Saturday, June 14, 2014

Definitions of Love

Since I will likely spend a lot of entries talking about love, I figured it’d be a good idea to start off this blog with a post about how I define all the various types of love so you know what I mean when I talk about them. Plus what kind of philosopher would I be if I didn’t start off with a definitions post. :P Love is a word that is thrown around so causally in our culture that it’s ceased to have its true definition anymore and it can vary from the most trivial type of love to the most profound. I’ll admit, even I’m guilty of using the word casually when it applies to non-human things, such as saying things like, “I love Hey Arnold!” or “I love penguins!” or “I love sandwiches!” While I do love those things, it’s not REAL love. It’s love in the meaning of “it’s one of my favorite things.” When applied to non-human things this is harmless, so long as we’re not carrying over this definition to our relationships with people. While you can causally say you love a food without any real consequences, casually saying you love a person you really don’t can cause confusion, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings.

Now there are many kinds of love when it comes to people, and many cultures were smart enough to have separate words for each of these. In our culture, we tend to either lump them all together under the umbrella of the word love or add extra words around them when we really need to be clear. I prefer to separate them out as much as possible using those extra words. To name the broadest categories, there’s friendship love, family love, neighborly love, spiritual love (aka love of God), and romantic love, and these all have true love at their core.

True love is not a feeling of happiness or a fluffy floaty singing type feeling. It’s not a feeling at all. It’s a decision to care despite how you feel. It’s a choice that you will care for that person no matter what and act selflessly towards them and promote their well-being. Whether things are going great between you, whether you’re angry at each other. Whether you live near each other and can hang out every day or whether you live countries apart and you can only talk on rare occasions like each other’s birthdays. Good, bad, everything in between, you still care for and about them and you will be there for them. Regardless of the type of love that it is, this aspect of caring for them no matter what is what makes it true love. It takes all of those aspects in  the 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 of being patient, kind, not rejoicing in the wrong doings, not seeking its own interests, etc in order to live out this type of love. And it takes a lot of strength and effort to do this. We can get this strength from God as well as examples of how to live it out from His son.

Most of the types of love get further divided into sub-categories based on the specific type or the level of intensity. Those sub-categories tend to be agreed on in our culture, but there can be variation in how people define the sub-categories of romantic love, as what people label as love can range from what I define as a crush all the way up to true romantic love. Crush is the lowest level, where you’re attracted to the person based on what surface characteristics you know about them, such as their looks, but also surface personality traits such as their general demeanor or basic knowledge about them, such as what clubs they’re in at school or what their job is. You like what you know about them, but you don’t know very much, so it’s at the crush level. It’s also the “love at first sight” and infatuation stage. It’s quick-forming and short term, ending as you get to know the person better and decide “ugh no way!” or it turns into liking them.

Liking them is where you’re attracted to the person based on who they really are. It’s where you know the person well enough to asses compatibility and say that yes they would be good for me and I would be good for them. This tends to last for a while, but how long that while is varies for each person. This is also the stage where people tend to date each other. It’s still part of the infatuation stage, but it has potential to be more and transform into actual love because you’re getting to know the person for who they are.

Next up is really really liking someone. In elementary school I invented the silly word of “liove” to describe it since it’s in-between liking and loving someone. At this stage, you care for them in a deep way, you know who they are on a deeper level, and you’re attracted to who that deep level person is. This is the dangerous spot because it’s where people often think they’re in love because it’s definitely more than liking someone, but in reality it’s just really really liking someone.

Finally, the top stage is love aka romantic love aka true love. This is where you know the person extremely well, including all of their flaws and idiosyncrasies, but you still care about them for who they are and accept them for every aspect of themselves as they truly are and you both can be 100% yourselves around each other and still care just as much. It’s where you have all the characteristics of true love for caring no matter what in addition to the romantic attachment and attraction, which was present at all the other levels. You bring out the best in each other and help each other to grow into even better people. This is where you care about them to the point of wanting to be with them forever and making that commitment of marriage. Where no matter how old or ugly they become, where no matter how angry or annoyed you get with them, where no matter what life throws at them, you still stand by their side and care about them because you love them.

When love means that much, that’s why it’s important to simply say you like someone when you like them, as opposed to saying you love them when you don’t actually mean it. It’s not good to tell someone you care that much when you don’t, or say it just because you feel like you have to. It’s true that you could love someone you’re dating as a friend or even in the “love your neighbor” sense but only like them, so telling them you love them in that case would technically still be correct. However, it can make for some awkward or heartbreaking moments down the road when that person finds out you don’t feel the way you indicated and that you two aren’t on the same page.

In theory, people should be able to tell the difference between the various “I love you” phrases based on tone or body language to discern which level of love it is. I’ve noticed that in anime and manga, they often subtitle or translate suki (I like you), daisuki (I really like you), and aishiteru (I love you) all as “I love you.” But the context does indicate that they’re different levels of love, so I can tell which one they mean despite the generic translation. Suki usually comes from younger characters confessing to their crush, daisuki is usually between characters who have known each other for a long time confessing their feelings or between couples, and aishiteru is usually between the couples who are truly in love and either engaged or married. 

But the thing is, real life isn’t so clear-cut and feelings complicate things and cloud judgment. We often misinterpret the body language and the tone (not just in regards to love, but for many things), confusing one subcategory with another. While love isn’t a feeling, feelings are involved when we’re dealing with people in all types of relationships and these feelings can make us think we love someone, when we actually don’t. It’s easy to think or say you love someone romantically when things are going well between you two or when you’re snuggled close to them. Many couples assume that happy feeling is love, so they tell each other they love each other, get married, and then after some time realize that they didn’t love each other, they just had strong feelings for each other. Feelings fade over time, but love doesn’t. That’s how you can tell if you really love the person—if when you don’t have positive feelings, you still care about them. And caring isn’t a feeling, it’s an action. Love is an active thing and when it’s true, like the 1 Corinthians verse says, it bears all things, endures all things, and never fails. 

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