I know it doesn’t make sense. I know for myself that I have, on more than one occasion, confessed to having “feelings” for someone. Love is certainly something one feels, and quite intensely, but that doesn’t mean it’s an emotion. Not, at least, as Karla McKlaren describes it in her book The Language of Emotions.
“When an emotion is healthy, it arises only when it’s needed, it shifts and changes in response to its environment, and it recedes willingly once it has addressed an issue. When love is healthy, it does none of these things. If emotions repeat themselves endlessly, or appear with the same exact intensity over and over again, then something’s wrong. Yet real love is a steadfast promise that repeats itself endlessly through life and beyond death. Love does not increase or decrease in response to its environment, it does not change with the changing winds. Love is not an emotion; it doesn’t behave the way emotions do. Real love is in a category of its own.
(For more on what love is not, and why, for many, relationships do not work, stay tuned to this blog.)
“Those things we’ve learned to equate with love–the longing, the physical attraction, the shared hobbies, the desire, the yearning, the lust, the projections, the addictive cycles, the passions–those things move and change and fluctuate in the way emotions do, but they’re not love. Love is utterly stable and utterly unaffected by any emotion. When we love truly, we can experience all of our … emotions (including fear, rage, hatred, grief, or shame), while continuing to love and honor our loved ones. Love isn’t the opposite of fear or anger or any other emotion. Love is much, much deeper than that.
“For some people, love is merely adoration, which is a form of good shadow projection. These people find the person who best typifies their unlived shadow material–good and bad–and live in a sort of trance with them. Though I wouldn’t call that sad game “love” it’s what passes for love in many relationships: you find someone who can act out your unlived material, attach yourself to them, and enter into a haunted carnival ride of moods and desires. When the projections fall and you see your adoration target for who he or she truly is, you become disillusioned and try to reattach your projections, or even seek another person to project onto. But that’s not love, because real love doesn’t play games with other people’s souls, and it doesn’t depend upon what you can project onto your partner or what you can get out of the relationship. Real love is a prayer and a deathless promise: an unwavering dedication to the soul of your loved one and to the soul of the world. Emotions and desires can come and go as they please, and circumstances can change in startling ways, but real love never wavers. Real love endures all emotions, and it survives trauma, betrayal, divorce, and even death.”
So then… What is love? That is…what is the recipe for finding it?
There are many forms of love, of course. Those we attach to our friends, our parents, our children, our pets… These are many and varied and intense and critical in their own ways, but that which we feel for a chosen other, that special “one”, our found and essential “soul mate” is something apart from these.
Romantic love is made up of different things. Companionate love includes those feelings rooted in friendship, companionship, and togetherness. Compassionate love is one that is focused on the nurturing and care of another. Erotic love is that lustful side of things, where the physical aspect of the relationship is the center of focus. Passionate love is that euphoric, obsessive state of things, that unique and oh-so-hard-to-find “oneness” we feel that words are scarcely able to describe. Most romantic relationships are made up of more than one of these, certainly, But a series of studies conducted by Ellen Berscheid and Sarah Myers found that the difference between loving someone and being in love with them came down to two key characteristics: That of “liking” combined with “lust”. Liking combines the companionate and compassionate aspects of love together with the erotic and passionate. Therefore, it seems, true love, the kind that lasts, is essentially quaternal–wholistic–in nature. It is friendship and tender care and physical chemistry and passion. It is all and everything! And because it is everything, when it is properly maintained and balanced, it is far more likely to endure. This wholehearted love is the sort that makes the dreaded word “commitment” more synonymous with “devotion” than “obligation”. It makes us desperate to preserve it, to take risks and to overcome our worst fears. We have no choice. That inner voice inside our hearts pulls us onward despite ourselves.
Love, you see, is not an emotion because it is more powerful than any emotion. It is more powerful than fear, than anger, than jealousy (which emotion some say is an necessary to bonding and attachment). Love feeds us the answers to the empty parts of our very souls, it is that greatest connection between two people, a connection that, once experienced, cannot be lived without. It makes us do things, risk things, open ourselves up in ways we may have believed we never could or wanted to–in ways, in fact, we may have done everything to avoid. But the Universe knows better. It knows what we need and how to fill those empty places within us. And, more than that, that those empty places must be filled! The Universe will make sure of that, for it knows, as we in our innermost parts have always know, that once that sort of connection has been experienced, however terrifying and bewildering and excruciating it might be, we cannot live without it. Would you really want to?