As a psychologist who specializes in dating and romantic relationships, I often talk to singles and couples about what they think love is. Even though people want love more than anything else, they often cloud over when you ask them for their definition of love.
I've been working in this area for years and I probably haven't stopped to consider my own definition until recently.
We're all guided by romance, the movies, romantic popular books and larger than life stories of love.
But when I ask most people their definition, these are the most common notions:
1- ATTRACTION & CHEMISTRY: This is desire based, so it's dependent on the other person being physically attractive to you, you feeling butterflies and wanting to engage in physical intimacy. Although this is an important factor in any romantic relationship, would it be your main definition of love? One might think so if they knew that such a high number of singles believe in love at first sight.
2-ROMANCE: I'm a great lover of romance and fun in romantic relationships. I advise couples to have a date night at least once a week and I try to do this with my own husband (even though we have two kids under 5 now). While this is important to refuel in a relationship and to get away from all the business of real life, is this a suitable definition of love? Again, here the other person makes us feel a certain way in the relationship, so that we feel happy and appreciated.
3-GETTING YOUR NEEDS MET: We often enter relationships with a partner because we feel they are a good match for our needs. While it's important to help one another in a good relationship and to work as a team, ideally both people will also learn to meet their own needs as much as possible. This definition of love is contingent on the other person taking care of you.
4-ACCEPTANCE: With acceptance we attempt to love our partner, for better or worse. We agree to love their challenging traits as well as their good ones. This is a higher more sustainable vision of love because it allows us to love the other person despite outside circumstances, and for the most part and it is not so idealized.
5-COMITTMENT: Commitment is an internal choice to stay with another person through all of life's vicissitudes. It's a hardier definition of love than hormones or attractiveness (which can fade) because it is dependent on your personal choice and resolve.
6-WANTING TO MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY: This one is similar to number 3 in some ways, except in reverse. Instead of love being a process of getting your needs met, you see it as a context to make your partner happy. Although being in a state of love is generous and giving, it's not possible to make another person happy 24/7. This is something they must do for themselves. So this again, is probably an idealistic notion of love.
7-FAIRNESS & COMPROMISE: Many people think that love seeks to be fair, to compromise and to create a relationship where there is enough room for both partners to thrive. I think this is a very important aspect of a good lifetime relationship but as a definition of love, it's on the level of consciousness of being right and making an intellectual choice about problem solving. It's dependent upon the actions of two people instead of taking full responsibility for creating love yourself.
Dr. David Hawkins, in his book, Power Versus Force, describes love as a state of being where you're giving, accepting and possess the ability to see the beauty in everyone. Here you create from the love in our own heart and it's less about the other person being a certain way for you. You see the other person's essence and it's inclusive and under your control. He adds the surprising notion that only .4 percent of people in this world are at this state of consciousness of love right now, so we all have a way to go to get there! He posits that one person who resides at the level of consciousness of love (a calibration of 500 on a logarithmic scale up to 1000) will counterbalance 750,000 people below a level of consciousness of 200 (pride and lower). So, working on how to remain in love can affect our whole planet, not just our romantic lives.
So going into Valentine's Day next week, we can all think about what love means to us and how we can embody it just a little more, whether we're in a romantic relationship or not.
I wish you Love, always,