“Logically the opposite of love is hate, and of Eros, Phobos, (fear); but psychologically it is the will to power. Where love reigns, there is no will to power; and where the will to power is paramount, love is lacking. The one is but the shadow of the other…” — C.G. Jung
In his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul defines love by addressing what it is not (envious, boasting, self-serving) and by listing the necessary ingredients for love to exist (patience and kindness). It’s often read at weddings. But I think Paul’s words failed to galvanize the reader into love because the list of to-dos and not-to-dos is exhaustive. It makes the experience too intellectual.
On writing his son about his newfound affection for a girl, John Steinbeck offered these words:
“There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect — not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable.”
I suppose there could be several types of love but many would argue that the first example Steinbeck gave was not love but ego gratification. The second type is certainly loving but again, does it inspire the act of love? Maybe it could for some.
An urban dictionary entry on the definition of love states that love is, “giving someone the power to destroy you, and trusting them not to.” While another definition states that love is, “The most spectacular, indescribable, deep euphoric feeling for someone.”
Both definitions are lacking something. For the first one, your therapist technically has the power to destroy you; is it love which is causing you to interact with them? For the second, this definition of love couldn’t be applied to one’s parents or even one’s spouse if the love isn’t spectacular or euphoric. If it’s steady and describable is it not love?
The late, great motivational speaker Leo Buscaglia wrote, “To love is to risk not being loved in return.” He implies that there is a tendency in love to receive something from our beloved, and to dare to reveal how you feel illustrates that love is present. To add, one certainly doesn’t have to say how they feel. They could show it in various other ways. However, this could often be done in the case of infatuation.
Finally, psychiatrist Carl Jung explains that when love is present, there is no will to power. What does that mean? When love is present, there is no desire to control. This implies that when love is present, freedom is present; and if freedom is present, then there must be an acceptance of what is.
What I love about Jung’s explanation is how he defines what love is by telling you what it is not (like St. Paul did) but how it cuts to the very fiber of what obscures love in the first place — the desire to control. Moreover, this desire to control must be a selfish one, as Steinbeck wrote.
What’s more is that Jung’s words illustrate not only the love of people, but love of anything, of life itself. The desire to control life is proportional to how much you love life. If you seek to control everything, then you love nothing. Nothing is ever good enough, nor will it ever be.
But the one thing this definition lacks is enthusiasm. The definitions from urban dictionary had an intensity that predicted infatuation instead of love but intensity does matter. For example, I accept my pillow. It is fine, wouldn’t change it, does its job but I wouldn’t say I love it.
So ultimately, love (as I see it) is a strong acceptance of someone or something. Naturally, you will not agree with everything that happens in life. Some things will challenge your values. But if you can learn to accept what is without needing to approve of it, you can at least not add more suffering to your life.
Loving is like a skill. It’s something you get better at the more you do it. Love isn’t just something that happens to you. It isn’t always euphoric but it isn’t always hard labor. Like anything in life it varies over time. You will have blind spots where everyone can see how unloving you are being but you. In time, those dark corners will be addressed.
Most importantly, if you can cultivate a strong acceptance for yourself and your life, you will feel different and life will be different. Not to mention that you’ll never have to question what love is ever again. You will know it intimately.