What is Love?

Written by
Michael Wells

What is Love?

Baby, Don't Hurt Me

Written by
Michael Wells

What is Love?

Baby, Don't Hurt Me

Written by
Michael Wells

“What is Love?”

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Haddaway didn't know either.

I talk about love a lot. It’s one of the most important emotions in relationships and healthy social structures.

But what the heck is it?

How do you define love? How is it different from lust?

The English language fails us badly here, because it lumps a lot of distinct concepts into a handful of words. 216 different concepts, according to the Sanskrit language.

Maybe people were smarter then... at least about human-interaction stuff.

I’m not writing 216 articles today, but...

Let’s at least clearly distinguish love, from lust.

Undertanding the difference is important- and we need practical, working definitions that we can apply to everyday situations and all of the everyday relationships in our life.

What is Lust?

Lust is all about intense desire, and the motivation to pursue something- or someone.

Lust is not always about sex- though of course all sexual lust falls under this category.

Lust is...

“I crave something from this person.”

It can be a desire to be noticed by them. A desire to be respected and appreciated. It can simply be a desire to be around them, in their presence. It can be a desire to be part of their world. Part of the life they've created, or the social groups they're a part of.

It can be sensual or sexual, a desire to be physically close to them or to have Earth-shattering sex with them.

It can be a very light tickle of a desire, barely noticeable. Or it can be overwhelmingly intense and distracting every time you think of them.

All of the missing-you, need-you, can’t-sleep-without-you feelings that we have in an intense romantic relationship - those are feelings of lust.

Lust is about desire and anticipation, because it’s centered on dopamine, the motivation chemical. This is why it also tends to fade after we win what we crave. Just like a cat that has caught a mouse that has stopped moving... it's just not interesting anymore. No more dopamine.

When our lusty dopamine is spiked, we want... something in relation to that person. We want it for ourselves, and we want it bad.

But Love is different.

What is Love?

I want to frame Love in a completely different way.

Love is also an intense feeling, but not directly a feeling of desire. It’s an intense set of emotions that all centers around one perspective-

“This person's happiness is more important to me than my own.”

Love is why parents "sacrifice" 20 years of their lives for their kids. It's why we would do almost anything or forgive almost anything from certain people, and simply ignore others.

It's why we would give our lives for certain people, in certain situations. It's one reason why soldiers give their lives for their country, and why Spock gave his life for his crewmates aboard the Enterprise.

“The needs of the many... outweigh the needs of the few.”

But it's not quite that simple.

What we usually describe as love often isn't only about someone else's happiness. Love also tends to come with very strong feelings of protectiveness and attachment, which complicate things.

We want to feel respected, appreciated, and secure in that role as well.

Why this difference matters

When love or lust are and intense part of your life, you just feel slightly insane. All of your thinking is a bit warped, and it's very difficult to tell what good decisions look like.

It's even difficult to make sense of exactly what you're feeling.

Here are some interesting things I've seen with my clients;

These emotions are not always fun

We usually think of love and lust as positive feelings, but for a lot of people I've worked with, they're a problem.

Lust can be overwhelmingly distracting, and unwelcome - especially when you feel it towards someone who you don't want to feel it towards. They're in a relationship, or you're in a relationship. Or they're an ex, and no longer part of your life. Or, you crave them, but they're just not good for you.

Love is a happy fountain of butterflies, until it's not. Then anger, resentment, grief, jealousy, heartbreak... all rule your brain, and crush your happiness.

They don't always guide you toward healthy choices

Both love and lust are powerful emotions.

Remember- the word "emotion" originates from the Latin word emovere, where 'e-' means out and 'movere' means move. The entire purpose of emotions is to motivate you towards, or away from something.

Emotions are powerful, but they are not always smart.

Lust can drive us to want something so much, that we'll bend - or break - our principles or values to pursue it. Lust can drive us to feel envy, and even obsession.

We'll seek to manipulate others, even without consciously aware or intentional about it.

The battle between your rational mind and your emotional mind is like an MMA showdown. Your frontal cortex might know karate, but your limbic system knows BJJ- and once it has you in a ground-fight, it's all over. Soon you're just trying to breathe.

Love can be overpowering too. It encourages self-sacrifice, but we don't always respond to that objectively or in healthy ways.

