To understand love in its entirety is to understand The Greatest Love. I believe neither are possible due to the infinite complexity of both. The infinite complexity of love combined with the ubiquity of the term in our society prevents a single, concise, yet complete definition. Despite this I do need to provide some definitions for love, as well as introduce other related concepts and terminology, in order to make this blog clearer and more precise.
To start I will use the term aberration in this blog to reflect what love is not. An aberration of love is an action that runs contrary to all that love represents. With that out of the way I can discuss what love is. The first definition I will present comes from the Oxford dictionary:
Love is an intense feeling of deep affection (e.g. babies fill parents with feelings of love).
Oxford then provides a second definition as follows:
Love is a great interest and pleasure in something (e.g. his love for football).
The examples cited in the definitions above imply that the first definition is meant to describe a relationship between loving individuals. While the second definition is meant to describe a relationship between an individual and an inanimate thing. The concept common to both is that of a relationship and so I believe the two definitions can be combined into a single, albeit much broader, definition as follows:
Love is a directed relationship between two entities.
One could argue that this definition is too broad. That it can be applied to any feeling at all as well as completely unrelated concepts. It is akin to defining a Boeing 747 as “an object that flies“: it may be a true statement but due to its lack of precision the definition is inadequate for any dictionary. But my goal right now is not to provide an adequate dictionary definition for love. Instead I want to provide a definition that serves as a single, broad foundation on which the more specific terms and concepts associated with love, and which are presented later in this post/blog, can build upon. I believe this relationship-based definition serves that purpose.
Returning to that definition, on one side of a love relationship is the source of affection: a life capable of expressing love. On the other side of the relationship is the object of affection. The directed nature of the relationship means the object of affection need not reciprocate the love from the source or even be a life capable of expressing love at all. For example a person can love the magnificent oak tree in their front yard, or even their car parked in the driveway but neither of these are capable of reciprocating the love. An oak tree or car is incapable of loving their owner in return.
This source/object distinction introduces some special cases. The first special case occurs when an object of affection is a loving life capable of reciprocating the love from the source, but does not. This is often termed unrequited love.
The next special case occurs when the source of affection and object of affection are embodied in the same individual. This is termed self-love, and it is a valid, and very important, love relationship.
The third special case occurs when either one, or both sides, of the relationship involves a group of individuals. For example fans can love their local hockey team and such a love can be reciprocated. Sometimes such love of the group can be decomposed. Other times it cannot be. For example we can decompose “fans” and “team” to consider each individual fan and team member specifically. We can say such things as “fan Barbara loves the team” or “fan Charlie loves the team goalie Andrew”. But it does not follow that “team goalie Andrew loves fan Charlie” specifically. This is because love requires a familiarity, an amount of knowledge about the object of affection, that can prevent its decomposition from groups of individuals to the individuals themselves. Fan Charlie is somewhat familiar with goalie Andrew. Charlie sees Andrew’s passion and effort night after night, follows Andrew’s comments on social media and has attended some of the community events Andrew participated in. But Andrew does not know anything about Charlie and so cannot form an opinion about his love for Charlie either way. We say that “team goalie Andrew is indifferent about fan Charlie”. Indifference will be discussed in more detail below.
The more familiar a source is with an object of affection, the more knowledge they have about that object. Every new piece of information may affect a source’s opinion of the object in subtle or profound ways. Terms such as approve, like, adore, etc., can be used to describe the source’s current opinion of the object. These terms all refer to a specific depth of affection a source has for an object at a specific instance in time while all the possible depths combined can form a spectrum which I term the spectrum of affection. The spectrum of affection describes all the possible depths of affection between two entities at a given point in time. Viewed in this light it is possible to present a second definition for love:
Love is the greatest depth of affection on the spectrum of affection
Again, love is complex and the term is used ubiquitously in our society. It can be a feeling, a relationship, a specific depth on a spectrum of depths, and many other things. Sometimes all at once.
A subtle but important point is when we colloquially say “fan Charlie does not like goalie Andrew” it is often taken to mean “fan Charlie dislikes goalie Andrew”. But given the spectrum-based definition above this is not technically accurate as the phrases mean different things within that context. To say “not like” is to say that the depth of affection Charlie has for Andrew does not fall at that specific location on the spectrum of affection. For example Charlie may not like Andrew, he may instead adore Andrew. But to say Charlie dislikes Andrew is to say something different. There is another spectrum. The spectrum of disaffection. The term “dislike” falls on the spectrum of disaffection and the greatest depth on this spectrum is hate.
It is of course possible for fan Charlie to have no opinion of goalie Andrew at all as mentioned above. In such a case we say “fan Charlie is indifferent towards goalie Andrew”. Stated differently “Charlie has neither affection nor disaffection for goalie Andrew“. Or “the depth of Charlie’s affection/disaffection cannot be expressed on either the spectrum of affection or disaffection“.
Just as a loving relationship has an associated depth of affection, it also has an associated type or type of love. Some examples include:
- Divine love: The love between a god and Their creations
- Maternal/Paternal love: The love between parents and children
- Romantic love: The love between partners
- Familial love: The love between members of the same family
- Fan/Team love: The love between a fan(s) and their favorite team(s)
The type of love associated with a love relationship affects how love is expressed between the source and object of affection. For example in a relationship based on romantic love a passionate embrace is a common expression of a couple’s reciprocated love. While in the case of Fan/Team love the two sides necessarily express their love differently: the fans express their love to the team by attending or watching games, purchasing merchandise, and wearing the team colors. The team expresses their love for the fans by performing at their physical and mental best night after night, organizing fan appreciation days, and giving back to the community.
Whereas a loving relationship has an associated depth of affection, a given source of affection has an associated breadth of love. The breadth of love for a given source is the number of loving relationships it has established with objects of affection.
Combined the many loving relationships a single source of affection has are like the links of a chain. Each link represents a single relationship with an object of affection. Each link has relative strength: we can love our spouse (a strong link) more than we can love our neighbor (a weaker link). The strength of a link represents the depth of our love in that single relationship.
A chain also has a total length, i.e. breadth, made up of a series of individual links. This length represents the overall number of relationships for a given source of affection.
Which brings us to the fifth message. The depth of our love for a given relationship and the overall number of our relationships can grow and shrink over one’s lifetime. It is while thinking about just how deep and how broad our love can be that, I believe, The Greatest Love spoke to me for a fifth time. They said:
Your love is sacred
By “Your”, I believe, The Greatest Love meant humanity as a whole, not just me: Our love is sacred.
And after much thought about the fifth message I believe now there is another concept associated with love. A concept revealed by my god and one that is critically important to Them: love can also progress. And so it is that I believe humanity’s love has progressed to become sacred.
The significance of this I will discuss in the next couple of posts. But before that I would like to share one of my favorite songs.