What is love?
As the Haddaway lyrics sneak into our brains – baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me no more – (apologies; that song will remain stuck in your head for the rest of the day) we forget about the importance of the question asked: what is love? Love governs many aspects of our lives, yet still people question what it actually is. The reason for the ongoing debate? Love is different to every individual. Love is not a thing, it’s not an object. Love is so much deeper than that and runs involuntarily in all of us. Love is powerful.
There’s something about love being so powerful yet uncontrollable that makes people so inquisitive about the subject. How can something we have no control over cause such a change in our emotions? How can it effect how we feel, how we act and the decisions that we make? How can it be so confusing yet so simple and pure at the same time?
Love is hard to put in to words. Throughout history and literature, love is described in a multitude of ways:
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”— Lao-Tzu
“It’s a very dangerous state. You are inclined to recklessness and kind of tune out the rest of your life and everything that’s been important to you. It’s actually not all that pleasurable. I don’t know who the hell wants to get in a situation where you can’t bear an hour without somebody’s company.”— Colin Firth
“The heart wants what it wants. There’s no logic to these things. You meet someone and you fall in love and that’s that.”— Woody Allen
So love is danger? Love is reckless and unpleasurable? Love is a vulnerability? Love is illogical? Love is courageous? Love is strength?
Perhaps love is all these things.
The science of love
From a factual, scientific approach, love can be defined simply as chemistry. Scientists have compartmentalised love into three linear stages: lust, attraction and attachment. True love is the attachment phase.
Though a simple definition, the details of the chemistry inside us are anything but straight forward. Different concoctions of hormones and neurotransmitters race around your body in different concentrations at different times. And the end result? Somehow through all this chemical madness we end up falling in love. It really is beyond our control; you can’t help the heart (scientifically, ‘you can’t help the hormones’ may be more apt).
But something must set off this chain of hormone release and intense feelings. And we must be in the environment to thrive and for these complex emotions to develop in to love. But how?
The psychology of love
Here’s where the psychology side of love falls in to play. Somewhere deep in your brain, tucked away in a subconscious level, you are analysing every single person you meet. Do they have potential? This is everything from the way they smell, to how tall they are to how similar your personalities. Psychologists have even discovered that when experiencing physical warmth you’re more likely to perceive someone as warming, generous and caring; you have primed your mind to think they emit interpersonal warmth (this is actually a really cool study; you can check it out here). What does this mean to us? Not much (except maybe goodbye to ice cream dates, hello coffee!). All this really proves is that our brain is working and analysing on a much deeper level than we can ever imagine.
But once your ever-analysing brain finds a match, if given the time and opportunity to evolve, the chemical journey to love sets sale. The issue is, all of this is going on behind the scenes; we are completely unaware. Yes you may find someone attractive, you may like someone, but suddenly – WHAM – love comes screaming into your consciousness unrequested and unexpected. And people panic.
The realisation of love
The realisation of love is where things gets confusing. Love itself if simple and pure; it’s natural and happens to us all. It comes when it’s meant to and goes when it’s not.
But people, as with most things, have taken this purity and prodded and poked and questioned it. We can’t catch love and we can’t control love; it’s free and raw. But if there’s one thing we all like the believe we have, it’s control. Control over our lives, our thoughts, our behaviour. Love strips us of this. We don’t control love: it dominates us.
This is the scary part of love, the part people associate with pain and vulnerability and courage. To love fully is courageous; you have handed control over to love. This in turn leaves you vulnerable and open to pain. It’s such a turmoil of emotions because whilst love itself makes us feel weightless and happy and lifted, the acknowledgement of its presence makes us nervous. And people respond to this differently. Some fear love and the power it possesses and can’t believe they have lent themselves to love; some embrace love and the liberation it provides, thankful that they have a force so powerful in their lives; some cautiously approach love, somewhat reluctant and confused, but excited.
“Love is an untamed force. When we try to control it, it destroys us. When we try to imprison it, it enslaves us. When we try to understand it, it leaves us feeling lost and confused.” ― Paulo Coelho
Love is a feeling people chase and something people desire; to feel wanted, appreciated and accepted with all our flaws. Yet when seized, love makes us nervous; it is dominating and it is reckless. It’s presence evokes all emotion and everything in between. Love is an untamed force, but its complexities are non-existent; the key word in this quote is “we”. Me, you, us.
To me, love is not confusing: people are.