What Is Love?

I have to admit, whenever I think about this question the first thing that pops in my head is this:

Saturday Night Live GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

But Night At The Roxbury is not what we are here to talk about today. And, just a hunch, but I’m not sure those guys would be able to contribute too much to the conversation we are about to have on the true definition of love.

Love and Infatuation

Full disclosure: I watched every season of The Bachelor/Bachelorette for nearly ten years.

Most people (I hope) don’t take shows like that too seriously. But they really are a unique microcosm of the Infatuation Effect. The whole “I’m obsessed with you, you are my whole world” phase of relationships that are just getting off the ground.

But, as a culture, I think we do misunderstand infatuation for love in our own real lives. Infatuation is chemicals and hormones, and is wonderful and exciting.

But it isn’t love.

Love and Utility

I’ve been writing a fair amount about utility lately… the idea that we only give people value when we find them useful to us in one way or another.

I think, though, unless we actively counteract our tendency to relate to people in this way, the idea of seeing people for their usefulness is unfortunately rather innate.

A few examples:

In Childhood:

  • Befriending a slightly more popular girl in school in the hopes of raising your own social status.
  • Making a “trade” with a friend for a piece of candy because they have something you want, rather than because you want to give them something they desire.

In Adulthood:

  • Befriending people who might help give you the image of status/social life you hope to convey.
  • Relating your own kindness or generousity to a spouse in terms of how much they do for you.

Valuing people for their utility also  isn’t love.


So, What Is Love?

According to Aquinas, to love is “to will the good of another.”

If we love, we want the other’s good. This could be a friend, a spouse, a child, a relative, a stranger. We love them if we want good for them.

It seems so simple.

Tonight, my son fell and cut his chin on a sharp edge of plastic. I held gauze to his chin to stop the bleeding. It was a deep wound. We were at church, and I left immediately to go to the nearest pharamacy to get what I would need to take care of my boy. I wanted him to not be in pain. I wanted to help him heal, and quickly. In those moments, I loved him well.

I don’t always love well. This is something I’m sure I will be working on my entire life. Far too often I want the bigger piece of cake, the more comfortable situation, the first place in line. To be the receiver of good rather than the giver. It is something I think about and pray for. To love better. To will the good of others.

That’s one thing I love about the Examination of Concience. It helps us think about the ways where we put ourselves first, or had selfish motives. And it helps us turn back towards the true definition of love.

Some of my favorite Examination of Conscience questions are:

  • Do I work to protect the dignity of others when it is being threatened?
  • Do I recognize and respect the economic, social, political, and cultural rights of others?
  • Do I live in material comfort and excess while remaining insensitive to the needs of others whose rights are unfulfilled?
  • Am I disproportionately concerned for my own good at the expense of others?
  • Does the way I spend my time reflect a genuine concern for others?
  • Do I see all members of the human family as my brothers and sisters?

Reflecting on these parts of myself help me to know areas where I am self-focused, rather than other-focused. Areas where I will my own good first and above all else.

Truly loving another person is not easy for those of us who tend to like comfort. Who tend towards self-preservation. It is not for the faint of heart. Love takes faith, humility, perserverance, and the laying down of self for another.

In our faith, we have the perfect example of what it means to lay down a life for another. Jesus loved perfectly. He willed the good of all humanity above his own and thus redeemed it. And while we are not perfect, we can continue to turn our hearts towards that which is good, and seek to emulate the example set for us. There is unfathomable redemption in love.

And knowing the true definition of love is a good place to start.



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