What is Love?

Then husband bought me a book some years back called, The 5 Love Languages, by Gary Smalley and asked me to read it. Have you read it? It’s over 25 years old, has sold over 12 million copies, and is still popular among love enthusiasts. I read it and confessed that I didn’t think I had a love language. He sighed, rolled his eyes, and walked away in frustration. At the time, it was true. I didn’t speak love and couldn’t recognize it. If I had to compare it to something, I’d say it’s like living in a foreign country without knowing the language. When you grow up in a certain environment, you learn how to exist (speak, work, eat, etc). In that environment. You imitate what others around you do and say. It’s the most natural phenomenon. In my environment, the idea of love was not shown very often, so I didn’t learn it well.


I’m sure there are millions of people who either feel or have felt this way about the languages of love, but I’m not going to discuss them here. Don’t get me wrong; I do believe in them; it’s just that before I discover which language(s) I speak and which one(s) speak to me, I must first discover what love is. As in any transition, it’s important to answer a few questions about this destination called love: What is this place to which I’m about to enter? What are its origins? What is the cost of living in it? Will it be a worthwhile place to reside? Here, in a very tiny nut-shell, is a glimpse at what science says about love.


This may surprise you, but love takes place in the brain (not in the heart) and releases hormones within 3 different categories:

  1. Lust – gets the process started and is driven by the desire for sexual gratification. It’s used for the purpose of reproduction; the hormones estrogen and testosterone are released when lust is happening.
  2. Attraction – involves the brain pathways that control “reward” behavior; thus, the first few months of dating can be exciting when the hormones dopamine and norepinephrine are released.
  3. Attachment – happens in long-term relationships; oxytocin and vasopressin are released, for example, when mothers nurse their babies or when spouses, friends, or children cuddle together.


To my knowledge, this short scientific explanation is not disputed. Hormones exist for the purpose of initiating and cultivating love, and this is what they do. I have experienced the effects of these categories and hormones at various times in my life, as I’ve dated, have been married, have had children, and now have grandchildren, so I can attest that they do their job. But can I say that I actually love people? With real love?


It’s popular in our American culture to believe that before you can ever love someone else, you must first love yourself. The self-help section of the book stores is overflowing with publication after publication of ways to love yourself. Emily Strola posted recently in a Huffington Post blog, “Love yourself first so you know what you deserve.” Hold on there, Emily. Since I am a Christian, I must now refer to the Bible and what it says about love before I latch onto this other seemingly selfish idea. What I find in the Bible is that if I don’t first love God, who created love, I can’t love anyone else. It doesn’t say that if I don’t first love myself I can’t love anyone else. And it’s definitely not about what I deserve. According to the Bible, I deserve Hell. Period. If people choose to follow Christ, however, that changes everything. Because Christ is love and loves all people so much, and because He isn’t willing that anybody should perish, He gave up His own life so that we could live ours. If I decide to give my life to Him, I can now love Him who first loved me, which then makes me free to love others. I still deserve to go to Hell, but in accepting this free gift of love and salvation from Him, I am now exempt from what I deserve. Now, that is love. Hallelujah!


Let’s take a look at these verses from 1 Corinthians 13 of the Bible and see where we stand in relation to this perfect love:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. 


Looks like I have some work to do. How about you?


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Suzanne Sommerville

Life Blogger

Christ-follower, daughter, mom, Mimi to 6 grandchildren, teacher, writer, and musician

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