Describing love is no different.
It’s hard to do because it means different things to different people, and it means different things to the same person at different times in their life and with different partners. So when I asked people to define what love is, many were wise enough to say “it’s hard to express with words.” Because it is. Feelings often are. But we try:
- Love is the opposite of undeniable indifference.
- Love is helping a person grow into who they are.
- Love is conditional.
- Love is unconditional.
- Love is expressive. If you love, your heart is already broken.
- Love is bigger than we are.
- Love is compassion and empathy.
- Love is it’s own law.
- Love is working towards understanding and accepting someone.
I also heard from people about what love is not. It is not self-serving, violent, possessive, jealous, threatening, required, owed, addictive or exclusive. I agree with both lists, but none bring me closer to answering the question.
So, as usual, I turned to books.
There is one quote from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road that has stuck with me since I first read it. It’s not really about love, but it easily describes the feeling of falling in love: “the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue center light pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’”
Because falling in love can make you feel mad in the best way possible.
You want to talk with, sit with, fuck with, walk with, simply be with that person who makes you feel “desirous of everything at the same time.” Rainy days and boring jobs and family feuds no longer matter. And as the main character of Herman Miller’s Sexus declares, you “really don’t give a damn about the misery of the world.” Your own blue center light pops. When we feel it, we could say “awww,” but we could also say “ahhh.” Because it feels like a revelation.
Another quote from Sexus doesn’t necessarily describe love, but it could easily describe the feeling of being in love: “What I want is to open up. I want to know what's inside me. I want everybody to open up. I'm like an imbecile with a can opener in his hand, wondering where to begin – to open up the earth. I know that underneath the mess everything is marvelous. I'm sure of it.”
“Underneath the mess everything is marvelous.”
Because love can be confusing and scary. It can bring out fear, anxiety, insecurity. But when you dig your heals in, when you act on your love by letting it be exactly what it is – no more and no less – when you want to know someone deeply, honestly – all of their faults, flaws, damage, complications and their beauty, wisdom, courage, hopes – that gets messy. But by uncovering their mess and your mess, you may find that everything is marvelous.
And yet none of this brings me closer to answering the question – what is love?
I know it is more than just a feeling. It’s more than just saying the words. It’s more than making a promise to love someone forever. It seems that love is an act of courage. You have to open yourself up to let someone love you wholly. You have to let someone open themselves to you so you can learn to love them wholly. There is a vulnerability required, and that’s courageous.
But that still isn’t a definition. And I’m good with that. What it means to me will be different than what it means to you. Instead of defining it, maybe we should just let it be. It seems right to let love live without definition, without cornering it and boxing it and making it something that we can universally recite. I wonder if maybe love shouldn’t be analyzed at all. Ever. Maybe we should just accept love when we find it and make a home for it where it can “burn, burn, burn” – a wild and reckless and safe place that it can stretch, thrive, grow and change – for as long as it would like to stay.