love is...

alright, so here it is. it's gonna be long, but i think very worth it--at the very least for me. so settle in, maybe get a cup of tea, and read away.

a few years back i set out to learn all that i could about love. i know that i've written about this before, ok more than once, but i suppose this is the continuing journey--at least in terms of romantic love. i know i shouldn't put all of my focus there, but it's where my thoughts go right now--more on that later perhaps. so from readings to experience, to more readings now, and hopefully back to experience someday. we'll see.

what has come after these years of reading and loving? well nothing complete of course, but more thoughts and more questions. and failure. and heartbreak. and i guess this post is about trying to make sense of some of those things, maybe tie together a few strings, perhaps hear from those experts of you out there (meaning you married folk--ok others too, you're just not experts).


my first question: is love a want or a need? i have thought that perhaps some of the problem is that far too many of us view love as a need, and therefore something that must be met. if it is simply a strong desire or want, then the power it has over us is much less--at least at the beginning. do we seek love because we need to feel some sort of acceptance or affection? then we are setting ourselves up not only for eventual disappointment (no one can truly meet those needs) but also for a relationship that is ultimately about ourselves. are you loving out of a place of need or want?

cause the thing about that is, it creates a love that is self-serving. or is that even really love? the problem is, i'm beginning to think that all love--at least romantic love, is self-serving. is it possible to have it otherwise? cause i've been learning some things about my own love and how it is just as self-serving. merton helped me out with this one. let me explain a little more.

i once heard someone say, "our deepest need is not be accepted and loved, but to accept and love others." that may be true, at least in terms of love in general--but it's still a need. it's still about you. what you need. "we admit a certain selfishness, and feel that in doing so we are being realistic. our self-denial is, then, just sufficient to provide us with a healthy increase in our mutual satisfactions. In a bourgeois world, Eros knows how to mask as Christian charity" --merton.

further reading merton i was able to see where i feel like i've made my biggest mistake: "[another form of] selfish love whithers and dies unless it is sustained by the attention of the beloved. when we love thus, our friends exist only in order that we may love them. in loving them we seek to make pets of them, to keep them tame. such love fears nothing more than the escape of the beloved. it requires his subjection because that is necessary for the nourishment of our own affections.
"selfish love often appears to be unselfish, because it is willing to make any concession to the beloved in order to keep him prisoner. but it is the supreme selfishness to buy what is best in a person, his liberty, his integrity, his own autonomous dignity as a person, at the price of far lesser goods." (i really could quote this entire chapter--and i might in another post actually. it is i think one of the best short descriptions of love i have read).

some of that may be a bit more extreme than i would describe of myself, or at least i like to think i am not that controlling, but the gist of it is something i have fallen into myself. in seeking a love that was so other-focused it became in me a need to have an object for it, thus a source for "the nourishment of [my] own affections."

but is merton talking about eros? is he talking about romantic love? not specifically, but i think it is included, as it is in anything that is about love at all.

this is where good ole buechner chimes in: "you might want to object and say that there are really two different kinds of love...yet i believe that there is a kind of unconscious wisdom in our english use of only one word, love, to describe them both because at their deepest level i believe that they are more nearly one than they are two....
"that is why at the heart of it i believe, eros love is the same as agape love, the love that Jesus means when he says, 'greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.' by such love as this, i not only give life to my friend but also find it for myself. agape love works as great a miracle in the heart that gives it as in the heart to which it is given, and to become fully a person i need to sacrifice myself in love no less than my friend needs my sacrifice. in other words, eros, the love that seeks to find, and agape, the love that seeks to give, spring finally, i think, from the same deep impulse of the human heart, which is the impulse to be one with each other and within ourselves and ultimately with God."

maybe love is the joining of mutual need. i don't know. i feel a lot of truth in that quote and those thoughts. but there is also part of me that wants something deeper than that, that wants a love that somehow is not about my own needs. is that possible? i also recently read this: that love is "the selfless promotion of the growth of the other." as long as this remains pure, not becoming selfish in the need to feel that sort of love for oneself (like i did), and is truly selfless, than that is the type of love i want to be able to live. not because deep down i truly need it--though maybe i do. but because i really care more about the other person than i do about myself and the possession of their love. if it is better for them to go away then Lord let me love them thus.

but that is where i have another tension with "love.". can love ever really end? isn't that not in its nature? was it truly love if it dies? and how does it die? the feeling of it may come and go in seasons--especially in a long marriage. but in that it is a commitment and a choice, do we not so often give up on love far too easily? do we accept separation because it is easier? because we too easily live in our own individualism? because it just isn't "right" anymore? because because because. so many reasons. and all about ourselves. these things might have merit in a dating relationship, but they crop up in marriage so often too. i can't even begin to try to process all of that here--that trail must end here for now.

