For me, love is not a single thing or moment, not a single emotion or definition. Love is multi-faceted and liminal. It is both here and between here and the next moment, a threshold. Love is whole within me, and also whole within the person who loves me. Whole within each person where the dynamic has a multiplicity. Love is also held in the space between us, space created and nurtured by each of us.
Love exists as we each individually define it and that definition is immediate and personal. That we all define it and apply it personally resonates culturally and allows a cultural definition of to surface. A cultural definition is the collective agreement we share on a societal level about how we experience and practice love in particular ways, involving certain things. There exist many expressions and practices, beliefs, understandings about love, but the cultural definition is the one we understand as what ‘everyone knows’ or more accurately what ‘everyone agrees to’.
Love as a cultural definition is tempered not only by how we all collectively experience love, but by how we believe love to exist and how we reinforce the resulting social structures. We simultaneously release and imprison our experiences and definitions of love, leaving us with a confusion where we distrust the personal over the structured social rules about love. This is how love can become smaller, paler and more insipid, less powerful and less believable. And this too is valid… but it is not the *only* way in which love is valid. In my experience, this paler practice and expression of love on a wide social scale obfuscates that there are other valid ways to experience, define, and practice love. We don’t share choices about love easily with others. We don’t teach our children or young people about different ways love occurs, we leave everyone to reinvent this wheel, or to roll it along the socially accepted track without pause or thought for other possibilities.
I am personally dedicated to love and I seek to break through the structures and beliefs that imprison our ability to experience and express love, to believe in it, accept it, personally define and understand it. I seek in everything I do, to give love away, to add love into things.
In each moment where we act with love, we create it, define it, and affirm it anew. Such actions do not occur in a vacuum. Acting with love, adding love into things, and creating space for love to be defined and affirmed personally, individually, adds to a collective resonance that creates a bigger, living and breathing social understanding and definition around love. One big enough and broad enough for all of us.
This is post in many ways links to my other posts in recent months on relationships, but it is also completely separate and stands alone. Love is such an integral part of how we move through the world, it’s not just about how we relate to others, but also ourselves and the world around us. So this is my understanding and experience of love, my attempt to add to the many definitions of love.
In this post, I make no attempt to look at any particular kind of love, and instead seek to look at it from a more abstract perspective. Well before such specifics about types of love become useful, how do we understand love, amorphous and nebulous in itself – what does it mean when we allow it to transcend our desire to categorise and contain it? I would welcome your adding to this and sharing with me your own definitions about love, particularly in this abstract and conceptual space.
One thought on “On Love…”
<i>Love as a cultural definition is tempered not only by how we all collectively experience love, but by how we believe love to exist and how we reinforce the resulting social structures. [ … ] This is how love can become smaller, paler and more insipid, less powerful and less believable.</i>I absolutely agree with this. I sometimes feel frustrated by the limitations of the socially accepted and recognised forms of love. Not that these are invalid, but that they’re incomplete and don’t capture, as you say, much of my personal experiences of love.I always think it’s worth having conversations with loved ones about ones own personal definitions of love and how that relates to the socially acknowledged concept. It can also be extremely illuminating to find out how others experience and conceptualise love and what they mean when they talk about loving! I think talking about it more might stretch the socially accepted definition, if we all became more aware of the vast range of variations in how individuals experience love.I think I’m less dedicated to love in my driving principle in my life than you are. I think one of the reasons for this is that my personal experience of love is quite different in many ways from the socially accepted definitions, so I always feel slightly uncomfortable using the term without clarifying <em>how</em> I’m using it and what it means to me personally. But another reason is because love as a broader ethical principle for relating is strongly associated for me with Christianity and Christian ethics. I actually like the notion of using love as a foundation for ethics that I came across in studying Christian moral reasoning, but it nevertheless feels like an ethical approach that is bound up with a religion and culture that is not my own. The guiding ethical principle that I myself have adopted is the principle of wisdom, which feels like it <em>does</em> belong to my own religious and cultural background.(Curiously enough, both love and wisdom as foundational ethical principles are examples of the more general philosophical system of virtue ethics.)