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What is love (as I see it… humbly)

Jennifer Lopez, as her most recent marriage to Mark Anthony was ending, told an interviewer that she still remains optimistic about love.

In making that comment, the singer expressed an attitude about love that is, unfortunately, all too common in our society today. Love is supposed to be easy, to be about “never having to say you’re sorry.” In short, it is supposed to be an emotion.

Real love is, in fact, not an emotion. The emotion we feel when we fall in love with someone is actually simply attraction. Over time, that attraction can turn into love, but that change is not simply something that happens. It is something that takes commitment and hard work on the part of the partners.

To describe the the lifelong process of building a loving relationship between two adults to someone who has never tried it is impossible. Fortunately, most of us have, at one time or another, at least made the effort. Indeed, love is one of the deepest needs of people.

Clinically, love has been described about the extension of one’s ego boundaries to include another person. Essentially, when you truly love another person, you bring that person into your world. You share everything, up to and including your own essence.

What makes love difficult is that we cling to our ego as one would cling to a liferaft. We fear the loss of ourselves in this relationship, and that’s why couples fight and need to work for years to gain the sense of security in the relationship that allows them to truly become one unit.

In the Bible, it is written that “God is love.” Notably, it does not say that God brings us love, or created love, or offers us love. It is quite specific that God is love. And you can see where that makes sense based upon the understandings we have already come to. On the one hand, we have established that God is the connection between all living beings. On the other hand, love has been defined as the extension of the ego to include another. Well, in fact, both these statements define the same thing. Both God and love are all about the connection we as a unique person share with other living beings.

There is an interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve that supports this understanding. Adam and Eve have been described as the first married couple in the Bible. When God created Adam, supposedly he was trying to create a living being in his own image. But somehow, the story goes, the creation was imperfect. God felt there was a need to create a partner for Adam. This need did not arise from Adam’s wishes. As a human being with our limited brain, Adam could not have conceived of what was missing from his life. If he was the only person, how could he have realized he was lonely? He would have had no way to know of the benefits another person could bring to his life. As a result, it was God who realized that this creation was imperfect and that Adam needed a partner to perfect his creation.

So God created Eve not to satisfy Adam’s loneliness, but to more accurately reflect God’s image. What was missing when Adam was the only person? It was the love that exists between two people. Thus, the story of Adam and Eve is really a story aimed at describing the true essence of God. The story is written to tell us that God is the connection between all living beings, and that this connection is love.

The struggle that exists between our egotistical selves and the loving essence that we aspire to is one of the central opportunities we have to learn the lessons that are the purpose of our lives. This is a perfect example of how the burdens we face, the challenges we need to overcome, are all really opportunities for us to learn. Anyone who has been in a relationship knows that relationships are not easy. What they are is fulfilling. They bring us a happiness far deeper than any quick fix we can get from short-term pleasures. There is almost nothing more frustrating and difficult than building a relationship with another person. But there is also nothing that will make you more satisfied and happy.

If we get past our culture’s definition of love as a feeling, the romantic images we see in the movies, and accept that love is really the connection between two living beings, then you can see where you can have a loving relationship with a child, a parent, a friend, a teacher, even a boss or an employee. What defines love is the relationship, that it is selfless, not driven by ego. It seems odd to say that the more you give to someone else, the more you get, but that is certainly true with love.

How to spot true love then, is by looking to see the motivation of the participants. If the people in the relationship are looking for something for themselves, it is not love. It may eventually turn into love, but true love is not about getting something for yourself. It is about making the union something greater than the sum of its parts. True love is a multiplier. Your ego may be diminished within the relationship, but what you gain is far in excess of what you lose.

Don’t be fooled by relationships where somebody gives something expecting something in return. There can be no quid-pro-quo. It is only in losing oneself to the greater relationship that we get back the dividend from love. Giving something expecting something in return is not generosity. It is only with true selflessness that we can really begin to experience love.

Being imperfect human beings, we can never experience during our lifetimes the perfect love of God. But throughout our lives, we can engage in the quest to make our loving relationships more and more selfless. As we learn to do so, despite its difficulties, we are learning the lessons that give our lives meaning. As we become better and better at loving others, we become closer and closer to God.

Written by

Mike is an Assistant Professor of Management for Legal and Ethical Studies at Oakland U. Mike combines his scholarship with practical experience in politics.

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