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What is “Love”?

What is love?
Baby don't hurt me
Don't hurt me
No more
. . . .
I want no other, no other lover
This is our life, our time
We are together I need you forever
Is it love?

(“What Is Love?” Lyrics by Dee Dee Halligan and Junior Torello, 1993)

Five weeks into our relationship, on a warm August night, Susan and I were enjoying a romantic dinner on the deck of an outdoor restaurant that overlooked Three Mile Harbor Marina in East Hampton, New York, where the summer sun shimmered across the inlet’s dark blue water. Susan wore a simple white, sleeveless dress that matched the sea of white tablecloths around us. She sat facing me and the water, bathed in the soft golden glow of the setting sun as it washed over her face and highlighted her beautiful blonde hair that cascaded onto her shoulders. She radiated beauty and serenity. I hadn’t planned to tell her how I felt about her, but as dinner unfolded and the wine flowed, the idyllic, romantic setting worked its magic on me. I leaned across the table, looked into her eyes, and softly murmured, “You know, I love you.”

Susan simply smiled and nodded approvingly, saying “I know,” and that was fine with me. I was relieved that I’d laid my heart on the table and she hadn’t reacted negatively, but I was also fairly certain she felt the same way and would eventually say so. To say those words and embark on a voyage without knowing where it will lead is one of the scariest parts of falling in love. Hopefully, it will be the beginning of a positive, healthy, and long-lasting love.

But many of us wonder, what exactly is “love”? Does love just happen?

There is a neuroscientific definition of love expressed by researchers Francesco Bianchi-Demicheli, Scott Grafton, and Stephanie Ortigue in their article “The Power of Love on the Human Brain.”1 They describe love as a complex state involving erotic, cognitive, chemical, and goal-directed behavioral components that cause the active striving for the happiness of a loved one. The scientific examination of love is explored more deeply in Chapter 5 of The Essential Rules of Love, but it is worth introducing here because it is consistent with and supports the views of the psychology experts.

Love also helps the intended beneficiary discover who they really are. Leo Buscaglia, renowned author, motivational speaker, PhD, and a professor at University of Southern California, known as “Dr. Love,” believed that the essence of loving another is to assure them we are dedicated to their growth or realizing their limitless potential. He wrote that a couple should “use their united energies” to help each other through “the endless process of discovering who they really are, then revel forever in this continually changing knowledge and discovery.” He professed that this was the only way “that human love can flourish.”

He provides further details: “Love, then, recognizes needs, physical and emotional. It sees as well as looks, listens as well as hears. Love touches, fondles, and revels in sensual gratification. Love is free and cannot be realized unless it is left free. Love finds its own path, sets its own pace and travels in its own way. Love recognizes and appreciates its uniqueness. Love needs no recognition, for if its effect is recognizable, it is not true love at all.”2

Through this process, love becomes an agent of change in both persons, because one lover bestows on the other an importance commensurate with his own.

This post is an excerpt from The Essential Rules of Love: A Practical Guide to Creating a Harmonious, Healthy, and Happy Relationship.

“This is a book born of tears and laughter. There is certainly no shortage of authors who have tackled this subject but few have overturned as many rocks along the way and unearthed such a wealth of insights in the process. Those of us who have managed to spend time with Mr. Russotti will attest to his resolve.”
- William Parker, LCSW
“We get education for our careers but we rarely ever get education for our relationships. Phil’s The Essential Rules of Love is a book that I WISH I had before I was married and divorced.”
- Theadora Vosse, Single or Divorced Relationship Podcaster
“The book was purchased as a gift for Valentine's Day, but instead of giving it away, I gave it to myself.”
- Emily C.
“This is, as it must be, primarily a love story. One told with striking depth of feeling.”
- Paul D.