Photo: Mark Micallef
In one of my last articles, The Cosy Side of Platonic Love, I have argued that the platonic as well as the physical part of love (defined as what we encounter on a daily bases) are important components for the normal human being.
After some responses polarized the concept of love either to the plain physical or purely spiritual side, I wanted to suggest a tripartite definition of love, which I will divide into the aspects of mind, body, and soul.
The first component of love, the mind-component, is the social aspect of love. This aspect is a social phenomenon which arises, since the human being is a “social animal” in need of exchange with other members of the community.
The sociologist Niklas Luhmann argued that social systems consist of communication and sense. Inspired by the neuroscientist Humberto Maturana, he said that one communicates in order to organize this system.
This means humans exchange expectations in form of words, which is the substance of their organism. Consequently, love was for Luhmann nothing but a social, encoded system comprised of expectations promises, and reliability.
It makes sense, especially in the modern world where the strongholds of identification crumble down to an utterly confusing heap of subdomains. Because it is increasingly difficult for the human to identify himself nowadays, he needs a self-portrayal in order to define his individuality. And this portray is not to be found in a society, which stipulates a wrong image of individuality, but in the partner who unifies the other person by reflecting him or her like a mirror.
Although, love has certainly in some aspect – whether we agree with Luhmann or not – a social component, it cannot explain every facet of love. For example: What about mothers who love their babies and teens who love their stars altruistic; and why is love so often connected to the urge of sex?
The body-component can answer these questions. According to scientist, hormones, especially Oxytocin are responsible for what we call “love”. They are supposedly the glue of society.
The body releases Oxytocin and other hormones such as Dopamin and Noradrenalin and creates hence the feeling of “love”, which is associated with monogamy and other binding feelings. These hormones can be released in different situations such as intercourse, stimulation of the nipples (to facilitate breast feeding) and ostensibly even non-physical interactions with other people.
Studies have also shown that there is not always an equal amount of Oxytocin present in each human. Orphans often produce less Oxytocin and Dopamin, which could explain why people with a difficult childhood might find it more difficult to love. Hormones might also explain altruistic love, since the brain rewards the person with happiness-hormones, if he or she does something good or, in this case, loves someone.
Interestingly, Oxytocin is only being produced for a certain time in a relation-ship, after that the distribution decreased and thus the feeling of monogamy. On average, a partner can evoke these hormones for three to twelve months and maximum four years. Not surprising that married couples (in international comparison) have the tendency to file for a divorce in the fourth year of marriage.
But neither can this component answer the manifold character of love by itself. The social component is certainly crucial as well, otherwise long term relation ships would be even fewer. Still, there are also those cases where we think something totally different must be involved.
The last component is the soul aspect. Like most matters of believe there is hardly any empirical evidence and the argument is subject to experience. Maybe this is due to events or encounters with other people which are inexplicable – or solely partly explicable – with help of the first two components.
The third part of love is the love for the soul and simultaneously for god, if we believe that everything is part of a whole. It is very much the experience or the realization of god, otherwise he would not be called the god of love so often.
The moment we are able to perceive the soul, and therefore a part of god, we are automatically fulfilled with a feeling of (real) love. Inasmuch it is also a matter of self love, since the love for another soul is always directed at oneself, since, if we believe in holism and monism, someone else’s soul is always my soul as well.
In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishade it is written: „A wife loves her husband not for his own sake, love, but because the self lives within him.“ Of course, if we love ourselves more, it will be automatically easier to love someone else, because the love for my self is in its essence not different to the love of the other self, which is, as we have seen, the own self.
But before we are in such a divine state and capable of omnipotent love some people will make it easier for us to recognize the self and hence god in them. In turn, this explain why we believe to find soul-mates.