Some people consider love as a passion, while others think this is a kind of friendship dedicated to one specific person. Love may also be seen as the deep affection and respect we usually show to our families and friends. You can also dedicate love to ideas and values. We all have different conceptions of what love is. Therefore, can we really find an ideal definition to agree on what love is? Can we just describe it as a human feeling or conduct? This article aims to illustrate the various possibilities and ways to understand and demonstrate love towards others or oneself. Thus, the main goal is to get a more detailed approach to the definition of love, and the importance of it in any society or community.
Many psychological observations and experiments have been done to explain how important is the need for love and affection. In the late thirties, René Spitz, an Austrian psychiatrist, and psychotherapist studied the effects of deprivation of affection on children. In particular, René Spitz analyzed the behavior of children who had to stay alone at the hospital for a long time. During this time, these sick children, who could barely see their parents and relatives, started losing weight and even having retarded physical development. It was proved that these symptoms – known as “hospitalism” in those times – were mainly due to the lack of social contact and affection these children suffered. Based on such experience, we can assume that we truly need love and affection to feel secure and comfortable in life.
This need for affection is not only a basic need for human beings; it seems to be widespread in nature. Thus, during the fifties, American psychologist Harry Harlow studied the effects of social isolation and deprivation of affection among apes and monkeys. To start his well-known experiment, Harry Harlow separated a young monkey from its mother. He put the young monkey alone in a room with some milk available from a feeding bottle, and also with a cuddly toy in another corner of the room. Then, Harry Harlow set off a machine making loud drum noise, in order to create some kind of tension and stress in the room. This noise put the young monkey under some kind of psychological pressure, and its first and immediate reaction was to rush and nestle on the cuddly toy. This means that, even for animals, food is not the first element that reassures them. Just as human beings, they basically need some affection and they can reach it through emotional attachment.
To a great extent, love also enhances self-esteem, as well as the feeling of belonging to a specific community. French philosopher Alain Badiou depicts love as the personal experience of universality. Thanks to love, we can learn how to accept others. Thus, when you love someone, this person enriches your identity and your own life with one’s identity and one’s personal experience. Love is all about sharing: in some ways, it can be considered as a synonym of altruism and selflessness, since love is the overcoming of narcissism. Ultimately, love can be seen as a way to experience otherness, since it basically teaches us how to accept other people.
It is also said that it takes a day to love a person but that it takes a lifetime to forget him or her. Hence this question: can we love someone forever? Let us say, it depends on the way you consider and experience love. Is love merely passion, or is it something bigger? Some philosophers claimed that love could not be reduced to passion. Therefore, if you see love as more than passionate feelings, you may love someone for a lifetime.
In his book, The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm, an American psychologist and social philosopher, claims that love is more than just a feeling. Love is also about actions, this is a commitment to loving actions towards another or many others, over a sustained duration. “Love is a decision, it is a judgment, and it is a promise, Fromm said. A feeling comes and it may go. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever.” Fromm ultimately depicts love as a conscious choice: if love in its early stages may originate as a feeling, later it depends on conscious commitment. In other words, love is certainly a harsh work, but probably the most rewarding one.
Considering the fact that we all tend to forge links with other people and relatives in a given society or community, the only thing we can state loud and clear is that we all need love and affection to feel secure and comfortable in our own lives. In the end, we may perceive love as a vital need. However, love also remains a mystery… Some researchers tried to solve the mystery of love, and some even tried to find the equation of love, mathematically speaking! But, can we really explain love? And can we explain what makes love lasts? Maybe not… And it does not really matter after all, since love, although not rational, is in all likelihood deeply rooted in the mindset of humankind. By Justine Canonne
- René Spitz, ‘Hospitalism: An inquiry into the genesis of psychiatric conditions in early childhood’, in The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, issue 1, 1945 and ‘Hospitalism: A follow-up report’, in The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, volume 2, 1946
- Hanna Fry, The Mathematics of Love: Patterns, Proofs, and the Search for the Ultimate Equation, TED Books/Simon & Schuster, 2015
- John Gottman, John and Nan Silver, What Makes Love Last, Simon & Schuster, 2012
- Harry Harlow, ‘The Nature of Love’, in American Psychologist, issue 13, 1958
- Alain Badiou, Eloge de l’amour / Praise for Love, Flammarion, 2009
- Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving, Harper and Row, 1956