what is it that draws us to one another? attraction. interest. intrigue. ultimately a connection. but that is not enough. and i'm not just talking about having to work at it as well. i'm talking about how we do so much to try to figure out compatibility, what we need in another person, how our personality types go together--there is loads of this stuff all over the internet. as if it all comes down to finding that one person that somehow pushes all the right buttons and avoids the wrong ones and communicates with few hitches. as if we can figure it all out before we really have to commit. i don't doubt this is important--though people change so much throughout life there are some core personality things that are pretty important.

i guess i've always thought it was about the heart though. sure there will be some issues and difficulties--but if i truly trust the person's heart than it will all work out. there is a core of person in their heart that doesn't really change in life, and if you can find that then you have truly found that person. that may be one of the hardest things though, as love so often perhaps blinds our ability to really see that in another. but maybe that is because we are so distracted by the good feelings they are giving us. and if it wasn't so much about us would we be as blinded? probably so still. either way, a deep connection isn't enough though is it? we have our lists, no? and they're all about a person's heart surely.

i suppose underneath all of that, and perhaps all of all of this, is the assumption of what love is. and i think what i'm coming to believe is that love is grace. a grace that we are able to hold it, for there is nothing that truly makes us deserve it from another or be able to earn it. it is forgiving so much in the other person constantly--most of which is probably the many times they are unable to fully love. it is grace in all those little things you wish you had more of from them, all the incompatibilities that somehow can't keep you away, all the ways they hurt you. it is sacrificing fully not in heroism or any other way that makes it romantic and about you, but truly fully for the other person--not for their affection or approval. love is grace. it cannot be without it.

who will afford you the grace to be who you are in all your flaws and failures and love you all the more for it? who will accept your grace and not feel obligated or suspicious?

that is the love, the romance we need. forget being swept off your feet, and start thinking about who you would love to carry. and that your carrying would be a true gift and not a form of control--and that the other would see it that way too. who can hold that loosely in their love? and who can forgive when you do not?

hopefully this has been somehow helpful or informative. and though it is mostly about "romantic" love (or at least so it seems), much of what i have learned of loving others has been informed by learning to love one. also i hope this is not just something to be consumed/read, but really engaged with if you would so choose. truly i am seeking in all of this, and your thoughts would be invaluable to me--however you would choose to share them (even breaking the unspoken rule to talk about blogs outside of the internet, which is a dying and stupid rule anyway). or comments. or email. whatever.

as i seek to grow in my ability to love, and perhaps as you do the same, i must truly remember that no matter how well i love it will not ensure the love of another--and so this is not about control in any way. that would be forgetting grace. but truly to be more of a blessing for others, both now and in the future.


  1. sometimes i think we try and "put love in a box" just like we try and "put God in a box."

    and seeing that "God is Love" this makes perfect sense.

    i like to think that there is a no real difference between eros and agape except to say that agape typically references God's love while eros is human. and as humans we are subject to failure and imperfection.

    which is where selfishness comes in. i like the idea of the mutual needs being met - but i'm not sold that it's selfish need. i think that it can BECOME selfish in some instances, but i think eros love in it's pure and true form is not a selfish love. i think that desire is something naturally within us - placed by God - so can we say that capturing it is really self-serving? cause you could also say that becoming a Christian - another desire God wants us to fulfill - is self-serving as well. i'm not sure it ought to be selfishness, but more something God hopes we experience.

    i think ultimately though capturing what love is does not come through studying it, reading about it, etc. it comes through experience.

    regrettably, heartbreak is likely part of that experiential equation.

    i'm not an expert at all - i learn more about what love looks/feels/acts like every day, but i will say that it's difficult to conquer an understanding of eros/agape love through words and theories. i'm not sure any of us will ever be able to truly explain "love" in a formula or checklist or definition. it's one of those things, like God, that you can never learn enough about or have a perfect understanding of.

    hope this is insightful and not just thoughts you've already had. we'll talk about this later.

  2. i have thoughts. and i also have a paper i need to be writing, a couple of papers in fact. perhaps another day.

    but, as an encouragement from the mouth of Love himself...

    blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be satisfied.

    there is a connection. i promise.

    peace in love bro

  3. I've been soaking this in for about 2 days now, still have a lot of soaking to do... perhaps sometime in the near future all of my thoughts will spill out into an e-mail addressed to you.
    Wonderful post.