What Is Love? (Is Love Fundamentally a Feeling?)

We human beings, in general, tend to be confused about Love–what it is, what it isn’t, what it means to be in love, et cetera.

For example: Is love primarily an emotion?  Is it something we feel?  And if so, which feeling is it?—how do we distinguish it from lust or infatuation?

I have been confused about all of this as well.

When I was younger (*much* younger), my concern when dating was trying to find someone who, when I was with her, that “being with her”-ness elicited or created certain feelings in me—a certain level of giddiness, the butterflies in the stomach, having my breath taken away, and of course the infatuation and, for lack of a better word, “lust” or physical desire.

If I felt these things for a young woman, and if I thought about her a lot when we were apart and missed and couldn’t wait to see her again, then I started trying to determine the magnitude of these feelings—did they seem to be deep enough such that she might be the “one” for me?  Was this the woman I was meant to be with?

Looking back now I can see very clearly how silly and immature and nonsensical, and even sad, that way of dating was, how silly a way that was of trying to evaluate the potential that a relationship with another human being had.

My head was filled with all sorts of unoriginal unexamined, errant secondhand ideas borrowed from movies, pop & rock music, fairy tales, even stuff like “Romeo & Juliet.”  I was blind and very ignorant.  And I was, in that condition, trying to match myself up with another human being and “find” love—find the love of my life.

And so in that ignorant condition, the more euphoric and infatuated a young woman made me feel (or the more euphoric and infatuated I felt around a young woman), then (I would conclude) that clearly the more this particular woman and relationship were right for me and clearly the more we were meant to be together.

Like I said, it was all very immature and nonsensical and even pathological.  But it’s what everyone else I knew seemed to be trying to do.  And it’s what made sense give the context or framework of everything I had filled my head with—everything I had been “told” (by songs and movies and fairy tales and people around me) that love was supposed to be like—this overwhelming feeling.  This was the cotton that my head had been filled with and that was being used as a framework for making sense of what a relationship was supposed to be like.

What I realize now is how much that level of attempted relating & “loving” is owed to who and what I was as a person—and how much who and what I was as a person was owed to who and what I had surrounded myself with.  The standards weren’t high.  MTV, pop culture, et cetera.  I just wasn’t much of a real thinker at that point, even though I as trying to be.  What I hadn’t yet done was surround myself with better and deeper influences.  I hadn’t read (or even investigated) much about what philosophers and psychologists and religious/spiritual people might have to say about what love might be.  Instead I had just gotten sucked into buying into the commercially viable, lowest common denominator, mass appeal ideas about what love is (a feeling, an overwhelming emotion) that were circulating back then.

And that still are.

The most basic—and mistaken—and insidious—and unhealthy—and immature—way of approaching love and trying to define it, is by trying to attach it (the word/concept “love”) to a certain level of feeling that is triggered by another human being.


Given 25 years of hindsight, this video is clearly a lot of very stylish sound and fury, but ultimately it likely signifies nothing substantive about what Love really is


Yet this is what most of us do—it’s what most people do—assume that love is primarily a feeling, fill our heads with all sorts of errant pop culture fantastical ideas about what love is.  And we do this because we start out in life not primarily as thinking creatures, but as emotional (and emotionally reactive) creatures.  We start out intellectually in the dark about life—and love—we are born blind and ignorant.  Instead we are emotionally reactive and led by our emotions—our first impressions, peer pressure, unconscious processes.

So given that context, it only makes sense that we would try to define love in reactive and emotional terms.  What other terms are there that are available to a creature who really has not yet reached the age of reason and the examined life, a person who is still living in the dark ages intellectually?

Most adults never really make many inroads into leading a life of reason, contemplation, deep thinking, self-reflection; hardly any adults at all lead examined lives (how many adults do you know who are deep thinking, pensive, reflective, who read books of substance?), so the likelihood of getting much wisdom and guidance—and a deeper and different and less conventional view of love—from the adults around us (parents, teachers, grandparents, relatives, et cetera) was and still is fairly low. (And if there are some alternate ideas about love floating around, then they are likely new agey soft-minded half-baked nonsense.)

If, in terms of our own personal self-development and intellectual growth, we are primarily still emotional and an emotionally reactive creature, then there will be every likelihood that we will try to define love as a feeling.

But, as we become more thinking, if/when we start to lead more examined lives, lives of reason and reflection and deep thinking, lives of substance, if we begin to increase our level of differentiation, then so too will our definition of Love—what it is, what the concept means, whether it’s primarily a feeling or not—begin to change as well.

In other words, the way we will attempt to define love—and the way we attempt to love—will depend on our level of maturity and differentiation.

If we are still primarily reactive and emotional creatures, then we will define love in terms of a feeling (an overwhelming feeling), be more concerned about finding the right person than being the right type of person (a loving person), and love will be primarily something that we “find” or that we “fall” into or that we’re overwhelmed by, and love will be something that we look to get/receive from a relationship.

On the other hand—and at the other end of the spectrum—if we reach a level of self-development and maturity/differentiation where we have developed our reason and intellect and self-awareness, where we engage life not primarily reactively and emotionally, but reflectively, proactively, from deeply thought-through and considered and internalized life principles, then our definition of Love will reflect that.  Love will not primarily (or even secondarily) be a defined/conceptualized as feeling, but differently—as something we do, or give, or are; it will be defined as an act or consistent way of acting and orienting ourselves towards another or others, it will be seem as a near-constant expression of our level of being (or self-development, personal development, differentiation, psychological and spiritual maturity).  And so how differently we will end up defining love will depend on how far we progress in terms of our developing our intellect and self-awareness, how examined a life we end up leading, the level of differentiation we attain, how far we evolve in terms of our psycho-spiritual maturation, et cetera.

The more we grow and mature and evolve, the less we will define love as a feeling (or an emotion), and the more we will define love as a way of consistently being and behaving towards those around us.  And our relationships will be less about what we get, and more about who we are and what we stand for and what we give.

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About John

I am a married, 46-year old, Midwesterner, with four children. My primary interest is in leading a very examined and decent and Loving life; my interests that are related to this and that feed into this include (and are not limited to) -- psychology, philosophy, poetry, critical thinking, photography, soccer, tennis, chess, bridge.
This entry was posted in Mature Love, Personal Growth, Perspective, Real Love, Spiritual Growth, The Examined Life, Waking Up, What is Love? and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to What Is Love? (Is Love Fundamentally a Feeling?)

  1. hiddinsight says:

    Oh my goodness. I absolutely ADORE that photo!!! I think my heart beat a little faster as I considered it. I think that God FELT LOVE when He created us. I think it sustained Him through the death of His Son…even when Jesus was praying for “another way.” Love is more about developing our character than it is a shallow emotion. It is pure sustanance.

    • John says:

      Hello Hiddinsight!

      Thanks for reading and for commenting. I like that photo too–it’s something I saw many months ago in my Facebook feed, but I don’t know who to give credit for for the photo. And I agree: Love is substance–it requires character to love more than emotion, because character is what will sustain and manage and guide the emotions.

      I hope all is well! Kindest regards,


  2. needless says:

    John, you are still second hand. This analysis of yours seems like you copied it from Krishnamurti, and not very original. Why do you feel the need to write about this? Why do you call things stupid? Feeling the way you did before is fine, feeling the way you feel now is fine, nothing has changed in that regard. All that I am saying is so so, beyond words you can start seeing some stuff.

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