Love is like a fever which comes and goes quite independently of the will. … there are no age limits for love. – Stendhal
Nothing is mysterious, no human relation. Except love. – Susan Sontag
What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love. – Dostoyevsky
Since the beginning of time people have attempted to describe love, and while many beautiful words have been wrought from such a weighted question, I can’t help but notice that when one asks the average person, “What is love?” Either some half-remembered quote from a movie will come to mind, both sappy and vague, or they’ll stumble on their words. I can’t blame them though–a question like that is almost as heavy as asking them the meaning of life. But almost always, they’ll describe how love makes them feel, or rather the symptoms of love. Not what love is.
I never had the chance to fully form a coherent idea of what love was until I had a conversation with my friend Kim Corkill. The discussion started with her mentioning previous talks she’d had with other friends about love, and wanted to get my take on what it was. She opened with a line by Andy Warhol: “Everybody has a different idea of love.” She hit the nail on the head, using Warhol as the hammer.
The Greeks had five words for love to our one, and they are: philia, the deep connection between close friends and family members, or between soldiers who fight alongside in battle. Ludus, the playful affection when flirting. Pragma, the love that has matured over years between two people. Agape, the general love, such as love for your fellow man. Philautia, love for oneself, which everyone needs in order to care for others. And lastly eros, for sexual passion and desire.
Distinguishing different types of love does a better job of defining the thing, but it isn’t enough. How about, instead, we ask why do we love? During my conversation with Kim, she managed to paraphrase quite simply and beautifully the points I’d made:
1. Pragma, or the true, romantic love most people think of when one says “love,” is vulnerability.
2. Love is worth.
3. Love is our purpose in life.
And the points she made (which are the reason why I’m so happy I got to discuss the topic with her):
1. Love is selflessness
2. Love not only extends to people, but to moments
3. She played with the idea that love is predetermined, which is why we can’t always choose who we love.
The first two points I made, I believe tie into one another. Vulnerability and self-worth. When you experience pragma, it is your subconscious choice to open yourself fully to another human being, in hopes that the other person will see who you are, not only accept you but desire your true self, and as a result give meaning to your life.
It is your human nature to seek purpose in your life, and other people give meaning to your life when they love you. This can be either pragma or philia (platonic love). Someone who is willing to protect you, help you, and sacrifice for you is saying, “You’re worth enough as a human being to deserve what I give you.”
So love is about finding purpose and gaining self worth. This can make love sound selfish, but that leads into my next point that loving is part of the reason why we’re here. Maybe loving a person isn’t giving them purpose, but instead making them realize their purpose? The question that’s been asked since the beginning of time is “What is the point of life?” The point of life could be just to live it, to experience all the pleasures and pains that come with it, and since love is the epitome of pleasure, in a complex, deep rooted sort of way, loving is our purpose in life.
“Also, love, I don’t think, is limited to interactions with people, but also to moments. Like when you experience something at the exact right moment, whether it be a sight in nature or being on the good side of luck,” Kim said to me. She’s got a point. If love is the reason for life, then wouldn’t it make sense that one would love moments in that life, and as a result love life itself?
“Another idea I heard about love that I really like is that we don’t get to choose who we do and do not love because it’s predetermined. Which may sound absurd to some, but it makes total sense to me. Because there have been people in my life that I felt deserved a lot more love from me, but I could only give them a certain amount. Or some people that probably didn’t deserve as much of my love but I couldn’t help but to give it all to them,” Kim also said to me. This is something I guarantee everyone can relate to. It’s an intriguing idea.
This is only part of a lengthy discussion I had with her, but these are the main points made during the talk. There is so much more to be said about an emotion as powerful and complex as love, and if you want to discuss it, you can get in contact with me and I’d be happy to continue the conversation. If you already know Kim, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind your input as well.
If you’ve never been in love, no amount of words can capture the essence of what it is. It isn’t meant to be talked about–it’s meant to be felt, to be experienced, and it is a basic human right to give and receive love. The only way you’ll know you’re feeling it, is, well, when you’re feeling it. So if you aren’t sure you’ve experienced love, then get out there and show some!