“The more one judges, the less one loves.” —Honoré de Balzac
Love is in the air! It’s that time of year when flower shops do a booming business and chocolatiers guilt-trip us into buying sugary goodness nobody really needs. As I tend to question everything, my thoughts have naturally turned to the question of what love is. In this article, we look at the many faces of love and how we can possibly bring more meaning and clarity to our relationships with our valentines by going beyond love.
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 every day’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.
—Elizabeth Barrett Browning
What is love? Consider some of the uses of the word:
- · I love you.
- · I love chocolate.
- · 30–love
- · Lovemaking
- · G’day, Love.
- · A love of life
- · Love fest
- · For the love of mercy!
- · Fall in love
- · Davis Love III
So what do you mean when you tell someone “I love you”?
I tend to overuse that phrase…and I’m working on that.
It has occurred to me that what I mean by it might not have any connection to what the receiver thinks it means. For all intents and purposes, it is very unclear.
It might not even mean what we think it means to the person we are saying it to. For example, I worked with a gentleman some years back who absolutely hated being told someone loved him. Why? In his youth, that phrase was used as a precedent to a whipping, along the lines of “I’m whipping you to change your behaviors because I love you.” Sort of the “It’s for your own good” mentality.
I tend to use the phrase in a ritualistic way because everyone’s “comfortable” with it. It doesn’t require a clear definition or even understanding; it’s like “Hi, how are you?” “Fine. You?” “Great.” Words pass between us, but no real communication occurs. “I love you.” “Love you, too.”
While the meaning can be totally unclear, the social value of saying “I love you” probably isn’t. It conveys continuity, stability, and comfort. We could just as easily build a similar ritual around “Blah, blah, blah.” “Yeah. Blah, blah, blah back.”
Skip saying “I love you” one morning on your way out of the house (if that’s your ritual) and see if you don’t have a voice mail when you get intthe office asking if something’s wrong!
I’m on a campaign to clarify the use of the word “love.”
If it’s your goal to actually communicate a profoundly tender affection for another, then why not try abandoning the ritual and using words that you know will have the same meaning to both the transmitter and the receiver.
Here are two examples that come to mind:
- · You bring me tremendous joy.
- · My life is so much richer with you in it.
If we’re using the “blah, blah, blah” as something we think might make the other person feel better, then why not express something that more clearly transmits that, like “There isn’t a person on the planet who can (insert skill here) as well as you do.” I’ve found that people enjoy hearing they are competent or even superior at almost anything they do.
If you truly want to tell the other person you love him or her and your definition is the same as Webster’s (a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person), then why not say “I have a feeling of strong and constant affection for you.” Nothing blah, blah, blah about that.
Be clear this Valentine’s season. Think about the people you say “I love you” to and how you say it. You might even want to explore exactly what you mean when you say it, and possibly ask the other person what he or she thinks you mean.
Never knew love could be so complicated, did you?