On the Nature of Love

Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Over the last several years, I've been giving a lot of thought to the nature of love.

Patriotic love, romantic love, platonic love, parental love.

And like Meg in The Wind in the Door, I've come to the conclusion that love is not a feeling. It's an act.

Someone can say they're a patriot, and they love their country, but really, what does that mean? Nothing. It doesn't mean a damn thing, unless that love is expressed in action. Action in service or action in support. Either you serve your country, in the military, or in politics, or in community, or you support those who serve in some meaningful way. Professing love for country without action is meaningless.

When you're in love with someone in a romantic sense, love is still an act. Anyone who's been involved in a long-term relationship knows that sometimes maintaining the actions of love when times are tough can be a challenge. But if you truly love the person, you perform the acts of love, whether that's doing your partner a favor when you're tired, maintaining your honor in the face of temptation, or sticking with them in good times or bad.

Platonic love was the hardest one for me to figure out, perhaps because over the course of my life I've had very few true friends that I could honestly say I loved. I have many, many acquaintances, many casual friends, but very few true friends whom I love. The part that took me a while was the realization that if I love my friend, then that person is as important to me as my partner or my family, and my actions should reflect that importance. Once I got square on that, my behavior has changed accordingly. If I'm unwilling to take the action I know demonstrates my love, then that relationship may turn out to be casual, or an acquaintance, but I won't make the mistake of thinking I love them.

In many ways, I think the love between a parent and a child is the most complex, because there's no choice involved. My parents will always be my parents, and my kids will always be my kids. I didn't choose any of them, but our lives are intertwined in such a way that we'll never be free of each other, regardless of whether or not they would be people we would choose if there was a choice. In both cases, there is an expectation that we'll take care of each other, performing the acts that need to be done to ensure health and happiness. I also think a failure to perform those acts is a failure of love - if you don't do what's necessary, then you don't love the person, regardless of what you say. Sometimes the failure isn't any one's fault, but it's still a failure.

I expect I'll still be exploring the nature of love 10 years from now, and 20 years from now, and 30 years from now. I expect my perceptions and opinions will change as I age, and hopefully gain some wisdom.

But for now, I believe love is action. Acts of love.

16 comments:

John the Scientist said...

Yes. Acts. Plural.

Cindi in CO said...

It's interesting, I always heard that a marriage is 50/50, but I've come to the conclusion that that isn't true. Marriage is 90/10. Sometimes you give 90, sometimes you give 10.

It's just a question of who needs it most at the time.

Anne C. said...

There's a lot to think about there. Thanks for posting this, Janiece!

Janiece Murphy said...

Cindi, the best description I ever heard was, "Marriage is a farmer and a flower. Sometimes you're the farmer, and sometimes you're the flower."

Carol Elaine said...

Absolutely, Janiece. You've hit it on the nose.

Thank you for this.

Jeri said...

Marriage is 100/100, IMHO. :)

Sometimes love is the most meaningful when those actions are given during the toughest, most painful times. I speak as a parent on that one...

Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

MWT said...

Hmmm. Acts of love.

I spent hours trying to gather clicks for someone else's white dragon hatchling, and then it died, and I was very depressed about it.

a) It was a pixel dragon.
b) It was someone else's dragon.
c) She didn't even care that much about it. She wasn't even there at the end.

I've come to the conclusion that I care too much about all sorts of stupid things. :p A lot of them turn out in the end to be things that only I care about. I need to figure out how to stop that.

Janiece Murphy said...

MWT, if you perform an act of love, and the person you did it for didn't appreciate the act, then it doesn't cheapen your act. You still acted with love, and that makes you a better person.

MWT said...

Heheh. But in the grand scheme of things, all it really does is make me melodramatic.

Janiece Murphy said...

Well...the melodrama is a different topic.

Hehe.

Michelle K said...

I've been thinking about this all day, and been unable to come up with a rational response any more eloquent than, "you're right" :)

Love is hard sometimes, and sometimes--especially with family--it's not a two way street. But that doesn't make it any less important.

And like you told MWT, just because love is one way, doesn't mean it's cheap or wrong, it's just the way it is.

Janiece Murphy said...

And like you told MWT, just because love is one way, doesn't mean it's cheap or wrong, it's just the way it is.

Yeah, I'm real wise.

I can say that to MWT, and even mean it, but apply it to my own life/situation? Yeah, right.

mom in northern said...

Now you know why I majored in Philosophy.

I am still looking. I have discovered that a lot of the baggage you carry around with you all the time will have an impact on any decision/behavior you are a part of...
(My english techer would be mortified by that last sentence...)

Michelle K said...

Janiece, I've had enough therapy that I can help you repeat it until you believe it! (laugh)

(calm soothing voice)
Let's make this your new mantra shall we? Breathe in. Good. Now say with me, 'All love is good, love that is one sided is not cheap, it just is.' Now wasn't that easy? Let's repeat that for twenty breaths while focusing on imaging ourselves in our happy place.
(end calm soothing voice)

(maniacal laughter)

MWT said...

In both cases, there is an expectation that we'll take care of each other, performing the acts that need to be done to ensure health and happiness. I also think a failure to perform those acts is a failure of love - if you don't do what's necessary, then you don't love the person, regardless of what you say.

There's also this part. Not all families are like that. And sometimes what should be an act of love, and appears to be an act of love, is really just an act of pure duty. Which has its own interesting conundrums to wrestle with, because expectations aren't always the same as reality.

Janiece Murphy said...

Mom, I couldn't agree more. Sometimes I think the unloading of baggage is the purpose of self-discovery.

Michelle, you really are maniacal. Just sayin'.

MWT, I understand about duty. And there's honor in doing your duty, too. But untangling the web can be tricky, to be sure.