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It’s hard to do something you don’t understand. It’s even when that thing involves making yourself vulnerable for other people.
For all the importance we put on love in all its forms, we don’t spend a lot of time defining it or teaching ourselves about it. Let’s change that.
Defining love to better understand it
Having a clear, tangible definition of love helps identify what we need from other people (and what we owe them).
Here’s how psychologist M. Scott Peck defines love in his book The road less traveled:
Love is an active choice to help nourish the growth – spiritual, emotional, intellectual and more – of another person. As a choice, it takes will and energy to love someone and a sense of what's important to them, both in the moment and over time.
That’s simple to understand but, honestly, hard to live up to. It’s a commitment to consistent action – not just passive feeling. But now we have a goal.
What love isn’t
Peck’s definition of love isn’t just helpful because of it includes. What it leaves out is just as important.
This idea of love is exclusively dedicated to the growth of someone. That means abuse of any sort is fundamentally incompatible with love.
It also goes far beyond caring for someone or supporting them. Care in and of itself isn’t enough to be love.
When you say that, it seems obvious. Of course care alone can’t stand in for love. Of course abuse isn’t compatible with love.
But truly believing that can be unmooring. Doing so means confronting a world wherein parents, partners and others repeatedly told you they loved you but never truly meant it.
Loving with clarity and conviction
Defining love helps us understand past relationships and move towards new ones with clarity. It helps us build stronger, more fulfilling relationships in the here and now.
Understanding that love is a choice, an active decision to enrich another person – and not just a romantic partner – presents us with countless opportunities to improve someone’s life. And, in the process, we improve our own.
Your next step is simple, then: whose growth are you committed to? And how are you going to nourish it?
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