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What is Real Love?

Photo Credit: Kichigin/Thinkstock

I recently read an article about the multitude of celebrity break ups that have happened so far in 2015. The article reported, “Couples were breaking up left and right – leaving many to wonder if love is even a real thing anymore. “ It then went on to site all the couples that had split.

Since love certainly appears to be a “recyclable,” I decided to take a deeper look at love to see what is going on, and lo and behold I discovered the real problem. We don’t know what it is! We are all seeking it, giving it, taking it, wanting it, and some are dying over losing it or not finding it, but we can’t agree on defining it.

The dictionary had definitions that spurred my semi-sarcastic reactions in italics:

“Feeling tender affection,” (Tender affection doesn’t sound strong enough, I have tender affection for my next door neighbor!)

“Feeling desire,” (I’m CERTAIN that isn’t love! Can’t we feel desire even when no one is the focal point?)

“Liking something very much” (Hmmm….isn’t that just like?)

“Having sex with somebody” (Really? In the definition of love? That changes everything—and not for the better!)

Feeling quite unsatisfied with the dictionary definitions, I turned to the Internet. There I found that apparently, what love is depends on who you ask and, perhaps, who you love. A physicist says it is chemistry, or “a powerful neurological condition like hunger or thirst.” A psychotherapist said the Greeks identified seven different types of love, each different depending on who you love. (Stoge: family, Philia: friends, Eros: sexual, Agape: Divine love, Ludas: playful, Pragma: long lasting love, and Philautia: love of self.) A philosopher said it is a passionate commitment. (But I’m certain I’ve loved and have been loved without any commitment.) A romance novelist says, “Love is everything, it is what drives stories.” (But I think unrequited love is what seems to drive stories, myself.) A theologian says, “God is Love.” And while I tend to agree, don’t get me started on trying to define God.

My favorite answer came from Rabbi Shais Taub who said the concept of love is not a concept but an action. “The Hebrew word for love, ahavah, reveals this true definition of love, for the word ahavah is built upon the root consonants h‑v, which means “to give. In order for love to be real love, it has to be expressed as an action. If you love your beloved, then you must show it. By the same token, if you are loved, that will show, too. You will recognize it by the way you are treated.”

I appreciate this call to action. Saying you love someone, but speaking to them and treating them without love, discounts the proclamation. Simply put, actions speak louder than words. However, I also question whether love must be acted on. There are people I have loved with whom acting upon that love could have been harmful. Perhaps love sometimes requires inaction as the action.

So, since none of this gave me greater clarity, I decided to go out on a limb and see if I had a definition of my own.

Here it is: Love is the ability to meet someone (or something) in the present moment in full acceptance, respect, and gratitude.

When we “meet in the present moment,” our vision is not tainted by the past or clouded by the future. Rather we see what is before us, right now.

“Full acceptance” means that the person, as they are, is what we love: not our expectations, or hopes for change. To be fully seen and accepted is truly to feel loved. To fully accept is an act of love.

Respect is important because, out of respect comes our action or our inaction. Respect implies that we will be thoughtful, considerate and aim not to harm. Respect is not manipulative or hurtful and calls for an alignment of our actions with our values.

Gratitude is perhaps the highest expression of honor and humility, both beautiful words to throw into the love mix.

I tested my definition against the Greeks and found this still applied no matter who you are loving: strangers, friends, family, lover, spouse, God or Self.

This brings us full circle. In order to know whether love is real, we need to know what real love is. What’s your definition?