Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What is it We love When We Love

Every part of the person we love changes, but we still love them. So what is it we love?

Everything about the person we speak of loving changes over time. Every cell in our body is replaced over a period which depends on which source you refer to, but there appears to be no doubt that any given person’s body contains none of the molecules it did some years ago. The few cell types which change over longer periods are not involved in inspiring love.
But the slow mutation of tissue is the least of the tricks the world can play on our sense of identity. The person we love can become a physically different person in very immediate, perceptible, tangible ways, as a recent of severe illness, serious accident or by fire, for example, and we don’t necessarily cease to love. A father might discover that his daughter was in fact sired by a passing vacuum cleaner salesmen, but he will still love her, even though that love was initially based on their shared genes.

Emotionally and psychologically a person can experience, again through illness, accident or the degeneracy of age, perhaps, changes so profound that they become, literally, a different person. We love this new person. In some cases there is no consciousness left, and so we love the non-person. We love the dead, who are nothing. When their mind has ceased to work, their senses have stopped perceiving and their body has been dissolved among the five elements, we still love them

In other words, there exist a number of ways in which whatever we imagine led us to love the person in the first place, can be completely destroyed, and yet we do not cease to love.

 We create love within ourselves. That doesn’t mean it isn’t real, but it doesn’t seem to reflect any external reality.


Vincent said...

Yes, up to a point.

But love is a breach in our fortress of separateness. When trust overcomes fear, we don't bother to repair it. That's when love can be felt.

James Higham said...

his daughter was in fact sired by a passing vacuum cleaner salesmen

He might still love the daughter but what of the wife?

CIngram said...


Eloquently put. And almost certainly true. I certainly hope it is.

CIngram said...


The wife is likely to discover that sudden changes in knowledge, changes in the lover rather the loved one, can have a much stronger effect than actual changes to the object of love. But as Vincent says above, that sort of change affects trust, and breaks the tie we have made.

Oddly enough, my father was the milkman, but it's never caused any trouble in the family ;-)

Brett Hetherington said...

You write about love in a way that I like.

Even our own understanding of what constitutes our perception of love can change considerably, with that change of slow tissue mutation that you mention.

My own understanding of the love that I feel has often started from an impulse to protect that person. But just as importantly I found that empathy came first, it somehow had to, before I could love.

Loving everyone is an impossibility for me but I can feel empathy for most of the unique human kind that float into the day.

CIngram said...


I feel a sort of goodwill towards people in general, which is usually translated into affection when circumstances bring me closer to them. It helps that I find almost everything interesting. I instinctively look for the humanity behind the superficially projected image, and I often find something worthwhile.

The love I feel for my wife is of a very different kind from when I felt in the early days (months) as we met and got to know each other. It is stronger, more complete and has a much firmer foundation, but I think there is a difference not only of degree, but of kind.