What Is Love Actually?

Life Jan 20, 2021

What is love – a question that seems to have existed since the creation of the world and has not yet been answered unequivocally. Millions of pages are devoted to this fundamental problem: the concept of love is found both in art and in philosophical texts, religious treatises, and scientific research.

To define love, we must first agree that when we say the word “love”, we all understand it more or less the same, even if we decide that we are talking about the so-called romantic love, and not, for example, about the love of truth or homeland. Problems begin already here because we are not talking about a phenomenon about which there is any acceptable consensus at the level of “we all observe the same thing, let’s now figure out what it is and how it works.” No, we all observe different things, each calls something of his own as love, and it is necessary, as they say, to agree on terms.


Suppose we came to the conclusion that we are interested in the sociocultural component of romantic love. Until recently, a very popular position among anthropologists (we are talking about social and cultural anthropology) was the position that romantic love is a socio-cultural construct, invented by Europeans somewhere in the Middle Ages, and spread around the world relatively recently. That is, all these ahs, sighs, idealization of a beloved, and so on were invented by the authors of medieval novels. It would seem a rather vulnerable point of view if we give examples of love stories from the literature of other cultures, but, firstly, we perceive this literature through the prism of our ideas, and secondly, as supporters of this position object, what is described in the literary monuments concerns only local elites, and what anthropologists observe on the ground has nothing to do with this. In general, love can be declared an excessive concept that duplicates others used to describe the relationship between individuals in society. But since love has appeared, even if it was invented by European novelists (or, it would be reasonable then to continue, the ancient Greeks), and worries contemporaries, then you still have to deal with it.

In the practice of Hindu bhaktas, people who dedicated their lives to one single deity, most often Vishnu in the guise of Krishna, this went even further: believers perceived themselves as actual partners of the deity in love games during his stay on earth. Echoes of such ideas can be found in Judaism, where all of Israel is perceived as “the bride of God”, and in other traditions. Does this mean that the content of all religions is love? Of course not. But it is important to note that it is love that is so common in many different religions as the most successful way to express the emotions that the mystic experiences towards the object of his worship. To what extent is this manifested in practice? At first glance, not much: this kind of revelation was a lot of enlightened mystics and not ordinary believers. But they became possible thanks to the most important change in our culture, which is associated with the spread of Christianity: a turn from external to internal, from actions and material reality to thoughts, feelings, and intention.


Love runs on two fuels: hormones and projection. Usually, we have some kind of internal plot in which the partner is assigned an important role, and this plot is formed in childhood, and sometimes even several generations before us. It is a ridiculous delusion to think that we are simply “looking for someone who looks like daddy”. Sometimes for dad, sometimes for mom, sometimes for some part of mom, and sometimes for some split-off, unrecognized part of ourselves. Brothers and sisters also need not be discounted. When we meet the right person who is perfect for our interior scene, the projections spin up instantly, like chemical reactions.

Someone else from medieval thinkers said that “love does not require the past.” Unfortunately, these stories are not always about a happy family and a quiet old age hand in hand. Although at the level of consciousness, the pictures are almost always just like that. And on a deeper level, it can be about betrayal, betrayal or lonely motherhood, and about sacrifices and torment (when you must suffer for the sake of someone, and as much as possible), and about some long-ago inflicted insults, pay off for which the partner will also have. Which, of course, is neither a dream nor a spirit. A lot of love is involved in regression – it has long been noticed that lovers behave and react like little children. Alas, if in childhood we were rejected, did not hear, did not notice, if we were lonely and scared, this will manifest itself in a love relationship. Required. But the good news is that all parenting scripts and our inner plays are not a sentence. Two adults are capable of rewriting almost any story so that it contains joy, sexuality, and a quiet old age hand in hand.


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