What the heck is love anyway?

First, let’s start with a very general definition of love:

Love is an intense feeling of deep affection for someone or something.

We'll approach three ways of looking at love that will hopefully offer a framework and understanding.
The taxonomies/understandings are not intended to be complete/exhaustive.

Triad (Intimacy / Passion / Commitment) Taxonomy

Dr. Sternberg’s basic idea here is that love has three dimensions to it.
As each one varies in strength/presence, it has a different quality of experience to it, such as friendship or head-over-heels love.

The Three Dimensions

Extremely strong friendship. Concerned about the welfare of the other. Intimacy denotes the respect a person has for his or her loved one, the extent of mutual trust the couple possess, the degree to which they are willing to share their possessions, their most intimate self-disclosures, and themselves with the other.

Is the sexual attraction one feels for the other. It has to do with the physical yearning the partner induces in the other. This is also the head over heals kind of love – being swept up in it. Joyful infatuation.

The decision a person makes that he or she loves another person and the individual’s resolution to maintain the relationship once the decision is made to enter it. This can be present in a deep friendship for companionate love or mean something different in consummate love – a decision to be solely together as lovers.

What those relate to, generally, in a visual model:

Greek Taxonomy of Love

Eros, or sexual passion
Named after the Greek god of fertility, Eros. Desire!
The beneficial side of this kind of love is excitement and strong feelings and likely physical pleasures.
Falling madly in love.
Less beneficial, and perhaps dangerous, quality is the possessed nature of desire — fiery, irrational, lose control.

Philia, or deep friendship
The folks you’ll want to keep in touch with for decades. You want to know what is going on in their lives.
You want to keep a connection with these folks, where you are known, and you know them well.
Facebook friends or other social media followers would not qualify.
Brothers in arms would also be in this category. Loyalty. Sacrifice.

Ludus, or playful love
Think best buddies as a child, or young love who have their first crush and experience of love.
As an adult, the beginning of relating can have that flirting, playful nature to it as well.
With friends, this kind of love can look like the joy of hanging out, or playing a game; lighter than best friends for life, and yet there is a fondness and knowing that goes beyond light acquaintances.
A group version of playful love can often be found in a group dancing together, or at a festival.

Agape, or love for everyone
A love extended to people — all people.
A selfless love. A universal loving kindness.
See Being Love.

Pragma, or longstanding love
An intimacy/knowing/deep appreciation that exists in double-digit years — in it, very gladly, for the long haul.
Relational skills to keep the embers of love going — an eternal flame.

Philautia, or love of the self
Unhealthy version of this is Narcissism — self-obsessed and focused.
Healthy version is when one has a deep love for oneself, and from that well spring, one is able to expand that knowing/experience of love to others.
“All friendly feelings for others are an extension of a man’s feelings for himself.” -Aristotle

Being Love

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
~ Rumi

Four Components of Being Love

Loving kindness
Wish for Others to be happy — all others.
What people need, like water for plants, and not like an unwanted/uninvited pruning.
Looking at actions as strategies, and connecting to the beautiful need/desire behind the strategy, which may present itself as undesirable/unsavory/prickly.
An absence of hate, fear, and anger.
Loving kindness seeks nothing in return — not a means of control, or managing one’s own emotions.

Desire and Act of relieving/transforming suffering, of others as well as oneself.
Freedom from destructive forms of experience/thought, such as: anger, fear, despair, hatred, confusion, worry, and anxiety.
The absence of cruelty. Extended to everyone, and not a subgroup in any formulation.
Ideally, does not involve the suffering of oneself, as in pity, where one feels separate/superior. You are not a sponge for the pain of the world, soaking it up so that others don’t feel it.
Compassion may take the form of giving physical comfort, deep listening, removing doubt, dissolving conflict, shining a light to a new of thinking/being, and helping others to consider the impact of their choices.

Sense of peace, contentment, and well-being.
We can celebrate Joy with others, yet without the element of comparison of self to other.
Jealousy is an opposite of joy.
A rejoicing in our own happiness/well-being is also a component/capacity of Joy.
A practiced gratitude in the present moment — now.

Mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.
Belief/act in equality — there are not greater or lesser people.
Love does not vary according to the person or situation. Impartial, but not uncaring/unconcerned.
Absence of possessiveness or controlling — needing others to be/act different than they are.

Kahlil Gibran on Love

When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams
as the north wind lays waste the garden.

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.
He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast.

All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart.

But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.

When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”
And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.

Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.


An entire section of this website is dedicated to forgiveness.
In brief for now . . .

Forgiveness is the key that opens the closed doors in our own hearts.

Who am I when I forgive?
What does it mean to ‘forgive’?
How can I forgive someone?
Learning to forgive often challenges established cultural roots; it asks us to be more concerned with being joyful and compassionate than being “right” (something rarely taught in school).

When I forgive someone/myself as an action, I choose to let go of the pain and hurt that I chose to experience. I might still feel pain, but the character of the pain changes. It moves towards sadness and morning. These emotions are neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad;’ they are my current emotional state. Honoring this state, and reminding myself that profound sadness and forgiveness can coexist is key to attaining a balanced moment of forgiveness. Further, acceptance of profound sadness and pain as a necessary and normal part of our existence leads to self-acceptance and integration of our self into our ‘ideal’ self.

When I forgive someone as a way of being I choose to not be hurt in the first place: I embrace a perpetual state of forgiveness in which I perceive the actions of others, and of myself, as expressions of met or unmet needs. I find balance in the face of these requests, even when they fail to meet my needs, (and, hopefully, I walk forward from this place with the desire to achieve synthesis, harmony and understanding within myself and/or between myself and the other).