Love has several different meanings in the English language, from something that gives a little pleasure (“I loved that meal”) to something for which one would die for (patriotism, pair-bonding). It can describe an intense feeling of affection, an emotion or an emotional state. In ordinary use, it usually refers to interpersonal love. As an experience usually felt by a person for another person, it is commonly considered impossible to describe. Dictionaries tend to define love as deep affection or fondness. In colloquial use, according to polled opinion, the most favoured definitions of love include the words:
- life – someone or something for which you would give your life.
- care – someone or something about which you care more than yourself.
- friendship – favoured interpersonal associations or relationships.
- union – a synergistic connection, as in the perfect union of two souls.
- family – people related via common ancestry, religion, or race, etc.
The concept of love, however, is subject to debate. Some deny the existence of love, calling it a recently invented abstraction. Moreover, approximately 13 percent of cultures reportedly have no word for love. Others maintain that love exists but is undefinable; being a quantity which is spiritual, metaphysical, or philosophical in nature, etc. Perhaps due to its emotional primacy, love is one of the most common themes in art.
Love might best be defined as acting intentionally, in sympathetic response to others to promote overall well-being. Or to put it simply, “love responds intentionally to promote well-being” (Thomas Jay Oord). Love promotes overall flourishing, but often focuses on those close at hand.
Cultural differences make any universal definition of love difficult to establish. See the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Expressions of love may include the love for a soul or mind, the love of laws and organizations, love for a body, love for nature, love of food, love of money, love for learning, love of power, love of fame, love for the respect of others, et cetera. Different people place varying degrees of importance on the kinds of love they receive. Love is essentially an abstract concept, easier to experience than to explain. Many believe, as stated originally by Virgil, that “Love conquers all“. However, love may be confused with lust.
In origins, love is an Indo-Iranian word. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the English word “love” is derived more immediately from Old English lufu, luvu, or lubu, which derived from luba of Old High German. The luba of Old High German derived from leubh, lubet, and libet of Sanskrit and Old Aryan, meaning “pleasing.” Essentially, the modern-day version of the word “love” is the grammatical evolution of a 12th century word meaning to please.
Although there exist numerous cross-cultural unified similarities as to the nature and definition of love, as in there being a thread of commitment, tenderness, and passion common to all human existence, there are differences. For example, in India, with arranged marriages commonplace, it is believed that love is not a necessary ingredient in the initial stages of marriage – it is something that can be created during the marriage; whereas in the United States, by comparison, love is seen as a necessary prerequisite to marriage.
Whether religious love can be expressed in similar terms to interpersonal love is a matter for philosophical debate. Religious ‘love’ might be considered a euphemistic term, more closely describing feelings of deference or acquiescence. Most religions use the term love to express the devotion the follower has to their deity, who may be a living guru or religious teacher, as in the Bhakti traditions of Asia. This love can be expressed by prayer, service, good deeds, and personal sacrifice. Reciprocally, the followers may believe that the deity loves the followers and all of creation. Some traditions encourage the development of passionate love in the believer for the deity.
Within Christianity, however, love between spouses is defined as “an emotional attachment and affection shared between two individuals (biblically: male and female; which a person saves for their specific significant other only, and for that emotion to remain for as long as both of their existences shall be.”
- Ackerman, Diane (1994). A Natural History of Love, Vintage Books. ISBN 0679761837.
- Roger Allen, Hillar Kilpatrick, and Ed de Moor, eds. Love and Sexuality in Modern Arabic Literature. London: Saqi Books, 1995.
- Shadi Bartsch and Thomas Bartscherer, eds. Erotikon: Essays on Eros, Ancient and Modern. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.
- Helen Fisher. Why We Love: the Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love
- Thomas Jay Oord, Science of Love: The Wisdom of Well-Being. Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 2004.
- R. J. Sternberg. A triangular theory of love. 1986. Psychological Review, 93, 119–135
- R. J. Sternberg. Liking versus loving: A comparative evaluation of theories. 1987. Psychological Bulletin, 102, 331–345
- Sternberg, Robert (1998). Cupid’s Arrow – the Course of Love through Time, Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521478936.
- Dorothy Tennov. Love and Limerence: the Experience of Being in Love. New York: Stein and Day, 1979. ISBN 0812861345
- Dorothy Tennov. A Scientist Looks at Romantic Love and Calls It “Limerence”: The Collected Works of Dorothy Tennov. Greenwich, CT: The Great American Publishing Society (GRAMPS),
- Wood, Wood and Boyd. The World of Psychology. 5th edition. 2005. Pearson Education, 402–403
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