What’s love? It depends on who you ask

EmotionWellnessWhat’s love got to do with it? Everything it seems.

February is the month we celebrate Valentine’s Day, the day for romance. We, that is approximately 150 million of us, often send flowers, cards, or candy, to the object of our affection annually on February 14 confessing our love.

Although the origin of Valentine’s Day is unclear, some believe that the date, February 14, was chosen by Christians to recognize martyred priests. Others believe this date was chosen because it is the time of year when birds mate.

What is love? How do you know when you are in love? How do you know when others love you? People are very interested in knowing more about love; according to The Guardian, a weekly international newspaper, “What is love?” was the most popular Google search in 2012.

Definitions of love depend on who you ask. If you ask a scientist, they will likely define love as chemistry, because when you are in love, levels of the brain chemicals dopamine, serotonin, testosterone and estrogen change.

Falling in love is said to have neurological effects much like cocaine and leads to feelings of euphoria. Up to 12 different areas of the brain are activated when falling in love, and when you fall for someone you may experience the sensation of butterflies dancing and fluttering around in your stomach. This is caused by a rush of adrenaline.

There are medical benefits, and love can be an effective pain killer. It has been shown that the presence of a loved one can help an ill person or patient improve. Simply looking at a picture of a loved one can help relieve pain.

When two people who love each other look into each other’s eyes, their heart rates synchronize, sometimes as soon as three minutes after gazing at each other. If you like to hug, you will be pleased to know embracing or cuddling can release oxytocin, a natural painkiller. Similarly, if you hold hands with someone you love, this can help to alleviate physical pain as well as reduce feelings of stress and fear.

The scientist will maintain that love is not just in your head. A large body of research shows that a love connection is beneficial to long-term physical health and that loneliness and a lack of social connection can shorten our lifespans as much as smoking.

If you ask the psychologist what love is, they will probably say, “Love is an emotion” or perhaps design a test to measure love. Psychologist Dr. Zick Rubin developed just such a test to measure love for someone and as an assessment of what he considers to be the requirements of love: attachment, caring, and intimacy.

Attachment is a need to be cared for and be with the other person. Physical contact and approval are important components of attachment. Attachment is found in many animal species, and several types of animals mate for life.

The BBC aired a documentary called Animal Odd Couples where they showcased a number of oddly attached pairs, including a coyote and a lion, a tortoise and a goose, and a cheetah and a golden retriever.

We usually develop our style of attachment based on our relationship early in life with our caregivers. If we are exposed to instability such as domestic violence, drug or alcohol dependence or criminality, this can impact our ability to attach to others in a meaningful way.

Caring means valuing the other person’s happiness and needs as much as your own. Intimacy includes sharing private thoughts, feelings and desires with the other person.

According to the magazine Psychology Today, love includes the following characteristics:

  • Expressions of affection, both physical and emotional
  • A wish to offer pleasure and satisfaction to another
  • Tenderness, compassion, and sensitivity to the needs of the other
  • A desire for shared activities and pursuits
  • An appropriate level of sharing of possessions
  • An ongoing, honest exchange of personal feelings
  • The process of offering concern, comfort, and outward assistance for the loved one’s aspirations

Ask the teacher and they will refer you to the dictionary that defines love in several ways based on how we use the word. For example, love is:

  • A strong positive emotion of; affection or pleasure
  • Any object of warm affection or devotion or liking
  • Beloved: a beloved person; used as a term of endearment
  • A deep feeling of sexual desire and attraction
  • A score of zero in tennis or squash
  • Sexual love: sexual intercourse between two people


What does love mean to you?

Be bold in your expression of love!

Deirdre Annice Golden, Ph.D., LP, is director of Behavioral Health for NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center Behavioral Health Clinic, 1313 Penn Ave. N. She welcomes reader responses to Deirdre.Golden@co.hennepin.mn.us, or call 612-543-2705.