Dating and Mate Selection — 23 October 2003
What is love? And how do you know when you have found it?

The definition of love has long eluded human beings. This intense
universal emotion has been described by many writers, poets, novelists
and ordinary folks in a multitude of adjectives, images, and poetic
depictions. It has been classified categorized, dissected, compared and
analyzed in an effort to comprehend its nature. Some concluded that
romantic love is so unique that it can only be experienced but never
fully expressed in language. Words defy the apt depiction of this alluring state of being.

Many years ago I asked an elderly nun for her definition of love. She
said:” It is the ability to help the loved one become all that he or she
can be.” This definition approximates true unconditional love. It says
nothing about the lover, only addresses the well being of the beloved.

True love is only about one person, the beloved. It focuses on this
individual’s needs and propels supporting their attainment. Love is only
about giving -and never entails receiving. The experience of mutual love
creates a two way sharing.

People who are parents fully appreciate the nature of love. It is the
experience of complete acceptance of the child’s being not necessarily
her actions. Parents may be very dissatisfied with their children’s
conduct at times, but divorcing them is never an option.

In relationships, the capacity to comprehend and master this pure
version of love is often clouded by the self- serving needs of the
loving individual. It is exceptionally hard to maintain loving concerns
when one’s interests seem to be frustrated. Loving is therefore, a very
mature process and is best handled by those who are psychologically

In marital counseling I ask partners to describe what they love about
each other. At times I am surprised by the responses. Some people begin
by citing some admirable qualities about their mates, but soon proceed
with the impact their lovers have on them. For example: “I love her
outgoing, loving ways, how she takes care of me and the kids and how she
makes me feel.” Though these are precious attributes they are defined by
their usefulness to the lover.

When couples truly comprehend the nature of loving each other, the
giving and caring keeps growing while each of them centers his or her
attention on the other’s needs, not their own. If we put our mates needs
uppermost in our minds and act upon this awareness, love is actualized.

In my years of listening to couples I learned that there are three
essential components of love: Respect, Trust and Physical Attraction.

Any two components will allow for an exciting and possibly memorable
short- term emotional unity, but all three are required for a permanent,
committed, love bond.

When couples possess respect and physical attraction, but lack trust,
they may create a short- term passionate affair. However, due to the
lack of trust, intimate feelings of vulnerability will not be shared and
love suffers. For example, a university professor may be enamored by a
student. She is bright, young, and with a promising future. The student
may believe the professor is all knowing, mature and worldly. However,
if she can not trust him to discuss
her insecurities about her low self esteem, and he withholds his worries
about balding and aging, they will only share a short-term romance.

When trust and attraction unite, leaving off respect, another
infatuation will be in progress. This too will be short lived. An
example I recall is of a woman who on her Caribbean vacation met a
charming man. They had a wonderful week sailing, water-skiing and
dancing. She was able to tell him about her life and concerns with great
ease. However, when he refused to tell her the source of his suitcases
full of money, she could not respect him and knew it would only be a
week’s romance.

Respect of a partner is the cement of a solid connection. When one
disrespects another’s values, pursuits, life interests etc., a
diminished view is created which damages the bonding.

Couples who share mutual respect and trust but lack sexual attraction
and passion, may become long _term friends, but are less likely to be
happily in love.
When trust, respect and passion are combined, couples describe feeling
safe, honored, and desired. These emotions afford a strong bond of unity
and pleasure.

When the trust or respect begin to erode, the physical attraction
suffers. Some couples come to counseling to deal with loss of passion,
only to discover that this may be a symptom of weakened respect or
trust. Learning to restore trust or respect leads to the resumption of a
fully effective connection.

How do you know if you truly love another?

  • Ask yourself what you love about your partner. Keep the adjectives
    only about him or her.
  • Can you maintain the love, even at times when your needs are unheeded?
  • Do you spend time daily thinking of how to help your lover with his or
    her needs and wants?
  • When you plan your life, how much weight do you place on the impact it
    may have on your mate?
  • Do you find yourself in awe, at times about the wonderfulness of your
  • Does giving to him/her feel natural and easy?
  • Do you feel deep respect, trust and passion for your partner?
  • Do you feel pain at his/her suffering and rejoice about the successes?
  • Does loving him/her feel special to you?
  • Do you find it hard to fathom a life without this special person?
  • Do you feel pleased with your capacity to love your partner?

Your answers to these questions may confirm your love.

As elusive as the definition of love is, the experience of it is
certain. When you love someone- you know it!

Related Articles

About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

(0) Readers Comments

Comments are closed.