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|Books about positive values, spirituality, and counseling
(This book can help you pursue
the intimate relationships you desire. Please use
the text to stimulate your own thinking and understanding about the issues discussed, even though you may find some ideas surprising.)
The Meaning of Love
by Benjamin B. Conley, M.Div., LMFT
MEANING OF LOVE
Love is perhaps the
most written and spoken about subject in the world. Yet, one can
always write even more, since it is such an important one. It
is "what makes the world go 'round." It is often spoken of as
the central emotional nurturing element in life. At the same time,
it is the center of much struggle and the disappointment that
comes from love gone awry.
When we go to weddings,
we commonly hear a reading of Corinthians 13: verses 1 through
13. It describes love as a "still more excellent way," the foundation
of all things and the basis for enduring relationships and family.
"Love never ends; as
for prophecy, it will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease;
as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect
and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the
imperfect will pass away.
"When I was a child,
I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like
a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now
we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in
part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully
"So faith, hope, love
abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."
This Biblical passage
and its common use reflect the deep emotional significance of
love and loving. The significance of love is deep enough to bring
tears to the eyes of those taking time out to focus on the importance
of relationships, as in attendance at a wedding or a funeral.
Yet, we live with much ambiguity and confusion about the meaning
of love and it's place in human affairs.
We think of love as
the solution to life's problems, such as war, strife, and interpersonal
conflict, and yet we have difficulty giving and receiving love.
We think of love in
terms of what we were familiar with as a child, of being taken
care of by our mother, of being encouraged to take our first steps,
to "do it myself," to take pride in our accomplishments, to be
supported in our growing up and making our way in our work and
We think of loving
our children and those who are part of our lives. We think of
love in terms of the depth of our adult relationships and the
meaning and importance we give to those dear to us.
The discussion about
love that follows is based on a description of the various meanings
we give to the word "love" at various stages of our life development.
It is a discussion of how love "goes wrong," but more importantly,
an exploration of how love gives meaning and depth to relationships
when it goes right.
We love in the ways
we have learned and practiced. We can use what we know to affirm
what is positive in ourselves and others, while we grow and learn
even more about the joy created by loving. Let us begin with examining
the three meanings we give to love in the ordinary course of living.
MEANINGS OF LOVE
Love can be thought
of in three different but related ways, all part of our common
sense way of using the word:
1) Love can be used
to mean positive treatment of others, as in "He was very loving
(nurturing) toward her." When people are treated in a loving way,
with seriousness and respect, they tend to be loving in return.
If they are treated badly, for example, are told what they say
is not important, they will experience being treated in an unloving,
Love in the sense
of treating others positively may be an offering of the affirmation
needed by the other person. At other times, when someone says,
"I love you," the meaning conveyed may not be an offer of nurturing
to the other person, but rather the message that "I hope you will
give me the affirmation I have not given myself."
Either way, treating
others well or being treated well is one of the three meanings
in which the word, "love" is used in our culture. All three of
the meanings are related. We use love to describe the way one
person may treat another. In these instances, we may say, "He
was very loving toward her," or "What a lovely thing to do." This
use of the word love is generally very clear and unambiguous.
When someone says,
"I love you", the meaning may be that "I need you to give me the
affirmation I have not given myself in response to the treatment
of others." When a person is loving in the sense of affirming
the fundamental rights of others, their right to space in the
world, their right to manage their own life, and their right to
pursue their own goals in ways that do not infringe on the fundamental
rights of others, those others usually respond very positively.
They love being treated so well.
2) Love can be used
to express the feeling of joy, as in "I love dancing with
you". This is the pleasure and delight we experience with a person
we enjoy, things that bring us pleasure, like a good book, and
environments we find nurturing, like a beautiful sunset, and feelings
of contentment and physical relaxation.
This second use of
"love" is meant as an expression of pleasure, enjoyment.
In this sense, one may say, "I love sitting here, looking out
over the sea at the mountains on the other side of the bay." Or,
"I love to spend time with you; you are a delight." Or, "What
a lovely painting." Or, simply, "I love you", meaning "I enjoy
being with you so much that I feel great warmth and affection
The pleasure we have
in things and people is usually quite clear and is one of the
gratifications leading us to choose to be with one person more
intensely than others, since we may also be delighted to find
they have the same basic values, similar interests, and so on.
The more there is we enjoy about a person, the more we are inclined
to be with that person, on the basis of "loving" them in this
sense of enjoying them.
3) Love can be used
to mean an emotional investment in the importance of the other
person, as in "I love you very much." This is very different from
enjoyment, since caring about another person may call for unpleasant
tasks to be taken care of. Our emotional investment in another
calls for consideration of what is important to the other person,
even though we cannot take over responsibility for his or her
Which of these three
meanings of love is dominant in a given moment may vary. But all
three are inherently positive and affirming of the other person.
The behavior by which we express love varies, but whatever the
behavior, the response to positive treatment is internal validation
and delight ("I love being affirmed"), and encourages emotional
investment in relationships with others ("You are also important
says, "I love you", the meaning may be that "I need you to give
me the affirmation I have not given myself in response to the
treatment of others."