Describe Love. What words will you use to describe this common word? In our family book club, we read a book by Bell Hooks that discusses this elusive topic. 'All About Love' is a thought-provoking and groundbreaking book, and from the beginning, Ms. Hooks hits the reader with a fact that has stuck with me. She shares that the word love has no clear, universal definition. Most people are probably not on the same page when thinking, acting, and living out the word love. We were never formally taught a mutual, comprehensive meaning early on in life as a society, so no wonder we are not all on the same page. It seems this concept is a mystery that is up to interpretation. Therefore, when two adults, for example, come together to 'love' one another and shower the family they create together with 'love', they have two totally different ideas of what this foundation of their life even means! I will let Ms. Hooks’ words elaborate below, but it was mind-blowing to contemplate that we, as a society, overlook such an important fact. If we spend more time as a community having conversations about and explaining love, we can mitigate many issues, let alone experience less heartache in our society. More couples will be on the same page, and their families, friends, and communities will flourish in love!
Snippets from "All About Love" by Bell Hooks:
Our confusion about what we mean when we use the word "love" is the source of our difficulty in loving. If our society had a commonly held understanding of the meaning of love, the act of loving would not be so mystifying.
In the introduction to Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of Love, she declares "Love is the great intangible." A few sentences down from this she suggests: “Everyone admits that love is wonderful and necessary, yet no one can agree on what it is." Coyly, she adds: "We use the word love in such à sloppy way that it can mean almost nothing or absolutely everything."
When the very meaning of the word is cloaked in mystery, it should not come as a surprise that most people find it hard to define what they mean when they use the word "love."
The word "love" is most often defined as a noun, yet all the more astute theorists of love acknowledge that we would all love better if we used it as a verb.
I spent years searching for a meaningful definition of the word "love,” and was deeply relieved when I found one in psychiatrist M. Scott Peck's classic self-help book The Road Less Traveled, first published in 1978. Echoing the work of Erich Fromm, he defines love as "the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth." Explaining further, he continues: "Love is as love does. Love is an act of will-namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love." Since the choice must be made to nurture growth, this definition counters the more widely accepted assumption that we love instinctually.
Affection is only one ingredient of love. To truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients – care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication.
Learning faulty definitions of love when we are quite young makes it difficult to be loving as we grow older. We start out committed to the right path but go in the wrong direction. Most of us learn early on to think of love as a feeling. When we feel deeply drawn to someone, we cathect with them; that is, we invest feelings or emotion in them. That process of investment wherein a loved one becomes important to us is called "cathexis." In his book Peck rightly emphasizes that most of us "confuse cathecting with loving."