Love is in the air. Love is in our hearts. Love is never having to say your sorry! Love is, well, that depends on who you talk to and what they are thinking at the time.
So what is love? Is love a singular emotion that can be defined in any truly all encompassing way? There are theories of love that break it down into some component parts and you can determine what type of love it is by assessing which components are present. (Check any introduction to psychology book and you will find it there.)
Should love be unconditional or conditional? Unconditional love is when we love someone all the time, even when they hurt or disappoint us. We may not love their behavior, but we still love them. We may not even like them all the time, but we love them all time. Conditional love, on the other hand, is when we love others “as long as….” As long as you’re doing what I want, I love you. As long as you don’t make me angry, I love you. I love you unless you’re doing something I don’t want you to do and then I don’t love you.
Here’s the dilemma when we are discussing love, there is no singular correct answer! I have seen relationships where people stayed because they loved the other person and felt that they should stay even if it was an unhealthy or unsafe relationship. Conversely, I have seen people leave otherwise good relationships because “they loved their partner, but weren’t in love anymore.” (We discussed this in the Commitment blog)
Ultimately, we individually have to determine what love is to us and we also need to make sure on our list of people we love, we are at the top (or very near the top) of that list. Love for yourself is not being selfish or narcissistic, it is necessary to being emotionally healthy and able to participate in healthy relationships with others. It is being able to set good boundaries and only being in relationships that help us be happy or help us be more than we are. These can be romantic, they can be friendships, they can be with pets, or they can be family.
The coolest part about love is that we all have an unlimited capacity to give and receive love. There are no limits to the number of people/pets we can give love to and get love from in our lives. Even if we decide that a relationship may not be the healthiest or best for us, we can still love that person in a different way. Loving someone doesn’t necessitate staying with them if it isn’t good on all levels.
Try this: sit down and try to write a definition of love. When you finish, ask yourself if that definition applies to all situations (family, children, pets, food, romance, etc.) Then play with it a little bit and see if you can understand where I am coming from when I propose that love defies simple definition. Yet it is one of the most important emotions we feel in life and is a cornerstone for healthy relationships. Maybe that’s why there are so many songs, poems and stories dedicated to this singular elusive word!