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Toward a Definition of Love


Romantic love is a special case within a wider category. We can feel many different types of love. From romantic love to the love that exists between parent and child. From the love of friends to the love of animals and so on.

In the general sense love is our emotional response to that which we value. It is the experience of joy in the existence of the loved object. Joy in proximity, joy in interaction and involvement.

To love is to delight in the being whom one loves. To experience pleasure in that being’s presence. It is to find fulfilment in contact with that being. We experience the loved being as a source of fulfilment to strong needs. 


A Judgement


But love is more than an emotion; it is a judgment or evaluation. Every emotion reflects the judgment of “for me” or “against me” – and also “to what extent.”

Love is the highest, the most intense, expression of the assessment “for me,” “good for me,” “beneficial to my life.” In the person of someone we love we see, in high measure, many of those traits and characteristics that we feel are appropriate to life.

Life as we understand and experience it.

The traits we see in another we see as desirable for our own well-being and happiness.

Every emotion contains an inherent urge to perform some action related to that particular emotion. The emotion of fear is a person’s response to that which threatens his or her values. It entails the urge to avoid or flee from the feared object. 

The emotion of love entails the urge to achieve some form of contact with the loved being, some form of interaction or involvement.




Finally we may describe love as representing an orientation, an attitude or a psychological state with regard to the loved being. It is deeper and more enduring than any moment-by-moment alteration of feeling or emotion. As an orientation, love represents a disposition to experience the loved being as the embodiment of important personal values – and, as a consequence, a real or potential source of joy.

Romantic love thus responds to basic needs. There is the need to love, and to admire. The need to be loved, and feel visible. The need for self-discovery and sexual fulfilment.

There is also the need for a private universe, a refuge from the struggles of the world. And there is the need to share our excitement in being alive – and to enjoy and be nourished by the excitement of another.


This essay draws on the work of Nathaniel Branden and his book The Psychology Of Romantic Love: Romantic Love in an Anti-Romantic Age. To learn more click here.

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