Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Love Wisdom Project

A friend of a friend is doing a thing for NPR. They're going around the city asking random strangers one simple, complex question:

"How do you know when you're in love?"

In order to answer the question, one must first secure a definition of love.

Love n. 1.
A deep, tender, ineffable feeling of affection and solicitude toward a person, such as that arising from kinship, recognition of attractive qualities, or a sense of underlying oneness.
2. A feeling of intense desire and attraction toward a person with whom one is disposed to make a pair; the emotion of sex and romance.
3. Sexual passion. Sexual intercourse. A love affair.
4. An intense emotional attachment, as for a pet or treasured object.
5. A person who is the object of deep or intense affection or attraction; beloved. Often used as a term of endearment.
6. An expression of one's affection: Send him my love.
7. A strong predilection or enthusiasm: a love of language.
8. The object of such an enthusiasm: The outdoors is her greatest love.

Katherine Hepburn said, "Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get, it's what you are expected to give -- which is everything."
So love is when you feel the need to give everything you have, everything you are, to another? According to the Joyce Brothers, "The best proof of love is trust." In order to love, we must trust, but does trust always indicate love?

Lydia Maria Price touted love as a miracle drug. "The cure for all ills and wrongs, the cares, the sorrows and the crimes of humanity, all lie in the one word 'love'. It is the devine vitality that everywhere produces and restores life." Love, then, lightens the burdens of life, and allows our cares to slip away. This hasn't been my experience. There are moments of elation, moments of soaring exhuberance where all is right with the world, punctuated by ache and sorrow and need and longing.

Do we love through nature, or, as Albert Ellis put it, is "[t]he art of love... largely the art of persistence"? Is love merely an extension of need? "Immature love says: 'I love you because I need you.' Mature love says, 'I need you because I love you.'" (Erich Fromm) Are we defined by love? As stated by Charles Augustin Sainte-Bueve, "Tell me who admires you and loves you, and I will tell you who you are." Before we love, are we nothing? No one?

I'm reminded of a scene from a touching movie, about an obsessive-compulsive composer and a waitress, who fall in love. She demands that he say something nice to her, to which he responds: "You make me want to be a better man." This, to me, defines love.

In response to the question: How do you know when you're in love?

"I know I'm in love when the presence of another inspires me to be a better person."

So... how do you know when you're in love? You're welcome to leave a comment here, or you can mail a narrative response to:

The Love Wisdom Project
PO Box 721
Smithville, MO 64089.


Anonymous said...

Come on, you guys, pick up a pen or a pencil or a brush, hell, you can write it with lipstick if that's your thing, but send us a one-page narrative that answers the question. Mail it to: The Love Wisdom Project, PO Box 721, Smithville, MO 64089.

-- A Friend of a Friend of a Friend (and someone who is trying to answer questions about life and love so that she can gain wisdom about such things)

Mouth said...

From the horse's mouth! (Not to imply that you're a horse...)

Participation is much appreciated, my far-flung friends. Help the gal out, won't you?


Mal Has No Life said...

First of all, an emotion as strong as love is personal and different for everyone. Defining it only puts limitations on it. The human race is emotionally and spiritually infantile, and has not yet discovered the true gravity of love. It's why we're failing as a species. We only grasp a fraction of it and mainly use it as an excuse to procreate or excuse why we remain in abusive relationships. I'd like to think we might one day get it but this is not me holding my breath.

Real Mac Daddy said...

How do I know when it's love?
I can't tell you but it lasts forever.
How do I feel when it's love?
It's just something you feel together
When it's love.

You know me. I always think song lyrics.

Mouth said...

Oh, Mal, forever the pessimist.

Just because a child doesn't grasp the flow of light through the filter of accumulated water crystals doesn't mean that it can't appreciate the beauty of the sky. We don't always have to understand the whole of something to know it's there.


PS: You didn't answer the question! That is SO you!

Anonymous said...

And from the friend of a friend who is friends with the fiend of a friend of a friend...

I agree, in-love cannot be defined for all of humankind but if each invididual has no better answer than "you just know" then we are all indeed quite doomed. Each of us MUST have an answer to this question. It is vital.

And GET THIS: Why is it that in our interviews our best answer so far came from a 20-year old boy?

