What is love?


With S and I trying to make sense of what love means, I thought it’d be interesting to find out how others feel on the matter.

So I googled “What is love?”

This came up, and I reproduce below,


The physicist: ‘Love is chemistry’

Biologicallylove is a powerful neurological condition like hunger or thirst, only more permanent. We talk about love being blind or unconditional, in the sense that we have no control over it. But then, that is not so surprising since love is basically chemistry. While lust is a temporary passionate sexual desire involving the increased release of chemicals such as testosterone and oestrogen, in true love, or attachment and bonding, the brain can release a whole set of chemicals: pheromones, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin and vasopressin. However, from an evolutionary perspective, love can be viewed as a survival tool – a mechanism we have evolved to promote long-term relationships, mutual defence and parental support of children and to promote feelings of safety and security.

The psychotherapist: ‘Love has many guises’

Unlike us, the ancients did not lump all the various emotions that we label “love” under the one word. They had several variations, including:

Philia which they saw as a deep but usually non-sexual intimacy between close friends and family members or as a deep bond forged by soldiers as they fought alongside each other in battle. Ludus describes a more playful affection found in fooling around or flirting. Pragma is the mature love that develops over a long period of time between long-term couples and involves actively practising goodwill, commitment, compromise and understanding. Agape is a more generalised love, it’s not about exclusivity but about love for all of humanity. Philautia is self love, which isn’t as selfish as it sounds. As Aristotle discovered and as any psychotherapist will tell you, in order to care for others you need to be able to care about yourself. Last, and probably least even though it causes the most trouble, eros is about sexual passion and desire. Unless it morphs into philia and/or pragma, eros will burn itself out.

Love is all of the above. But is it possibly unrealistic to expect to experience all six types with only one person. This is why family and community are important.

The philosopher: ‘Love is a passionate commitment’

The answer remains elusive in part because love is not one thing. Love for parents, partners, children, country, neighbour, God and so on all have different qualities. Each has its variants – blind, one-sided, tragic, steadfast, fickle, reciprocated, misguided, unconditional. At its best, however, all love is a kind a passionate commitment that we nurture and develop, even though it usually arrives in our lives unbidden. That’s why it is more than just a powerful feeling. Without the commitment, it is mere infatuation. Without the passion, it is mere dedication. Without nurturing, even the best can wither and die.

The romantic novelist: ‘Love drives all great stories’

What love is depends on where you are in relation to it. Secure in it, it can feel as mundane and necessary as air – you exist within it, almost unnoticing. Deprived of it, it can feel like an obsession; all consuming, a physical pain. Love is the driver for all great stories: not just romantic love, but the love of parent for child, for family, for country. It is the point before consummation of it that fascinates: what separates you from love, the obstacles that stand in its way. It is usually at those points that love is everything.

The nun: ‘Love is free yet binds us’

Love is more easily experienced than defined. As a theological virtue, by which we love God above all things and our neighbours as ourselves for his sake, it seems remote until we encounter it enfleshed, so to say, in the life of another – in acts of kindness, generosity and self-sacrifice. Love’s the one thing that can never hurt anyone, although it may cost dearly. The paradox of love is that it is supremely free yet attaches us with bonds stronger than death. It cannot be bought or sold; there is nothing it cannot face; love is life’s greatest blessing.


I think the psychotherapist pretty much summed up what both S and I have been trying to say. Love has many guises, and there is really no one definition. We have the English language to blame for causing all the confusion. It’s just not precise enough sometimes.

But back to the topic, borrowing the words from the psychotherapist and S’ point about being deficient, “in order to care for others you need to be able to care about yourself”. Is our commitment phobia a result of us  still trying to mend ourselves? Or are we really just afraid? Afraid of how all our beliefs and conceptions about love and relationships would be disproved leaving us in a totally new territory, somewhere with love, but somewhere new, somewhere unfamiliar?

The physicist claims that love is chemistry (and I note with interest how it’s a physicist and not a chemist or a biologist that is saying this). I can’t help but to try to recall the last time I had felt strongly for someone. My first instinct is that no, I can’t recall a time, any time where I had felt this way. But on closer examination, I wonder if it’s really my head that is getting in the way, repressing all my emotions, and pulling me back from all the could have beens?

I have a good friend who has been ever green for a long while now, and recently he told me that because his elder brother has found a girlfriend, his parents are now on his case. Being the good friend that I am, I told him that he should go out there and meet people. and I gave him a lot of advice thereafter.

In retrospect, I guess I wasn’t really in any position to say anything. I have never dated anyone before.

With all the thought that both S and I have put on the matter over the past months, years, I wonder if the reason I have never dated anyone is because I don’t want to, or like mentioned above, I am really just afraid. I am frightened to take the first step because I don’t want to know what will happen. What if it’s not like what I have observed from my parents growing up? I mean it’ll be great if that’s the case, but it’ll just go to show how dysfunctional and broken my family was like, and I don’t know how that will make me feel.

I remember telling my friend just to “go out there and 狠狠地爱一场!” Maybe that’s the advice that I should heed myself. Like S said, grate your youth while you’re still young. So maybe it’s time to go out and meet people? Blind dates? Match making? Maybe only then, will I know for a fact, what love truly means to me.


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