Some years ago I read a book and since then got back to it many times, it is has the title “Who am I and if yes how many?”, by Richard David Precht. It is a great book, although it doesn’t go very deep into philosophical topics, but I would recommend it to everyone who just wants to get a bit of inspiration or is a “philosophy beginner”. The book is dealing with a whole bunch of different topics and questions that we are probably all confronted with at certain points in our lives and speaking of that there is one topic that can’t be left out: Love! (Precht also wrote another book that is only about love, but I couldn’t find an English version)
I read the chapter about love several times just because I thought it was so interesting and put things into perspective for me. Precht is talking about love also from a biological point of view and claims that theoretically, it is a feeling that can be neurologically explained, just as anger or sadness. In the first moment I was a bit disappointed when I read this, because it somehow destroyed this elevated and magical image that I’ve always had of love and put it on the same level with all these other normal, everyday feelings. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made to me: Love is one of the most powerful feelings, but at the same time it is JUST a feeling and every feeling has a function that can be biologically or evolutionarily explained. Fear for example causes us to make fast decisions and to be careful in certain situations in order to protect our lives and to survive. And love, love has got to do with survival too. Humans have the longest time to maturity of any species and therefore a social structure of some sort is required to ensure that progeny survive until adulthood. Love is making the bonds in a family even stronger and assuring that family members care for each other which in the past was necessary in order to survive as a family or tribe.
Also the feeling of falling in love, those butterflies in our stomach and the excitement that we are feeling can be explained biologically since it is all caused by hormones and just serving the purpose of feeling attracted to each other and wanting to create a family that, as mentioned before, is gonna make it easier to survive. To me this made a lot of sense, as there is hardly anything in nature that doesn’t serve a certain purpose.
So if love is just a feeling as any other feeling like fear or anger, why are we trying to make something so special out of it? If it is just a neurological condition how can we expect this condition to last forever? Feelings can change and that’s totally normal. We are accepting that the feeling of excitement about something won’t last forever, because at some point we will get used to whatever made us feel so excited and it’s not that special anymore. From a biological point of view, falling in and out of love can happen as fast as feeling happy and then suddenly feeling sad. So why are we expecting love to last forever? Sometimes we are even afraid to say “I love you” because we are giving so much importance to those three words. It’s like once it’s said you cannot take it back anymore, it’s like you have signed a contract and from now on you have to tick box after box on the relationship to-do list. It seems so easy to tell someone how angry or disappointed you feel about him/her compared to the act of saying that you love him/her. We are afraid to tell someone that right now in this moment we are in love, because somehow it seems to have so many consequences and we feel the pressure to make sure that in the next moment we are still in love.
Thinking about love in this kind of way helped me to understand my own feelings. I suddenly felt so enlightened and the fact that I am a person who is never angry about someone for a very long time made me believe, that that’s also the case with being in love. Maybe I was just not the type for a long term relationship. I stopped forcing myself to always question my mental health because I could not imagine to be in love with the same person for the rest of my life. I accepted love to be just a feeling as any other feeling, a feeling that can change. But then something happened: I fell in love…
I fell in love and I immediately knew that it was love, that I won’t need to wait and make sure it was a permanent feeling, I knew that it was going to last. I started to realize that what I was feeling was not at all at the same level with all the feelings I have had before, like anger or disappointment or happiness. It was something totally different and it affected me in a much more extreme kind of way. Suddenly all of my fears of the consequences of expressing my feelings were gone and I didn’t even waste a single thought on maybe wanting to take those 3 words back at some point in the future. I don’t have to constantly make sure if I am still feeling the feeling of love, because the feeling is just there, as a part of me and it feels totally natural. I asked myself why my opinion about love had changed so much, also because the scientific theory still made sense to me and I came to the conclusion that actually it is just a matter of definition.
Speaking of love, I now think that it is not just a feeling, a simple emotion that can be compared to anger or sadness. Love is so much more than that. Love is not as easy to define as all the other feelings, when I think of anger or sadness, I can clearly imagine what it feels like and what it does to me, whereas when I want to recreate the feeling of love in my head, I have no idea how to do that. Regarding this I think categorizing love as a feeling is just not right, maybe that works for being in love or being attracted to someone, as we all know this feeling of having butterflies in your tummy and a racing heart. But that’s not necessarily love. It is part of it but it’s not the whole cake. Love is not just a feeling. Love is love, an undefinable combination of different feelings, such as excitement, happiness, satisfaction and maybe even a little bit of pain. It implements having an emotional as well as an intellectual connection and the feeling of being understood and respected and needed. The paradox of love is that it somehow makes us feel free but at the same time attaches us with bonds stronger than anything else. When we truly love we are giving a piece of ourselves to another person, hoping that this person will appreciate its value and be aware of the power they were given. Love is demanding, it wants our whole heart, but once love touches us, it’s the easiest thing in the world to give our whole heart. And I guess that’s what makes love so much more than a temporary feeling that can change in the blink of an eye.