Should you pay for every meal and buy your new girlfriend a car, just because you really really want her to be happy?


A Life, Warped

And these aren't always passing problems, either.

Here are some examples of situations I've seen where unmanaged love and lust create unhealthy relationship dynamics.

One-sided lust

One person is nutso crazy for another, but that feeling is unfortunately one-sided. The other person is just not interested. Maybe they have different "tastes", or they're already in a committed relationship... or they're an ex who wants to move on.


One-sided love

You want someone to be incredibly happy. You feel protective towards them. You would give them anything they asked for.

But... they barely notice you in return.

A lot of parents experience this towards their children's teenage years, when the kids begin to focus on their own personal lives, relationships and future.

Eventually though, these dynamics fade. The "loved" moves on, or gets into a relationship or something, and ultimately the "lover" must shift their attention and energies elsewhere.

A funny side note here. In marriage relationships, the kids developing independence is often a major point of transition. Many affairs and breakups occur here when couples don't understand and discuss this feeling of an "emotional void" in their lives.

Other couples use that time to reconnect, travel the world together, and start new hobbies. Like meeting all over again, with the benefit of wisdom. Romance 2.0.

I also see a lot of people get pets, especially dogs because... now someone needs me.

One loves, and the other lusts

One person loves the other person and wants them to be happy. The other person lusts. Their priority is the self-focused sense of joy, admiration, and attention they feel, or perhaps the lifestyle they're gifted with.

One is in it to give. The other, to get.

All kinds of dynamics can happen here, and many of them can result in happy, long-term relationships. But there's one particular dynamic I've witnessed that I really dislike.

I call that dynamic "the user, and the used."

In this dynamic, there is no kindness, no appreciation, no respect. There's a whale, and a life-sucking leech.

It's a sad thing to see.


I'm hopeful that discussing some of these dynamics will help you see your own relationships more clearly, and see which are good for you, and which might need some rethinking.

Understanding how our emotions drive us to build these relationships is just as important. I hope it encourages you to see the right things, and ask the right questions.

Ideally, in a healthy love relationship, both people love each other, want the best for each other, look after each other.

“Love is of all passions the strongest, for it attacks simultaneously the head, the heart, and the senses.”
- Lao Tzu

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First published on 
July 16, 2023
. Last updated on 
July 16, 2023

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      GPT - unchecked;


      The word "emotion" is derived from the French word "émouvoir," which is based on the Latin word "emovere," where 'e-' (variant of 'ex-') means 'out' and 'movere' means 'move'. The term was adopted into English in the early 19th century to mean a mental "feeling" or "affection" such as love, hate, fear, anger, etc.

      Thus, in a concise dictionary definition:

      Emotion (noun): A natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one's circumstances, mood, or relationships with others, typically involving strong feelings such as joy, sadness, anger, fear, or surprise. The term originates from the Latin 'emovere', meaning to 'move out' or 'stir up'.

      Love, in Sanskrit

      Sanskrit, one of the oldest languages in the world, is rich in vocabulary and has many synonyms for numerous words. When it comes to love, Sanskrit has multiple words to express different nuances of this emotion. Here are some examples:

      1. Prema: This is one of the most commonly used words for love in Sanskrit. It represents deep, genuine, selfless love and affection.
      2. Kama: This word represents desire, longing, love in a romantic or sensual context. Kama is one of the four goals of human life in Hindu traditions.
      3. Sneha: This word is often translated as affection or endearing love. It can be used to express love between friends or family members.
      4. Maitri: Maitri is often translated as friendliness or benevolent love. It is one of the four sublime states in Buddhism.
      5. Anuraga: This word is used to express attachment or deep affection, often in a romantic context.
      6. Bhakti: Though not directly translated as love, Bhakti is a spiritual term in Hinduism which means devotion to God. It involves feelings of love and adoration towards the divine.
      7. Rati: This word is used to express sexual passion or physical desire.
      8. Pranaya: This word is used to represent deep love or affection in a romantic context.

      Please note that these words, while all related to love, convey different shades of the emotion, context, and relationships. The exact number of words for "love" in Sanskrit may vary depending on the specific interpretations and nuances one may consider. Also, Sanskrit has a very rich and flexible system of compound words, so many more expressions related to love could be constructed.

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