And please, don't tell me you can't "think" about the concept of in-love because of course, you can. You are doing it right now!

So, what does it mean to you?

Lastly, if you happen to be out and see a thirty-something couple talking to random people using a voice recorder, be sure to say hi!


PS. Beyond the voices though, we are starving for written feedback. Connect the heart and mind and put pen to pad. Address is in the ealier post.


Mouth said...

And Mac, of course, the music-phile of the bunch, using the words of another to express himself.

Thanks for participating, Mac!


Framer said...

well, to start....
There is a civic organization that has as its credo: Service Above Self.
Thats pretty close for Me actually. I think I know when I'm in love when I find Myself wanting to do for her, to make her smile, to bring her joy, to brighten her existance in some small way....regardless of the cost, be it emotional, financial, or otherwise.
When My thoughts are always of her...when My attention is drawn to her, even if she isnt there. When I see her in the face of another, when I smell her on a breeze, when I hear her in a laugh....thats love to Me.
She becomes a part of Me...inside...not the heart, but ....the soul.
from another movie....
When she completes Me.
The day I discover that I AM a better Man as a result of knowing her, loving her, and being loved by her. Thats when I'm in love.

I hope this helps....
I am but a simple man....

FMG said...

I used to think that I knew what love was. Hell, I even thought that I could limit my vulnerability to it. The funny thing is that I married a "safe" man, someone who very much loved me. I married him because I was able to hold myself back.. protect myself, and I always knew he would love me regardless. The thing is, I had no CLUE what love was until my oldest was born. I weathered labor like a veteran, but to listen to her when they took blood from her nearly caused me to throw up and pass out. I have been crippeled... sometimes utterly incapacitated by my love for her. She is my everything. She is the one who taught me to love. The good news is that since she was born, my ability to love has grown tremendously. She is the reason I finally let myself truly love my husband. And what it comes down to is this. You have to LET GO... truly let go. It's the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. But there is no way to truly give someone everything you have to offer (and everything a child needs) until you are truly willing to open yourself up to everything that they are. And now, loving my husband is effortless, because frankly, once you're already in love to the bottom of your soul, does it really matter how much more you risk your heart?

Anonymous said...


Your post is incredible. It's real.

You have found a rare truth and that makes you one of the rare lucky ones.

Hold on to that sense of letting go...

Anonymous said...

So ... do you know you're in love when you feel both an overwhelming desire to let go and love and the deep-seated fear of risking hurt to your soul? Maybe because the stakes feel higher?

Mouth said...


I think you and I are sort of on the same track... you are inspired to do more for your partner, to do better things, thereby, through action, becoming a better person.


Mouth said...


A lot of my friends have kids. I understand that by not having them, I don't understand that type of love. I have a vague concept of it, but I'm pretty sure it's one of those things you can't really know until you've experienced it first-hand.

You aren't the first person I've heard (seen) express that they didn't really understand love until they had kids. I think it's amazing and inspiring that your children helped you love your husband more fully.

Rock on, girl!


Mouth said...

" Anonymous said...

So ... do you know you're in love when you feel both an overwhelming desire to let go and love and the deep-seated fear of risking hurt to your soul? Maybe because the stakes feel higher?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006"

I don't know that I'd say that... that's part of it, the desire to let go vs the fear of being open, exposed, and therefore vulnerable... but I wouldn't say that's the call-sign, for me. Maybe that's the beginning bud of it, the indication of potential.

Anonymous said...

In addition to wanting to be a better man/woman because of the person you're in love with, I think being in love also has an element of recognition, a dawning realization that here is the one you've been waiting for. Maybe a feeling that you've known this person in a former life, or your whole life.

Anonymous said...

I said "hello I think I'm broken"
And though I was only joking
It took me by surprise when you agreed

I was trying to be clever
For the life of me I never
Would have guessed how far
The simple truth would lead

You knew all my lines
You knew all my tricks
You knew how to heal that pain
No medicine can fix

You found hope in hopeless
You made crazy sane
You became the missing link
That helped me break my chains

-- Diamond Rio

Real Mac Daddy said...

She lies and says she's in love with him.
Can't find a better man.

Why do you make these things pop into my head???

Anonymous said...

As it seems like others are responding as appropriate to their personalities, I'll do the same. Which means I'll start with a diversion and get back around to the point eventually...I hope.

