In December 1997, the film “Titanic” was shown for the very first time in the cinemas of the United States. A year later, it was the first film to earn over a billion US dollars and until 2009 it was even ranked first in the list of the most successful films. By the time I was 17, I had already seen the film several times. Every time in the hope that Jack could escape his tragic fate. And every time in an absurd way disappointed that he dies exactly the same death. In 194 minutes “true love” unfolded before my teenage eyes. He, out of unprivileged circumstances, meets her, from a very wealthy family and a great love story begins.
They even showed us the film at school. He was supposed to be some kind of equivalent to sex education. According to the motto: “Now you know how to have sex, so we can also deal with the topic of love in 194 minutes”. Regardless of the fact that I would have liked to hear a definition of sex that is not limited exclusively to “foreplay” and penetration, it would also have been desirable to get a realistic idea of what love actually is. And how do I love someone?
I grew up, like many others, probably with a mystery. Love can be anything or nothing. Everybody wants to love, but nobody really knows what that means. What do you mean? Rarely has anyone asked me “What do you actually understand by this?”. In most cases, knowledge was assumed. It’s like we were born. Quite naturally. We learn to walk, eat and usually at least one language. Why don’t we learn to love?
Because it’s tempting to think love is indefinable. As long as it remains unspoken what exactly we understand by it, it remains mysterious and fits into our understanding of love and romance. When it comes to love, everything is tried to interpret, a very own language is created. It starts with the first date. Whether it went well or not is usually decided on the basis of body language, non-verbal communication is the order of the day here, and many perceive the consensus as a mood killer. It often goes on like this. Communicating in bed where my limits are, what feels good or not, that costs most people a lot of effort. And should we decide to pursue relationships, even there too little is said about what we actually understand and define by a relationship.
Ultimately it is about definitions and their impact. It is difficult to talk about the art of loving when it is not about the verb “love” and thus an active action, but about the noun “love”, with which everything can be meant. Loving someone is an active act, I am not guided by my rampant emotions, which require me to love people in my life. I decided for myself that I want to get involved in this adventure, I was not forced. Love can be anything or as the definition in the Duden puts it so beautifully: “a strong feeling of being attracted; a strong affection for a[close] person based on feeling”. Of course, loving someone often has to do with affection and being attracted, but not primarily and especially not as a basis for loving relationships.
Loving someone is work and it is an art, as Erich Fromm explains in his book “The Art of Loving”. There he writes “if we want to learn to love, we must proceed in the same way as we would if we wanted to learn any other art, for example music, painting, carpentry or the art of medicine”.
We need clear definitions to talk about the things we feel. I understand a definition as a framework that does not define whom we can and cannot love from the outset. Rather, it enables us to understand and respond to loving actions as such. In contrast, our understanding of love often draws a picture of “fluffy easy going Ponyhof”. Everything is simple and beautiful, and everything will remain simple and beautiful in the future.
The truth is that love is a challenge because I love the people I love as they are, with all their desires and dreams and needs. But that also means for me that I want to support them to become the way they want to be and to develop into the people they want to be. The definition of Scott Peck from the book “The Road Less Travelled” can be a great help for us to start with. There he defines love as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”. Loving relationships help us to get to know ourselves better because they point out boundaries and hold up a mirror to us. I have to be honest with myself to be honest with others and this is how I get to know myself. So if we want to talk about love, it can help to have an understanding of what we actually mean.