What is love?

Asking the question, "What is love?" is a bit like asking "What is courage?", or even "What is God?" Clearly, the whole idea of love is deep and very philosophical. There's no simple answer because there are so many variations of love. Before we can start to ask the question, we need qualifiers to help narrow it down.

We need to rephrase the question to something a little more specific, such as: "What is romantic love?" "What is parental love?" "What is love between siblings?" "What is love of country?" "What is the love you have for your pet?" And even, "What is the love your pet has for you?"

For many people, love centers on the ideal of romantic love. But the definition of love (in all its many forms) is unique to each individual, and is shaped by all the things that we experience throughout life, including culture, social class, gender, childhood experience, and past relationships.

Of course, romantic love has been a favorite topic for many of the world's greatest artists throughout time, including painters, sculptors, and writers. Perhaps the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning best described romantic love in her well-known poem, "How Do I Love Thee."

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, — I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

—Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)