This thing called — Love.

I know Valentines Day is behind us and this topic might just bore some people beyond measure, however after reading a couple of these stories in National Geographic, I’ll take the time to reflect on the topic of love.

valentine heartLove is an elusive difficult concept to express in words. Poets, artists, musicians and numerous others have all added comment superior to any that I could express.

Some scientists say that the brain chemistry of infatuation is like a mental illness — giving new meaning to being “madly in love”. I’m glad that not too many songs are written with that expression.

Starting with perhaps the least romantic description, found in

love [noun]

1. a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.

2. a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.

3. sexual passion or desire.

4. a person toward whom love is felt; beloved person; sweetheart.

5. (used in direct address as a term of endearment, affection, or the like): Would you like to see a movie, love?

My definition may not match yours, but here are mine.

Love is a desire for the best outcome, the greatest amount of care for someone or something. I suggest something as well, because many of us have loved animals and in turn felt a mutual affection which is quite different from a human bond.

Love means you care beyond the need to associate or just be around, it suggests to me there’s a willingness to sacrifice time, energy and personal safety for the protection and benefit of another. You think in terms of what you can do to make someone else happy, not just please yourself.

Love isn’t simply a means to derive sexual pleasure or constant need to be fawned over. If that’s the case, it poisons the well.

Helen Fisher, PhD – Biological Anthropologist compartmentalized love into three distinct brain systems that enable mating and reproduction:

Sex drive
Romantic love (obsession, passion, infatuation)
Attachment (calmness and security with a long-term partner)

These are brain systems, not phases, Fisher emphasized, and all three play a role in love. They can operate independently, but people crave all three for an ideal relationship.

“I think the sex drive evolved to get you out there looking for a range of partners,” she said.

“I think romantic love evolved to enable you to focus your mating energy on just one at a time, and attachment evolved to tolerate that person at least long enough to raise a child together as a team.”

Valentine’s Day, Fisher added, used to encompass only two of these three brain systems: sex drive and romantic love.

But “once you start giving the dog a valentine, you are talking about a real expression of attachment as well as romantic love.”

Well, she certainly takes the sizzle right out of the equation.

I’ve witnessed a few good marriages in my life, not as many as I would have liked. When I see two people who have lived with each other for many years, are respectful of each other, learned how to mend the problems they’ve had, and want to wake in the morning near to each other, then that suggests they understand a deeper meaning of love.

That ideal of love between husband & wife I believe is the best for all involved. Many would call this old-fashioned, then again sunshine and rain are too, and I don’t believe that has fallen out of favor.

A National Geographic Love Story

Mabel Gardiner Hubbard became deaf due to illness while very young. She later met a speech therapist who took more than a passing interest as her teacher.

The teacher and part-time inventor was Alexander Graham Bell. In 1873, 27-year-old Alexander fell in love with 16-year-old Mabel, but it was a nonreciprocating fancy. “He was tall and dark with jet-black hair and eyes, but dressed badly and carelessly,” she said. “I could never marry such a man!” Over time, it appears that he overcame her objections. In a letter to Mabel on the night of their engagement, Alexander wrote, “I am afraid to fall asleep, lest I should find it all a dream—so I shall lie awake and think of you.”

valentine heart pierced

What about you. Has your heart been struck?

They had two daughters together, Elsie and Daisy. The union lasted for over 45 years. Alexander died in 1922 from complications from diabetes. Shortly before he died, Mabel held on to his hand and pleaded, “Don’t leave me.” Unable to speak, he replied, “No” in sign language.

That to me is love. To read a more complete story with pictures, in National Geographic, click here.

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