What is Love - how do we know it when we see it?

What is loveIt’s February and love is in the air! At least the word’s out there, in myriad forms, interpretations, implications, and intimations. This week you have probably been inundated with advertisements--email, hard copy, television, and radio--playing off the theme of hearts, love, and valentines. And that doesn’t include the visual assault of pink and red hearts on windows and most every aisle at the grocery store, pharmacy, department store, and gift shops that entice you to say “I love you” by spending money on their products. So we wanted to ask you about love--What is it? What does it mean in our complex world? and What implications might that have for our own actions and understandings?


People who responded to the survey described love in terms of physical, emotional, and psychological patterns. They talked about coherence and choice, excitement and expansiveness, optimism and generosity, vulnerability and rapture. Mostly they talked about romantic love, but there were hints at other kinds of love--from love for family to an expansive love for all mankind. Do a search for “kinds of love” and see what comes up--a world of descripitons of love. At any level there was a sense of wonder and energy about reaching out, relating to others, making choices. And almost a third of the respondents recognized the inability of human expression to fully explore or contain the depth and breadth of expressions of love that are available or possible in human systems.

Woven into their responses, people talked about the evolving, emergent nature of love that matures over time. Stories depicted love as being sizzling hot at first and then leveling off into the warmth of comfort, caring, and vulnerability. They talked about the developing depth of friendships and new, meaningful relationships. They described the evolution of love’s expression: from being punched in the arm to the first kiss, to expansive inclusion, to deep feelings of rapture and uncontrolled emotion. They talked about the inability of words or images to capture the totality of what love is.

So What?

The over-arching patterns that emerged in this brief survey were pretty clear:

Love takes many forms. In the diversity of people, places, times, and relationships, there are shared themes of being vulnerable, standing in awe and wonder, and the fulfillment of relating closely to others.

Love is not a closed, finite game. Giving and receiving love expands its bounds and sustains its existence. Even in the face of knowing that we sometimes get our hearts broken or suffer the loss of a loved one, most of us still stand ready to step into new relationship adventures of all kinds.

Love learns from the past. How we experience love changes as we build relationships over time. Love changes as we learn to trust another person, as we learn what another person needs and wants, as we learn what we need and want in each new relationship.

Now what?

If those are the patterns of human interaction that people describe as love, what might that suggest as possible options for action to set conditions for holding love as a sustainable pattern? Here are some options I see in the responses.

  1. Strengthen the idea of love by finding ways to express it openly and celebrate it in multiple venues in life. Beyond hearts and flowers and sentimentality, recognize the power of sharing your appreciation of others in ways that are comfortable for you.  
  2. Find ways to celebrate the differences that separate us and yet make us interesting to each other. What draws us together? What can we share, even across the differences that would divide us? When we are divided, what can we share that will bridge that gap?
  3. Look for excuses to connect to others, to develop relationships, to engage in an infinite game of co-evolution and mutual exploration.
  4. Remember that while love is exciting and magical and moving, it is also common and reassuring and respectful. Celebrate all kinds of love in your life.
  5. Stay in inquiry about what others want and need in their relationships and be clear about how that may or may not align with your own wants and needs.

What other options did you see in the patterns described here? Whether you choose one of these actions or other options that seem possible to you, take a step. Be in action to create sustainable patterns of love in multiple areas of your life. Then see what difference that makes. Keep us posted on what you find.

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