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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What Is the Definition of Love?

Sonnet XLIII, from the Portuguese. Elizabeth Barrett Browning - 1806-1861 How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of Being and ideal Grace. I love thee to the level of everyday's Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light. I love thee freely, as men strive for Right; I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise. I love thee with the passion put to use In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith. I love thee with a love I seemed to lose With my lost saints, -I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears, of all my life! - and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death. This poem is one of the most quoted popular writings on the theme of love. "Counting the ways" of love can be very difficult since the subject covers a vast ground of related emotion. In a similar fashion, philosopher Richard Garlikov would ask lovers if they can distinguish differences between love and other feelings that may be confused with it. Garlikov wonders, "If you are looking for love, would you recognize it if you found it?" Here are some questions to consider:

Can you tell the difference between love and infatuation? Between love and attraction? Between love and sexual desire? Between love and friendship? Between sex and intimacy? Between a good relationship and one that is only pleasurable?

Infatuation may be defined as "the state of being completely carried away by unreasoned passion or love; addictive love." Infatuation is usually intense but short-lived passion or admiration for someone. In fact, infatuation is not usually mutual. When infatuated, people are thrilled, but not happy, wanting to trust, yet suspicious. Most infatuation relationships have a high degree of sexual charge around them. In the human body dopamine, norepinephrine, phenylethalimine, and oxytocin together sometimes override the brain activity that governs logic. When the chemical flood dries up, the relationship either moves into a loving romantic one or there is disillusionment, and the relationship ends.

Attraction is "a force acting between two people that tends to draw them together and resist their separation." The attraction may lead to friendships and romantic relationships. To determine attraction, people must take personality and situation into account. Active assortment refers to direct effects on choosing someone similar as one's self in mating preferences. The data shows that there is a greater effect on political and religious attitudes than on personality traits.

Sexual desire refers to "libido as the free creative—or psychic—energy an individual has to put toward personal development or individuation." Natalie Angier describes sexual desire in this manner. " It is a near-universal experience, the invisible clause on one’s birth certificate stipulating that one will, upon reaching maturity, feel the urge to engage in activities often associated with the issuance of more birth certificates." With recent studies reporting that approximately 36% of women have low libidos, some researcher believe that low sexual desire is hard-wired into women through evolution.

Friendship connotes a relationship which involves mutual knowledge, esteem, and affection and respect along with a degree of rendering service to friends in times of need or crisis. It is a cooperative or supportive behavior. In a comparison of personal relationships, friendship, often involving trust that someone will not harm a friend, is considered to be closer than mere association. The Christian Gospels state that Jesus Christ declared, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13). According to a 2006 study documented in the journal the American Sociological Review, Americans are thought to be suffering a loss in the quality and quantity of close friendships since at least 1985. 25% of Americans have no close confidants, and the average total number of confidants per citizen has dropped from four to two.

Intimacy refers to the feeling of being in a closely personal association and belonging together. Genuine intimacy in human relationships requires dialogue, transparency, vulnerability, and reciprocity. In anthropological research, intimacy is considered the product of a successful seduction, a process of rapport building that enables parties to confidently disclose previously hidden thoughts and feelings. Intimate conversations become the basis for 'confidences' (secret knowledge) that bind people together. ( Moore, M., 1985, "Nonverbal Courtship Patterns in Women: Contact and Consequences") There are two distinguished forms of intimacy: emotional and physical.

Pleasure is difficult to define because the experience differs from individual to individual. It is "a commonly conceptualized as a positive experience, happiness, entertainment, enjoyment, ecstasy, and euphoria." Whether derived from eating, exercise, service, music, recognition, or any other stimulus, it is often seen as a sensation that creates the illusion of sexual experience. Epicurus and his followers defined the highest pleasure as the absence of suffering, and pleasure itself as "freedom from pain in the body and freedom from turmoil in the soul." Utilitarianism and Hedonism are philosophies that attempt to increase to the maximum the amount of pleasure and minimize the amount of suffering. The actual pleasure center of the brain is the set of brain structures theorized to produce great pleasure when stimulated electrically.

Sorting out real love from all of these similar states and feelings is not an easy task. And, certainly, real love involves some combination of the concepts defined above. Yet, many people seek and find one of these traits and believe they possess all they need to survive through the trials of a loving relationship. The ability to identify infatuation, friendship, and so forth may better define the state of existence of which they have become a part. Perhaps these paragraphs will uncover some gems in the intriguing territory of love.

“Love is not about finding the right person, but creating a right relationship. It's not about how much love you have in the beginning but how much love you build till the end.” -- Unknown

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