No one has a firm handle on love. That may seem kind of harsh and unromantic, but it’s true.
Philosophers, poets, lyricists, bricklayers, aquarium repairers, and a trillion others have tried their best to define, gauge, and otherwise quantify love throughout human history.
As of, oh, let’s say, now, we’re still waiting on a consensus.
Is the love of a mother for her child merely biological or is she spiritually bound?
Is the woman who’s stayed by her lover’s side through all manner of disasters loyal or invisibly trapped?
What of the friend who loves another friend in deeper, non-platonic ways but never divulges it? Is that the self-imposed pain of someone who can release themselves from their torment at any time, or the tragedy of human emotion whirling beyond our control?
We know that love is real… but is real love a choice or feeling?
Which thread to pull to even start?
Ancient Greece gifted us with eight different types of love: Philia (Affectionate Love); Agape (Selfless Love); Eros (Erotic Love); Mania (Obsessive Love); Pragma (Enduring Love); Storge (Familiar Love); Philautia (Self Love), and Ludus (Playful Love).
Modern psychology deleted one (Mania).
The Christian Bible pared it down to four (Eros, Agape, Philia, and Storge).
Shakespeare said love was immutable.
“The one who loves you will make you weep” is an Argentinean proverb.
“One thread for the needle, one love for the heart” comes from the Sudan.
“He who treads the path of love walks a thousand meters as if it were only one”: Japan.
Out of all these, when is love active (a choice made), and when is it passive (a feeling received)?
If we consider selfless love and familiar love, we land on the side of choice.
A parent loving their child “no matter what” is a conscious choice, particularly if the child is adept at testing the boundaries of patience and acceptable behavior.
With selfless love, self-sacrifice is a key component, which, in light of how self-preserving humans are in terms of basically everything, is definitely a conscious choice.
Familiar love expands on agape (selfless): it brings in extended family, friends, colleagues, neighbors. We encounter these people by wider chance and bond with them by choice.
We can love our friends more intensely than bedmates but we choose to set (and accept) limits on acting on such.
When it comes to colleagues and neighbors, we’re definitely choosier. We come to love them within respective bubbles of interaction, but we know how transitory such relationships can be, so the choice is made that they can enter our bubbles, but only so far.
Even with erotic, affectionate, enduring, or playful love, choices are made nearly beyond counting.
Do we allow this person into our lives? If so, how far past boundaries? At what point and after which actions on their part will we expand or drop those boundaries altogether?
These are all things our brains act upon, consciously or unconsciously, to bring about our own assessments of whether or not to apply the word “love” to a particular interaction.
The things that go into love (notions of attractiveness, belonging, worth, and risk) are social constructs fed to us by our surroundings, and thus are largely matters of high-speed thought.
We go into all our loving relationships with a laundry list of checks and balances whereby we ask ourselves:
Yet there’s no denying that there are legions of instances where we feel absolutely compelled to seek someone out, to allow them into our lives, and to LOVE them in all caps.
Whether this is the subconscious reaching forward or a more mysterious, soulful attraction, the feeling of love we receive at these times is undeniably potent.
Love at first sight is the “gold standard” of unexplainable feelings. It can be described as soul attraction, heaven tapping you on the shoulder to direct your attention toward someone, or an intense knowing without knowing.
No matter how it’s wrapped, it’s an ephemeral thing that goes beyond conscious thought. It’s a feeling born of intuition, empathy, and desire.
And it’s not spurious. There are many people who’ve felt the electric zing of love at first sight who’ve gone on to live out their time on Earth in bonded bliss.
It is undeniably real.
Love that grows in intensity over time is also undeniably real. People often start relating to someone with the feeling of friendship, then of deeper friendship, then desire, then comfort, which then becomes LOVE in all caps again.
It’s an evolution of feeling that’s nurtured and grows independently of concerns of self-preservation or self-interest (hence our expressions of being “swept away” by love, as if by a force outside our control).
This river of love is a magnificent river full of swirls and shifting currents; when we’re in it, we close our eyes and trust our innate selves to feel the best ways to allow it to carry us wherever we’ll be.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that love as a feeling means we have no control over our connections.
It’s more a matter of being spiritually attuned enough to recognize the patterns, waves, swirls, obstacles, and even dangers in the River of Emotion, and riding them to the best of our abilities.
It’s a directed course.
Which means ultimately we realize that real love is both choice and feeling. There’s no separation.
Even if we view life as being one vast cosmic ocean, each of us swims it with our own set of tiny flippers, seeking mates, but doing so with a sense of wonder.
Love becomes what holds all the wobbly, burbly bits of our existence together.
We enter into all forms of love consciously and guardedly – even love at first sight – guided by our pasts, our present circumstances, and our hopes for the future.
But we do so sparked by things not even the best of poets can precisely identify, that subsurface gravitational force by which our hearts orbit each other.
In a sense, that makes each one of us snippets of poetry (which is craft and emotion combined) moving around in mechanical meaty suits.
We hope we connect with each other, but we never really know how or why… yet we never withdraw from trying.