5 Experts Weigh In On What Love Means - And How You Can Get More
Falling in love is something that some men fear, some men do once a week and some aren’t sure is even possible. Love is a physiological reality as old as time itself — but it means different things to different people, and it’s never a one-size-fits-all state of being.
By expanding their consideration of what love is, men can gain self-assurance, relationship security and become better able to satisfy their partner’s needs. We talked to experts in five fields about how they define love — and how you can use these definitions to get a lot more love in your life.
The Dictionary Definition Of Love
Looking at how dictionaries describe love shows just how many different ways there are to think about the subject. Merriam-Webster Unabridged is currently undergoing revisions; a new definition of the word love will be introduced in a few months.
“Love is perennially one of the most commonly looked-up words, so it recently got a thorough going-over,” explains Emily Brewster, the lexicographer charged with redefining love. “It is one of the English language’s oldest words and it traces back to a Sanskrit word meaning ‘he desires,’ and it is used to refer to both the most powerful and the most mundane of emotions."
The meaning of love is tricky to condense because there are many kinds. “There is the love a parent feels for a child which is different from romantic/sexual love, which is different from the love fans show an athlete or performer, which is different from the tennis score of zero, which is different from love of chocolate or a favorite song, and so on,” she says.
She says the romantic form is most likely to come to mind, “the one that has to do with quickened pulses and candy hearts that say ‘Be Mine’ and that sense is currently worded as ‘the attraction based on sexual desire: the affection and tenderness felt by lovers.’”
The Biochemistry Of Love
The euphoria that accompanies being in love doesn’t just happen. Love triggers a biochemical response in the brain, in which the hypothalamus releases dopamine, which creates feelings of pleasure, reward, desire, and arousal. The hypothalamus is also responsible for producing oxytocin and vasopressin, both associated with bonding and attachment. Vasopressin is a hormone released after sex and plays a role in long-term commitment. The National Institutes of Health supported scientists who found that people who have a more positive relationship with their partner have higher levels of oxytocin, sometimes called the cuddling hormone, which is affected by physical contact. If the sheer presence or thought of your partner makes your heart pound or your hands sweat, epinephrine is to blame. Epinephrine is basically an adrenaline rush.
Guys who want to use the biochemistry of love to boost their relationships should try increasing the production of oxytocin: Try giving your partner a hug, sitting a little closer or holding hands. A massage will surely set things in motion.
Defining The Stages Of Love
For psychologists, love changes and grows over time — depending on how you cultivate it.
“The initial loving feeling comes from the chemistry, attraction and shared interest, but sustaining and building love comes from commitment and showing your best of self in the relationship,” says Dr. Megan Fleming, certified sex and relationship expert with New York-based Great Life Great Sex. “It is knowing that someone has your back and that you keep growing together and learning from one another.”
The first phase is romantic love — the dopamine-rich, high chemistry and heavy-attraction part that ushers in new relationships. But eventually, this phase ends. “The next phase is the power struggle, where once you get to know the person, the quality that drew you to them, like 'being laid-back,' becomes 'lazy,'” Fleming explains. Next comes mature love, which is conscious loving. “Mature is not a sexy word, but it is that adult consciousness where you are not just being reactive but you are really choosing how you show up in your relationship, your behaviors and how you are caring and loving for your partner,” says Fleming.
The Psychiatric Definition of Love
“When it comes down to it, love is happiness and well-being for the other person, regardless of what it takes, and it is not always compatible with sexual arousal,” says Dr. Madeleine M. Castellanos, psychiatrist and sex therapist with Reclaim Your Sexuality.
A common mistake is confusing love with sexual desire and strong sexual feelings. “Love tends to drive us towards intimacy and closeness and sexual desire often requires us to be our own separate individuals, whereas complete familiarity with the other person tends to put a damper on desire,” said Castellanos.
At the beginning of a relationship, people may have a giddy feeling where their partner can seemingly do no wrong and they cannot wait to see them. “Just like your bank account changes over time depending on what you deposit and how much you take out, the same is true for love,” said Castellanos. Both partners have to work at it for love to remain strong and grow and negative influences or changes in the dynamics can significantly impact love.
The Therapeutic Take On Love
If you think love is missing from your life, you can change this if you just shift your perception from relatively constricting ego and intellect toward an open, conscious heart.
“I decided to do an experiment where every time I spent time with a patient I would ask myself what I was feeling, what emotions were coming into my awareness as a result of being in communication or relating to this person,” says Dr. Tim Brieske, family physician, mind-body healing expert and medical director at the Chopra Center for Wellbeing.
“The one thing I always felt was a deep sense of connection or that affect of connection, which is what love is, and once I figured that out, I began to orient my perception out of my intellect and ego and toward my heart,” says Brieske. He found that he became more intuitive, creative and a better listener.
“I think the capacity to feel the connection is present in all of us and the only thing that keeps us from it is the degree to which we are attached to the stories and experiences of our lives,” Brieske explains. Falling in love requires openness. “When we are coming into a relationship we want to no longer have attachment to the underlying limiting beliefs, like not being good enough or lovable, and no longer have attachment to some of these big stories that are obstacles in our life.”
Being available and nurturing evolutionary development is important. “We recommend 30 minutes of meditation a day, spending time in nature to realize the connecting forces around us, spending time in silence, finding that element of stillness within and practicing non-judgment,” said Brieske.
Whether you believe in love at first sight or feel that love takes time and nurturing to grow, it is out there. By opening your eyes and heart to the various definitions of what love is, you may find it right before you.