02/13/2015 05:55 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Love and Need: What's the Difference?


On the week of Valentine's Day my mind drifts to the subject of love versus need, a topic with which each of us deals in our own way. In essence, love is a luxury, while need is obligatory.

Love has a broad range: from positive connections to inanimate objects, to our vocations and avocations, to a deep sense of caring and concern for another person(s).

In our culture we harbor the lofty expectation that romantic love and the fulfillment of our needs will be met in our intimate relationship.

Ideally, love transcends one's own needs to include caring and concern that go beyond self-interest.

However, achieving the goal of combining romantic love with need fulfillment rarely comes naturally and probably occurs less frequently than we assume.

For example, Mr. K. has met a woman he "loves." But he "needs" someone to help in his business. His partner prefers to pursue her own career. Mr. K. must decide if his "love" transcends his "need."

In a long-term relationship in which one partner becomes chronically ill, the other person tends for the loved one in spite of having few of his own needs met. In the absence of love, a partner is more likely to abandon his mate.

In the 1992 best selling novel The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller, a married but lonely Italian immigrant, Francesca, living in 1960's Iowa meets a photographer who is filming the bridges in the area. In their four-day affair, Francesca is awakened to the difference between duty (to husband and family) and romantic love, and must choose between them.

The fact that the book has been made into a movie (1995) and more recently a musical, attests to the universality of the conflict -- romantic love vs. responsibility.

Sometimes the relationship must be tested to permit a partner to grow. Mr. L's wife wanted to return work. Until she threatened Mr. L. with divorce, he didn't agree. He realized his love for his wife surmounted his need for her presence at home. In the long run, he benefitted from the change; while preparing dinners for the family, he discovered his love for cooking.

Conclusion: Love (beyond need) takes into account the object of one's love. It is a luxury that may involve inconvenience but grants each partner freedom to develop their individual talents.