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How Youth Define Love


Definitions of Love

The underpinning of social support and family is love. Love has been written about since the Indian Vedas, 6,000 BC. Supposedly Sanskrit has almost 100 words for different kinds of love. The Old Testament Song of Solomon described romantic love and sexual attraction as far back as 1000 BC. Jesus taught to love your neighbor as yourself. St. Francis prayed, “Grant that I not so much seek to be loved, as to love.” And the Beatles sang, “All you need is love.” Young people do a good job of defining love.


Love is when you unconditionally care about someone. You stand up them if someone insulted them and you always take their side. Of course, it can cause the worst feeling in the world—rejection, or give you the best day of you life. It’s strong when you’re going through a rough time and need some comfort, but it’s fragile if you say something hurtful to someone you really care about. I felt most loved when my dad said how much he loved me while we both cried.

Bunny, 12, f, California


To have a really good/powerful feeling for someone, to care for someone.

Qin Yin, 12, m, Singapore


Someone who would sacrifice for someone is true love. In Seong, 13, m, Korea


If I love someone, it means that I want to give something and I think they’re more important than my life. Shin, 14, f, Korea


Why is it when you love someone, and no matter how much they hurt you, you will always love them, and run back to them? Dan, 15, m, Florida

There’s a difference between addictive attachment and true caring. Love is healthy, but always returning to pain doesn’t sound wise.


What does it really mean to be in love? Tessa, 15, f, Alberta


Is there such love on Earth that has no tests and no lies? Is there sincere love from the side of a man and of a woman? Gregori, 16, m, Ukraine

We’re all imperfect so there’s no perfect love. We have tests throughout our lives, just like a school, so we can learn. A big test for a married couple is having a baby, because a baby is selfish and doesn’t care if it wakes up the parents every three hours and so on. Even if love is sincere, people make mistakes and aren’t always totally honest about their feelings. Couples can be sincere but they still will have tests because we’re imperfect. We can work at being a good partner by being introspective and practicing effective communication. See The Art of Loving by Eric Fromm.


The abstract concept of love is something I don’t understand at all.

Matthew, m, 16, Nova Scotia

How can we be sure we have found the love of our life?  GG, 16, m, France

About happiness, about love, passion, devotion, friendship–what is it? Does love really exist? How can I find it? How should I live and what should I do for not making mistakes? Nargiza, 16, f, Uzbekistan

If I meet my fate (my husband) will he accompany me my whole life?

Ksenia, 16, f, Ukraine


Love people and show kindness; you never know you may be an epitome for others and start a chain reaction that will change the world one day!

Raza, 17, m, Pakistan


How do you know if you’re in love?  Ruth, 17, f, United Kingdom


Why is love so difficult? Jessica, 17, f, Georgia

It’s because we’re not perfect and two sets of imperfections coming together in an emotionally charged relationship brings up unconscious complexes we need to work through.


Can love truly overcome everything? Do soul mates exist? Julie, 18, f, Texas


What’s the connection between love and sex, how people fall in love, what’s the difference between love and lust? Jay, 18, m, Quebec


[Romantic love] is like a game. I don’t have free time for such games. I believe in other kinds of love when somebody says, “I love my mother,” or “I love flowers.” Maybe I will fall in love in the future and it will be the first time and forever. But now I have to build my own career. Shahnozai, 18, f, Tajikistan


Is love a real thing, or is it just chemical, just something to get us through life? Willo, 18, f, British Columbia

Love is deep caring, joy in being around who you love, warm feelings. It’s complicated because in English we use one word for such a variety of meanings, like “I love to eat rice and beans,” or “I love my parents or God or my dog or swimming,” or “I’m in love.” Love is about heart warmth and feels good. Love for people usually includes respect and similar values and interests. Our hearts expand and feel bigger. We care so much about the person we love, we may put their needs above our own, as when a parent puts his or her own body in the way of danger to protect a child.

Sometimes we fall in lust, because of a strong sexual chemistry with a person, even if we don’t like him or her.  Notice the difference between (1) lasting love—which we can feel for a family member or friend or pet, (2) falling in love/infatuation that includes sexual attraction, and (3) sexual attraction without love. It’s easy to confuse the intensity of the chemistry or of being uncertain and anxious about whether the other person likes you as deep caring, but it’s just lust or anxiety. Love lasts over time, while the half-life of romantic love is often 90 days. It takes a while before who the beloved really is gets past our fantasies, projections and ideals. That’s why it’s wise to not hurry into becoming physically intimate or getting married.

What makes us fall in love? Scientists discovered we’re attracted to individuals who are like our parents and ourselves, but whose pheromones (smells) are least like our own. Different immune systems ensure healthy offspring.[1] Oxytocin is the hormone of monogamy leading to bonding between mother and baby and lifelong pair bonding in prairie voles. [1]

When we fall in love, therapist and author John Bradshaw explains we repeat the stages of child development. In the baby stage–cupid is a baby, we baby talk, and lovers gaze at each other like a baby at its mother. In the toddler stages, lovers engage in power struggles, express anger, and ask for what they want. It is partly hormonal and chemical. Helen Fisher, author of Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love, explains we have three different brain systems for mating and reproduction: the sex drive, romantic love with elation and obsessive thinking, and then attachment with calm and security. Kissing exchanges testosterone that can help trigger the sex drive. If it’s exciting and new, it’s likely to stimulate dopamine associated with romantic love. In long-term partners, it stimulates oxytocin that leads to attachment. Kissing drops cortisol stress levels. More than 90% of human societies kiss. (About two-thirds of humans tilt their heads to the right when kissing.) Chimps also kiss and makeup after a fight.

The Western idea that love should be the motive for marriage is only around 200 years old and only 150 years ago did wives have equal property rights over their own money. English common law said, “Husband and wife are one, and that one is the husband.” As late as the 1970s, many states had “head and master” laws that gave husbands the right to control property and where the family lived. Author Stephanie Coontz points out that today 49% of parents say they share childcare equally; an improvement since 25% in 1985, but still the majority doesn’t share family work equally. Marriage roles in the West are slowly becoming more equal. The Scandinavian governments provide a social framework for this to happen, as by providing both parents with extended parental leave.

Combining love and marriage is a new idea, as historically marriage was arranged by parents for the good of the family, not the couple. The majority of marriages in the world are arranged, as in India. When I was there, I talked with two brothers who were conducting the search for husbands for their sister, a US educated doctor. They developed a point system to rate the candidates who came for interviews, such as points for a nice smile, or minus points for new shoes—looking too eager. Their sister had the last say on the finalists of course.

Indian families also advertise in newspapers, often including education, earnings, caste (that’s what status refers to in the ad below), and skin color. Reading the ads, I couldn’t understand why a young woman would describe herself as “homely,” until I found out this word means domestic to Indians, rather than not pretty to an American. Here’s an example of an ad: “very handsome, tall, fair, engineer son with an MBA, a Masters in Business Administration. Girl must be tall, beautiful engineer or doctor, not more than 28-years-old, from status family.”[1]

It’s worth noting that the Indian divorce rate is very low; since divorce is frowned upon, people stay together in unhappy marriages. Shehroz defends arranged marriages,


In Pakistan rarely have I heard people say they are unhappy with their marriage. When things get bad, they couple automatically learns to change and adjust to keep the marriage going. Don’t you think it’s a better system for the greater good of the society? Our perception of “love” is strongly molded by famous stories like Romeo and Juliet. Teenagers therefore idealize that love which is sometimes far from reality.


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