Love is broken down in different categories, such as the love one has for objects or activities which is very different from the love one has for beings. One could say they love music, but one could also say they love their parents. Certainly, one would not love music in the same way they love their parents. Even the love one has for beings is further categorized by love for pets, friends, family or for a significant other. Again, one could love their pet, but this would be entirely different (hopefully-quite disturbing if not) from the love they would have for their significant other. What is the nature of love? While each of these types of love are recognizably different, what essentially connects them so that each could appropriately be described as “love?”
St. Thomas Aquinas states: “An act of love always tends toward two things: to the good that one wills, and to the person for whom one wills it; since to love a person is to wish that person good.” For Aquinas, “to love a person is to wish that person good,” which, in other words, is to care about the person. What does it mean to “care” about someone? To “care” could mean two things. The term “care” is akin to “concern” or “significance.” To say one “loves,” and thus “cares,” about another is to say one has “concern” for another person or is to say another person is “significant” is one’s life. “Concern” is as Aquinas has noted, wanting what is best for the person. “Significance” is akin to “meaningful” or “importance.” One would be “significant” to another if they contributed to one’s life in some meaningful or important way, regardless of the frequency of interaction. For example, “significance” could be a being (or object or activity) who (which) has the ability to cause another to feel a certain way which the person enjoys.
Furthermore, if one were to say they “love,” thus “care,” about music, one would be saying they are “concerned” with music and music is “significant” in their lives. One would not want anything to happen which could destroy the creation of music because music is meaningful to their lives, thus the connection to “concern” and “significance” is evident. Therefore, for all types of love, it appears “concern” and “significance” play a role.
However, while to “care” is a necessary condition for any type of love, it certainly is not a sufficient condition for love. One could “care” about others, have “concern” for others, but not “love” others simply because the others are not “significant” in one’s life. The “care” which leads to “love” is of the sort in which one not only has “concern” for the being (or object or activity), but the being (or object or activity) plays a “significant” role in one’s life. To “love” requires a unique type of “care” consisting of both “concern” and “significance.”
If, to have “concern” for another (being or object or activity), as noted earlier is to want what is best for them (or it), even if what is best for the other person (or object or activity) goes against one’s own self-interest, then one would pursue what is best for the other person (or object or activity) regardless of what is in one’s own self-interest. However, if to “love” also requires “significance” and “significance” is how another (being or object or activity) contributes in a meaningful or important way to one’s life, then what is in one’s self-interest is achieved. Therefore, love is a unique balance between “selflessness” and “self-interest.” At some times, more “selfless” and at other times more “self-interested.”
The above can be easily recognized in relationships between beings, for example, a mother sacrificing her life to save her child’s life or euthanizing a suffering and dying pet even though the owner doesn’t want to lose the animal. However, this is also true of objects or activities. For example, one could “love” the local art scene and seek to support the local art scene even though they have to make sacrifices which go against their own “self-interest” to do so. In the former cases, one sacrifices their own “self-interest” out of “concern” for what they “love.” In the latter case, one sacrifices part of their own “self-interest” out of “concern” for what they “love” in order to preserve the continuation of what they “love,” which accommodates their own “self-interest” in the long run.
If to “love” is to “care” about another, to have “concern” for another who is “significant” in one’s life, then another aspect of love is unavoidably “pain.” “Pain” should be understood, in this sense, as emotional distress. If one “loves” another (being or object or activity), then the being or object is capable of causing one pain. One can’t love another who is incapable of causing them pain.
For example, a man “loves” his wife. He wants what is best for her and she contributes to his life in a meaningful and important way. If she died, it would be “painful” for him. However, if the man did not “love” his wife, her death might be inconvenient (funerals are so much work-why again can’t she just be buried in the backyard?), he might feel “pain” for his children because he “loves” his children and they “loved” their mother, but he himself would not feel “pain” over his wife’s death.
Numerous examples of this can be given. Consider the act of lying in regards to the connection between “love” and “pain.” If one lies to another person, and the other person lied to feels no emotional distress over it, obviously one didn’t “care” too much about the liar. The connection also applies to objects and activities. If a person “loves” soccer, and the entire sport of soccer was destroyed, collapsed under the anarchy of soccer hooligans, then the person would be caused “pain” because something they had “concern” for, which was “significant” in their life, was no longer in their life.
However, it is important to note, one can be caused “pain” by others who they do not “love.” Being lied to can cause “pain” even if one doesn’t “love” the liar. “Concern” for others can cause “pain” even if the others are not “significant,” thus “loved,” in one’s life. “Pain” doesn’t necessarily (inevitably) entail “love,” but, “love” necessarily (unavoidably) entails “pain.” “Pain” is not a sufficient condition for “love,” but “pain” is a necessary condition for “love.” Therefore, “pain” is another aspect of the nature of all types of “love.”
So ultimately, what in the hell is “love?” “Love,” is concern, significance, selflessness, self-interest, and pain. Sound like fun?