(39) 3 Ways to Define Love and Why They Matter

We all know love when we feel it, yet often it’s the emotion most connected to confusion and heartache. We strive to find love, yet question how it shows up and search to find the “right one”. The confusion and uncertainty from our search are because while we think we know what love is, we rarely take a hard-stop to ask ourselves what we really mean by love.


When you think of love, what often likely comes to mind is the romantic intimate kind, the passionate declarations of “I love you!” shouted from sinking ships and through rainstorms. There’s a visceral quality to love that entertainment, whether movies/books/tv, dwells on because it’s so full of meaning. In each and every mini-episode of love’s declaration, we invoke our past, our present, and our future hopes.

Emotion doesn’t come with a built-in definition. If you assume there is an easy and automatic definition of what you’re feeling, you miss that the feeling is filled in with a number of variables that are not your own, leading to greater confusion and feeling pulled in multiple directions at the same time.

We will explore 3 metaphors for defining love and how they inspire certain behaviors. Each one has multiple effects, both unhelpful and helpful. There are a number of other metaphors that people use, and I encourage you to look at them, explore how they may impact your relationships. To explore further post your ideas and questions in the comments.

You Complete Me

The metaphor of “you complete me” assumes that you have a “missing piece” and that you and your partner “fit together like a puzzle.” This assumes that you are incomplete, so you come into the relationship from a place of lack, not being enough.

The lack places pressure on your partner to fulfill what you are missing. What is missing is usually a particular emotional feeling. The idea of a “missing piece” and “fitting together” undermines good communication, because as an extension of you, they should already know what you need, even when you can’t say it for yourself. This can lead to feeling dependent, being anxious in your attachment, needing constant reassurance about the strength of your connection.

The “you complete me” story can be a powerful source of meaning, especially if you are cut off from your family and community. As you are surrounded by the sense of being one whole you feel secure, relying on the experience that you “know” how the future will unfold.


Love, Do Two Become One?

The metaphor of “and two become one” can be a religious reference. Within the regligious context it implies a “head” to the relationship that has only one body, this can lead to power struggles. When two become one implies compromise, the sense of each person having to restrict or give up some part of themselves. Uncertainty of being accepted as a whole person, there can be a need to reassurance about being wanted.

There is a strong sense of commitment associated with joining or being with another as a single entity. It is a place to receive mutual support for shared goals. A strong sense of you together against the world.

The Journey Together

The metaphor of “being on the same journey” is like sharing the same path or being on parallel, but compatible paths. This requires better communication skills to share what path you are each on, avoiding assumptions about roles, expectations, and potential changes in direction. You also require a greater tolerance for change.

You maintain your independence and are supported through shared experience, rather than the same experience in this metaphor. You have the opportunity to support and celebrate your partner as they grow and expand, without threatening the foundation of your relationship. You each support the other as you grow into the people you can be.

In contrast to a symbiotic union, mature love is a union that preserves one’s integrity, and one’s individuality. Love is an active power in man; a power which breaks through the walls which separate man from his fellow men, which unites him with others; love makes him overcome the sense of isolation and separateness, yet it permits him to be himself, to retain his integrity. In love, the paradox occurs that two beings become one and yet remain two.

Fromm, Erich. The Art of Loving (p. 16). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.

As I mentioned in the beginning, look for other metaphors about love. Consider the assumptions that come along for the ride, the ideas that haven’t been fully explored. Often it’s the things you don’t pay attention to that cause so much difficulty.

I want to end on a poetic note and leave with a new metaphor to contemplate, that of love as divine, not necessarily in a religious sense though to some that may be helpful to see it that way, but divine in the sense of transcendence. For this, we turn to Thomas Moore’s “Care of the Soul”.

Love releases us into the realm of divine imagination, where the soul is expanded and reminded of its unearthly cravings and needs. We think that when a lover inflates his loved one he is failing to acknowledge her flaws — ”Love is blind.” But it may be the other way around. Love allows a person to see the true angelic nature of another person, the halo, the aureole of divinity. Certainly from the perspective of ordinary life, this is madness and illusion. But if we let loose our hold on our philosophies and psychologies of enlightenment and reason, we might learn to appreciate the perspective of eternity that enters life as madness, Plato’s divine frenzy.

Moore, Thomas. Care of the Soul Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life (p. 81). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.