolding love leads your body on a different biological path, where the brain typically releases pheromones, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin and vasopressin. It’s quite a different experience – physically and emotionally – from lust.
And what if psychiatrist Fritz Perls – the founder of Gestalt psychotherapy – is right? He said: “Finding love has at least as much to do with becoming the right person as meeting him or her”. If this is true (and I think it is), we can focus on who we are becoming and bring lots more love into our lives.