Call me an incurable romantic if you want to (others still call me a cynic), but I'm not ashamed to admit it -- I buy the saccharine sweet idea that the most powerful force in life is love -- a mother's love, a child's love, romantic love, lack of love, first love, longing for love, lost love, life-long love, unrequited love, one true love. Every form of love has the potential to change the trajectory of a lifetime, for better or for worse.
How many songs, books, poems and movies have been written on the overplayed topic of love (even I've made a film about it), yet no one seems to know exactly what it actually is?
People say that "what is love?" is the most searched phrase on the web (although I've never been completely convinced that this could be true, given the existence of things like twerking and Snapchatting, which beg to be searched by the masses). My own totally un-scientific research has come up with mixed results -- putting "what is love?" as both the 1st and the 5th most searched term worldwide, and simultaneously as the most searched phrase only in the tiny island country of Saint Vincent and The Grenadines. From what I can tell, "what is love?" seems to have peaked in worldwide popularity in 2009. Whatever the precise search engine specifics, it's still a lot of searching. Do that many of us really not know the answer to this basic question? Well, I, for one, can't say I do. But as a lover of love, I've been contemplating this question for a long time now, and have a handful of ideas on what love is made of...
1. Love does not conquer all. Love just gives you more strength, courage and desire to conquer challenges of a relationship, and of life itself. Love does not eliminate all hurdles, it just reduces them in number, motivates you to repair them more willingly, or avoid them more carefully.
2. Lust is blind, love is all-seeing. Lust is not a trustworthy emotion, it just wants your body. Love is bigger than that (while still wanting your body). Love sees both the good and the bad. True love accepts, or at least tolerates, the bad, and lures out the good.
3. New love and nurtured love are two totally different beasts and we should create two distinctly different words to accurately describe them. New love is a seed, a hope, a possibility. New love is naive, hopeful and sort of sweet but clueless, kind of like Taylor Swift. Nurtured love has battle scars. It's solid, durable and enduring. Its been protected and repaired. It's been provided safe haven, and is in itself a safe haven at times.
4. Love is diverse and varied. My love is not the same as your love. Your love may not even match your partner's love. The way we love is as individual as it is universal. It probably helps to embrace this reality, even when it's hard.
5. True love lingers, sometimes longer than a relationship, sometimes even simultaneous to a new relationship, sometimes even for a lifetime spent apart. "Til death do us part" isn't always within marriage, sometimes it's love alone that bonds two people together for the rest of time, however far apart they might be.
6. Love is vulnerability. Embracing love is the riskiest venture in life. No incurable romantic can deny that it's a risk worth taking. No true cynic can deny that it's a very stupid thing to do. A college professor of mine told me once, apropos nothing, that I should never look at a passing subway car because my one true love might be on it headed in the opposite direction. It has crossed my mind at times that this could have been a safer option.
7. Nurtured love grows stronger with time and at totally unexpected moments you can even feel it happen. It doesn't matter whether you are in the middle of a conversation, or in the midst of a heated argument, you never know what is going to trigger your heart to expand like that. It just happens. It's random and unexplainable, just like who we fall in love with in the first place.
8. Love does not complete you (unless you're co-dependent). Love doesn't take away your ability to be independent, either. Two complete people can have a beautiful shared life, as individuals who continue to voice opinions in the first person.
9. True love and trust, you can't have one without the other (unlike love and marriage).
10. If I had to vote for one word to describe love, I'd (still) call it a motivator... Love motivates a parent to throw herself into harm's way to save her child. Love motivates you to do right by your mate, to try harder, to keep going. It motivates you to offer your best to the one you love, even if at times you fail. And this one useful word also leaves plenty of room for the reality that -- a.) there are times when we've lost our motivation altogether and when we do, we know it's probably time to walk away, and b.) some people are more motivated than others... in life and in love.
Life without love is definitely a life half lived. Love without a real definition is a word half utilized. Please share your ideas and help build a crowd-sourced description of what love really is.
Kate Schermerhorn is an Emmy-winning filmmaker, whose recent documentary, After Happily Ever After is about modern marriage. She is currently working on a new film called Do I Need This.