I once asked my teenage son how he would define love and he came up with a surprisingly simple definition—to care. I wasn’t expecting such a straightforward, uncomplicated answer and I was also not expecting him to define it in terms of a verb. But he’s right.
It seemed to me, as I thought about it further, that we unnecessarily complicate what it means to love. Perhaps it is simply important to love, not necessarily to understand love. Trying to wrap our minds around love is like trying to wrap our minds around the mysteries of the universe—too deep, too vast.
Nevertheless I have to confess that trying to understand what love is has been something of a passionate pastime. When I asked my son for his definition I was expecting a philosophical answer, but at the end of the day all the sophisticated analysis of what love is, all the understanding of it, may be just a clever way to distract ourselves from the act of loving.
The willingness and ability to demonstrate care, to actually give a shit, to show that it matters how we treat each other, gets to the core of love’s intelligence—easing suffering and promoting peace and well-being. And this is always more challenging than we’d like it to be.
We are happy to love when we are assured of reciprocity, when it is easy and undemanding, but that sort of love is generally shallow and unstable. As soon as we are tested by someone’s cranky mood, verbal assault or failure to love in return, then we find out both what their love and our love is made of. And too often it is flimsy and insubstantial.
I vote that we all endeavour to be a little more courageous and intelligent in our approach to loving, and we can begin by deepening our ability to treat our own life like it matters and is worthy of our care. Then we can better love those around us, no strings attached, no expectation of reciprocity, no demands. For love frees people, it doesn’t confine or oppress.
Bear in mind that this does not confer saint hood. If we are vying for status as some version of a saint, then we are not loving, we are just playing games and using other people to do it.
Love isn’t some romantic head-trip. Neither is it confined to the soft, warm, tender feelings which characterize our more sentimental notions of it. Love is more pragmatic and intelligent than that I think.
At the very least, perhaps it simply means caring enough to do no harm.