Define Love. We have been surrounded this month by ads and coupons and preschool curriculums telling us all about the “L-Word,” so it should be easy. They tell us that love is about heart-shaped Reese’s cups and giant teddy-bears and the color pink. But it’s true, isn’t it? Nothing says ,”I love you,” like an oversized mylar balloon that says…….”I love you.”
Before I go any further, let me assure you that this is not an anti-valentine post. Rather, it is a rookie-investigation into our human psyche. I do not believe Valentine’s Day is a complete waste of energy — I had a (dashingly handsome) valentine myself — but it seems silly to me that we find it necessary to schedule a date on which to celebrate a feeling we all crave (and should recognize) 365 days a year.
I called love a “feeling we all crave,” but I have still not guided you toward any hint of a concrete definition of the term. We all know what love is, and — be it friend-love, romantic-love, or family-love — we all know what love feels like. That said, can any of us put the term into words?
Love (n.) (but also v.) (and sometimes adj.) \luv\ 1. A feeling of happiness and contented comfort. 2. A feeling of dependable, unquestioned safety and support. 3. A feeling that is unconditional and free from judgement.
It seems that love can be described — not defined.
I was inspired to write this post while making valentines with my three-year-old students at preschool. There I was, 24, cutting and gluing construction paper hearts, wondering what love really means. And I realized, never, in seven years of working with children, have one of my students asked, “What does love mean?” Children ask questions every day — questions about the weather and the alphabet and their brains and their bodies. Children investigate why things work and why we feel the ways we do. They ask and they ask and they ask, but somehow, they know what love means. Without ever being taught, a child understands whether they are loved and by whom. Without ever being taught, a child understands what love is all about.
Curious, I decided to ask the munchkins myself, “What does love mean?” I have said before that we can learn a lot from children — their raw, imaginative, honest intellect is anchored in natural human thought and free from social expectations. To my dismay, however, these children seemed to be equally startled and overwhelmed by the blunt question. They were able to describe love about as well as we adults try to, but coming up with an actual definition would not be strung together in a thirty-minute art class.
“Love is when you are happy and you hug someone!” ; “I love mommy and daddy!” ; “Love means you draw someone a picture!” Granted, these three-year-olds may be a little young to have developed enough of a vocabulary to effectively describe their true experience of love, but they did know what it was. They understood that love is about joy and comfort and trust and generosity. Concluding from these short interviews, it was clear to me: while we all know the feeling, love cannot be defined.
Throughout our human history, countless authors and actors and chemists and political figures have described love. The term is a common theme littering the writings that have been left behind. Aristotle wrote, “Love is comprised of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.” William Shakespeare “loved with a love that was more than love.” Albert Einstein admitted, “This trick will not work–How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as love?” And Mark Twain recollected, “Love seems the swiftest, but is the slowest of all growths. No man or woman knows perfect love until they have been married a quarter of a century.”
Perhaps it was best described by Emily Dickinson who wrote, “That love is all there is, is all we know of love.”
Emily gets it.
Someone else who gets it: John, age 9, who said, “Love is like an avalanche where you have to run for your life!”
To wrap this up, it seems that love is as much a basic human need as hunger and thirst. We are born understanding what love is and what we need to fulfill our need for it. Children and adults alike can describe love, but no words in the human language are descriptive enough or strong enough to supply a definition. We all need love. We all love love.
So wash your hands, spread-love-not-germs, give free hugs, and remember, “The best time to love with your whole heart is now, in this moment, because no breath beyond the current is promised.” Xo