What Is Love?
I grew up with the persistent sense that love was scarce. I know I never felt like I had enough of it, and this was clearest when I felt lonely and misunderstood.
Later I began to notice that people would often claim to love me despite behaving in ways that I found hurtful. In fact, love was even used as an excuse for selfish or insensitive actions, as if love was a magic word that made everything OK even when I could clearly see that it was anything but OK.
I began to hear love defined and described not as a feeling, but instead as a behavior. “Love is a verb” seemed to go a long way toward solving the problem of the discrepancy between people’s proclamations and their behaviors. If love was a verb, then it’s identifiable by the actions we can observe. No one can try to convince me they love me if what they do is inconsistent with the word.
Yet somehow this definition, although perhaps better than the first, also failed to satisfy me. For one thing, it seemed to separate actions from their intentions, so at best it felt incomplete. I’d heard “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” and that seemed to point to an essential truth: intentions are not actions, and they can be misconstrued or even abused as excuses. What difference does it really make when someone claims after doing something that hurts us that they didn’t mean to cause harm? Yet the reverse must also be true: if beneficial actions do not come from good intent, how praiseworthy can they be?
Somewhere along the way I heard about this idea called unconditional love. This really grabbed my attention because I’d so often felt that I had to do or be what someone else wanted to “earn” their love, and that was always a painful exercise in futility. Nothing was ever good enough, and I never felt good enough. So unconditional love felt much more true to me as an idea of what love is.
I believed in God from a very early age, as far back as I can remember. I was baptized a Catholic as a baby, and then almost 18 years later I chose to be baptized a Mormon. Very shortly thereafter, I left all organized religion behind because none that I tried felt in alignment with what I knew of God. To me, God was always love.
Unconditional love was the only way I knew or could understand God. Of course, if unconditional love is closest to my ideal of love, then conditional love must not really be love at all. That means the term “unconditional love” is redundant because the adjective “unconditional” is really an attribute intrinsic to love.
By now I was starting to better understand what this word “love” means, but still it seemed mysterious. On top of that, a friend in college I loved once observed to me that the word has been used by so many people in so many different ways as to render it essentially meaningless.
I found this observation to be both true and deeply offensive. Love has always been a central concern in my life, and it’s a real problem if the word is meaningless.
I’ve come to understand that the word is mostly irrelevant even as it still retains a great deal of its power. The power comes, I believe, from our inherent understanding of the power of what the word represents.
Still the question remains — what is love? That will be the question I explore in this writing. My latest understanding is simply this: Love is a worldview. It is a way of seeing and perceiving that informs our feelings and our actions, that connects us to all of creation.
Note on Language
For anyone reading this who is not inclined to believe in God, you can substitute the word “Life” or “Consciousness” for “God” without losing the essence of the meaning. Shakespeare said, “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” I say, “That which we call God, by any other name would feel complete.”
NOTE: The first 3 chapters were published to Medium on 7/12/17. Further chapters will be published every Wednesday until the complete book is available here. Thank you for reading! If you would like access to the entire book without delay, please look for the paperback, Kindle, and Audible versions on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/This-Love-You-Kimberly-Carlton/dp/0692718079/ref=sr_1_11?ie=UTF8&qid=1499881330&sr=8-11&keywords=this+love+is+for+you