The Love Wisdom Project seems an odd name to me - largely because my own experience is that 'wisdom' is that body of knowledge and experience we'd really rather not know. The innocent, the ignorant, the just plain clueless all seem indefinably happier than the wise, and I wonder if this definition of wisdom isn't one good reason why.

There was a time in my life where I was 'in love' pretty much every other week. It would be easy enough to look back and say that I clearly didn't know what love was back then, and that I was more in the grip of obsessions and infatuations rather than 'real love'. Certainly had any of the women I stalked and pined for actually returned my affections, I'd have been even more blissfully happy, for a while. But I'd likely have burned out or found some other object to fixate upon and simply moved on.

Maybe that's a learned behavior. From my dad, who was taken enough with my mom while I was forming in the womb, but by the time the third baby was born was getting skittish and eventually left. From my mom, who told me she loved me repeatedly, including the time when I felt I had no other place to go but she told me she 'knew' that I really didn't want to stay with her after all, but that she still loved me anyway. Perhaps Mal's right, and none of us really understand what love is.

For what it's worth, I think that view is exactly backwards - that the real problem is that love isn't actually what we imagine it could (and in some cases expect it should) be. Love doesn't mend broken bones, or bring people out of crippling depression, or convince someone that she's worthwhile despite her life experiences. Time is a part of that, and love can be a part of what gives us the strength to provide that time, but love isn't required - a total stranger can put you up until your ankle heals just as easily as a parent; a friend can give you a warm place to sleep and hot food to eat while you piece your life back together just as easily as a lover can.

I have to admit I like porce's definition, even if I'm not sure I entirely agree with it. I don't think it's love that inspires us to improve ourselves for the sake of another - I think that's something we choose to do. Maybe we don't feel it as a conscious choice - maybe it really does feel like compulsion - but I still think it's something we do, not something that's done inside of us by love. Just as we choose to be dutiful, or to be faithful, or to be passionate, or, perhaps, to simply sit back and burn from afar.

If love does exist, in the way Mal seems to think that it does, then perhaps the best experience of it isn't within ourselves, but rather in that sense of the Victor Hugo quote that leads porce's blog - that the truest power of love comes not from feeling it on the inside, where it can be confusing and muddled up with all sorts of other emotions and mental states, but by looking into the eyes of another and seeing it there, pure, uncomplicated.

When you see love like that, and suddenly find what you're seeing brimming up in yourself, pushing free of the rationalizations and doubts and just radiating both within and back to the person you're looking at, well, that's what I imagine the most powerful kind of love must be like. I only hope I live long enough to experience it one day.


Mouth said...

You're right, Pauper... the post is most definitely indicative of your personality.

I asked L yesterday if I thought the responses the Project got would be different, were they to ask New Yorkers instead of people in our city. Regional differences in culture and information processing are pretty distinct, and I think there might be different answers from NYC than Georgia (more like Mal's up north, more like yours down South).

L, apparently, thinks love is a universal emotion, felt similarly the nation over. I'm not so sure. I think location-inspired life philosophies will have an effect on how we process love. A cynic is less likely to wax poetic about birds chirping and symphonic swells than is an optimist.

So far as love inspiring us to be more than what we are... I wasn't referring only to romantic love, although I believe romantic love can do this. It answers the question, "How do you know when you're in love?" It isn't a definition of love for me, it's an indicator.


Xeno said...

You know you're in love when you want to spend all your time with her, when you feel empty when she is not around, and when you can sit in the same room in complete silence and not have to utter a word.

Mal Has No Life said...

Alright, Porce, you wanted a definition?
Love, n. A temporary insanity curable by marraige or by removal of the patient from the influences under which he incurred the disorder. This disease, like caries and many other ailments, is prevalent only among civilized races living under artificial conditions; barbarous nations breathing pure air and eating simple food enjoy immunity from it's ravages. It is sometimes fatal, but more frequently to the physician than to the patient.
-Ambrose Bierce, "The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary"

Do I feel similar? Yeah, I do. He brings up a good point. How come most animals feel love for their offspring and not their mates? They say wolves mate for life, but I imagine it to be on par with the love they feel for th erest of their pack. Does this mean the love for a companion is not as strong? Is it somehow unnatural?

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