How we define love is important. I think a lot of people get the definition of love and the definition of relationship confused. Relationships must deal with boundaries, negotiating differences, and sharing space. Those are important mechanics to know. Love, however, is like the air or water in which relationships float. The condition of our heart and our concept of love gives shape to all of our relationships.
So let's talk about more about love.
If you look up the definition of love on UrbanDictionary.com, which shows the most popular definitions of words, number one on the list is this:
|Love: Nature's way of tricking people into reproducing|
If you laughed extra hard at that joke, you might want to give me a call and talk about your marriage. 😉
Many of us laugh at this definition, but when the rubber hits the road, how do you define love? What deeper meaning do you draw upon to direct your actions when feelings about love are confusing?
Dr. Helen Fisher is the most frequently cited researcher on the subject of love. She is an anthropologist and psychologist, and author of the bestselling book Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love (2004). It's not surprising that the blockbuster dating website, match.com, hired her in 2005 to create a scientific basis to build its match-making brand for its sister site, chemistry.com. Fisher designed the matching algorithm that chemistry.com uses.
Fisher teaches that, in our brains, what we know as "love" has evolved to serve three core functions in the service of reproduction:
1) Lust: Libido and sex drive
2) Attraction: Intense desire (early stage romantic love)
3) Attachment: Deep feelings of union with a long-term partner
To Fisher, love is all about sex and sex is all about making babies. Basically, you can find love by walking through any of the three doors of lust, attraction, or attachment. But from nature's perspective, all the doors lead to the same room where the task of reproduction is the main show.
I think it would be unwise to stop at strictly anthropological or psychological definitions of love.
Love is patient; love is kind and envies no one. Love is never boastful, nor conceited, nor rude; never selfish, not quick to take offence. Love keeps no score of wrongs; does not gloat over another's sins, but delights in the truth. There is nothing love cannot face; there is not limit to its faith, its hope, and its endurance. In a word, there are three things that last forever: faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of them all is love.
- 1 Corinthians 13
If there's one thing I learned by earning a degree in Biblical Studies before I knew my career would be in psychotherapy, it is that a good deal of Christian theology turns on a simple axis: God is love. How this belief has been translated into practice in human history is another story altogether.
Jewish scripture and tradition also contains a deep treasure of teaching about love.
Hanan Harchol produced a humorous animation (below) that speaks to the Jewish tradition of understanding love as the end itself, not the means to the end.
I had never heard of fish love before watching this video, so I'm thankful to my Jewish friends that shared this.
Buddhism has valuable pillars within its tradition that rest upon love.
Many people don't associate moral directives for marriage with Buddhism because, compared to other religions, it has less to say about marriage in general. The Buddha, Siddhartha, was in fact married and had a son. He gave up his marriage and his family in favor of finding a happiness that goes beyond the attachments that come from normal relationships.
The path to Enlightenment in Buddhism points toward unconditional love that is free from clinging attachments.
According to Buddhist teacher Gil Fronsdal, it is a central tenant of the tradition to bring love into all parts of your life and everyone you are connected to:"This entails learning how to include love’s presence while we speak to others, are in conflict with others, and are living with others. While this can be a daunting task, it begins with having the intention to do so."
Too Good to be True?
Many would argue that the guiding ideals of our spiritual traditions are unattainable and impractical. Yet a strictly biological explanation of love can seem too deterministic.
What is your guiding light when it comes to love?