How Can We Love?

How Can We Love?


This article was written by Jungmin Kim (Jamie). To join the conversation and see other questions, check out our Aristotle’s Café Facebook Page.

While so much love may still be in the air following the Valentines’ day, this week we asked ourselves “Is it important to have a lover or spouse in your life?

Love can be towards many things – ourselves, friends, family, and community.

Our thoughts were around romantic love and who we would call as a lover in this vein. Spouse is someone who becomes our life partner through marriage.

Love ideally underlies both. A lover or a spouse is someone who we may spend a significant amount of time with, understanding and supporting each other to be the best of ourselves.

We derive intimacy, emotional connection, and companionship in these relationships. Many of us thought this was very important in our lives.

Then we came around the more fundamental question – what is love?


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Love as a Social Construct

We asked ourselves if love is a chemical reaction. There are a host of studies breaking down love with science. One of them, for example, categorizes it as lust, attraction, and attachment and explains that each can be characterized by a different set of hormones induced from the brain.

But we did not want to confine love to a mere biology. The actions that we take for our loved ones cannot be explained fully via hormonal triggers.

Going back to our original question, when we love someone, we call them a lover.

Some of us may get married and later call them a spouse. So it seems that when we love someone, we assign an identity and a set of expectations to the relationship.

Exclusivity, for example, is a common expectation…

…And when we enter marriage, we are bound by a social contract and a stronger set of norms.

On the other hand, in a society where monogamy may not be a common form of relationships, a ‘normal’ relationship will take a different form.

Love seems to be a holy grail for many of us to question. But in the above sense, we wondered if the way of loving someone is something that we learn from society – from our parents, from media, and from how other people around us love their special ones.

We have grown up seeing others give presents to their lovers on Valentines’ day, therefore we practice the same. We have grown up hearing certain languages lovers use to address each other, therefore we practice the same.

There are also many behaviors that we expect our partners to adopt as we compare our relationships with those of others and those seen in media.

On a grander level of explaining the social aspect of love, Erich Fromm, in his book Art of Loving, in fact, maintained that love is a skill that can be taught and developed.

True love requires four elements: care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge. Love is therefore hard work.

We will get better if we strive to gain more knowledge and practice care, responsibility, and respect to mutually benefit the partnership.

Do animals love?

Love, marriage, and procreation also have a functional role in our society – it builds families. But love for us meant something beyond a means for survival.

One line of thought suggested that this is the difference between humans and animals – while animals may engage in sexual behaviors just as we humans do, their purpose is mainly procreation and not based on a sophisticated emotion.

Another line of thought contended that animals actually can love – in their own definition.

There is indeed evidence suggesting that animals experience a certain set of emotions derived from attachment.

Few of the participants also have experienced their dogs expressing an act of joy when they came back home after being away for a while. Whether we can call this love – as in human society – is uncertain.

In any case, studies reveal that some animals are consistently monogamous and others are not. Therefore, the society of animals also seems to abide by its own order in the mating (and loving?) practices.

We agreed that human love is a much more complex emotion than what animals may experience. And with our intellect, we have managed to build a much more complex system of society than that of animals.

This led us to think that we should be able to take control of love in our own ways…

“To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love”

– Thich Nhat Hanh

How Can We Love?

Erich Fromm also stated that “Love is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever, when my act does not involve judgment and decision.”

We are allowed to follow our hearts…

But to stay with love, we should make a conscious effort and decision for ourselves and our partner.

“Is it important to have a lover or spouse in your life?”

For most of us, the answer was yes, for different reasons.

The relationships we have with our lover or spouse fulfill us and our lives in various ways. Then we should seriously think about how to be a better partner and build a stronger relationship.

Trust, knowledge, maturity, respect, care, responsibility may be some of the universal foundations of a loving relationship. On top of this, we should believe every love is unique as much as we all are – and strive to build and strengthen love together with our partners in our own ways.

“We should remember that saying 'I love you' is only a beginning. We need to say it, we need to mean it, and most importantly we need consistently to show it. We need to both express and demonstrate love.”

– David A. Bednar
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