Monday, May 03, 2010

What is 'Love'?

All those who have fallen in love know that they are in love but when they are asked what is 'love', they will try to describe what it is like being 'in love' instead of giving a straight forward answer. Actually the same description is also given by those who divorce due to third party. The usual description goes like, "I have fallen in love with this woman/man, and I have lost the love for my spouse." So is that the best one can tell about love?

People talk about 'love' especially in the context of a relationship. When you are in a relationship with someone you feel affectionate to, you interpret that as being in love. But are there not cases where the relationship is there but love is not? Or a relationship with one party who has the spouse as his/her most beloved while the spouse has someone else in heart? If love is the criteria for a relationship and marriage, then are these relationships valid?

It dawn more and more to me that we still have not articulate a proper language for 'love'. At best, we stick with Alastair MacIntyre's suggestion that we rely back on our tradition.

According to the Christian tradition, love is also the mysterious commitment of divine relating. When Christians talk about God's love, we are referring to the relational movement coming freely and without compulsion from the Creator to the creation. All is well but has this anything to say to our 'love' with one another, especially in the context of a romantic relationship?

I don't know. At best, I can theologize the significance of marriage but not 'love'. If it is all just about the affection, hopes and commitment, then we have better term for that: patriotism, if not faithfulness. So bringing in 'love' does not clarify anything. Nonetheless we know when we are in love. Yet again, that's how promiscuous people know it too.

If one says that romantic love has to encompasses sexual attraction or affection, then how about those relationship where one party of the relationship got paralyzed and have to depend on the care of the spouse? In those relationships, there is nothing sexual.

Should we then ask if 'love' in the romantic context is an overrated notion, puffed up by Shakespeare, propagated by the entertainment business? I think we should. Like how Kevin Lomax in The Devil's Advocate asked the devil in his desperate attempt to pin a meaning to his surrounding and existence, "What about 'love'? To which the devil replied, "Overrated. Biochemically no different than eating large quantities of chocolate."

Perhaps a case study helps to find out what 'love' is: Let's say one day, after decades of being together, you found out that you are not the most romantically beloved person in your spouse's heart? No doubt both of you have had a happy life together yet nonetheless your spouse chose to be with you because you are a nice person and able to provide the constancy that he/she needs. Yet the person kept deep in your spouse's heart is not you. But when you brought this up to your spouse, he/she denies it but we all know that he/she is just trying to return the nicety; trying to keep you for you are nice and provide him/her constancy. Where is 'love' in this relationship? What place does it have?

A lengthy quote from a recent book might help too:
"In spite of all the differences in detail, human experience, wisdom and knowledge lead us to approach love as a summary concept for certain kinds of human relationships: relationships that affirm some subject or object, acknowledge its value and are motivated further to explore the subject or object of their attention. Moreover this kind of relationship is often inspired by an intense desire to seek some sort of union with the other, to enter into deeper community with the other, to form a common body, to become one...

"We can distinguish between personal love relationships in terms of their respective intensity and exclusivity. The love between two persons brings together the personal, the erotic and, possibly, even the sexual attraction and energy of human beings and thus changes the partner's way of being in the world as well as their experience and understanding of their body and its extension."
(Werner G. Jeanrond, A Theology of Love, p.2-3)

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