Love is a concept that can mean something different to each person who experiences it. It can be a feeling of protection, affection and warmth for someone you care about. It can also be an emotional or spiritual experience of closeness and benevolence for a group of people, a cause, a belief system or an animal. Love is a popular topic of discussion among philosophers, poets and writers for centuries and its complexity has led to many disagreements about what it means.
One thing most people can agree on is that love is a powerful emotion that can inspire great change in our lives. It can make us forgive a partner for their shortcomings, work tirelessly to complete a creative project or stay committed even when it’s not easy. It can even lead to making sacrifices for the benefit of others. Love is a universal human phenomenon that can be experienced between opposite sexes, siblings, parents and children as well as friends, coworkers, neighbors and nations.
For some, love is a powerful bond between romantic partners while for others it’s a spiritual or religious connection. It can be a feeling of euphoria and a sense of peace when paired with trust and respect. It’s a bond that brings us comfort and joy in good times and bad, makes us feel hopeful in the face of uncertainty and helps us get through the darkest periods in our lives.
Psychologists only really started studying love as a specific idea in the last 75 years. Studies have shown that when we fall in love, our brains are flooded with a jumble of chemicals, including dopamine (pleasure), adrenaline (fight or flight) and norepinephrine (alertness). This chemical cocktail is what causes our cheeks to flush and our palms to sweat when we meet someone we like for the first time. As we move from the initial stage of attraction to attachment, the brain’s receptors begin to release oxytocin, a hormone associated with cuddling and bonding that can help us become more closely bonded with our loved ones.
Lee’s research has also shown that some people possess a mixture of three main love styles: mania, pragma and agape. Manic love includes intense feelings for a person alongside anxiety about commitment, pragma involves making sensible relationship choices and agape is self-sacrificing love based on altruism and not merely narcissism.
There’s a reason that the phrase “love is a many-sided jewel” is used — it’s true! Whether you’re in a new relationship or a long-term marriage, it’s important to understand what love actually means for you. It may change with time and circumstance, but it’s always worth exploring.
To get a better collective understanding of what love actually means, we asked 10 people in different stages of their relationships to share their own definitions of love. Their answers were incredibly moving and shed light on the wide variety of ways in which people experience love.