Sunday, February 13, 2011

What is Love?

As the “Hallmark” holiday celebrating roses and chocolates this week quickly approaches, many thoughts turn to the big question of defining the concept of “love.”  Thirteen good years of marriage, one book about divorce, and several presentations later, and I’m still trying to figure out how to answer the question of love.
What makes someone fall in love?  What makes a couple stay in love?  Is there a formula for the laws of attraction or is love an accidental happening?  How can people sustain that initial love throughout their marriage/long-term relationship?  Why do some couples seem to embody an aura of love and others carry a nearly palpable disdain of love?
For me, the answers to some of these questions can only come from my own experiences.  When my book about divorce was released earlier this summer, one of the most common questions often phrased as a statement was “Do Muslim marriages fail because they are arranged rather than being love matches?”  Clearing that misconception was a huge initial hurdle during several talks and discussions promoting the book. 
Contrary to popular belief, the concept of arranged marriages is a cultural construct instead of a religious one.  And surprisingly, research has shown a much greater incidence of divorce among love matches as opposed to arranged marriages.  This is not to say that arranged marriages tend to have a greater longevity based on love, but that the life of the marriage might instead be a direct result of adhering to cultural norms that do not encourage divorce.
People are often surprised when I draw an analogy of Islamic marriage to the days of old-fashioned courting ala “Little House on the Prairie.”  Our current Hollywood versions of love and marriage lead us to believe in a romanticized ideal that has little to do with maintaining a real relationship.  Yet, there seems to be a growing movement of “computerized match-making” today with sites like e-harmony taking over the role of the village matchmaker.  It seems that people are going back to a more modern version of finding a mate based on compatibility rather than on the idealized “love at first sight” tactic.
In the end, love can only be defined by the individual expressing the emotion.  For me, there are many shades of love, each as strong as the one before.  Love of God, love of country, love of ideals such as peace and freedom and equality and many more are the over-arching loves that have little to do with physical expression.  Then, of course, there is love of friends, of family, of children, and of spouse.  These are the more tangible “every day” kind of loves that make the minutes of life more meaningful.
Regardless of how you rank your loves, the most important aspect to remember is that once you wipe away the sugar coating, a lasting love is the one that extends long after the roses have withered and the chocolates have melted.  Whether you pine after unrequited love or if your love is for that of an ideal over an individual, defining the meaning of love is a great way to get one step closer to understanding yourself.  While initial attraction may be the spark that lights that “great love,” compatibility, patience, understanding and forgiveness are the flames that will keep the torch burning for many years to come. 
This Valentine’s Day, rather than complaining about a commercialized or “made-up” holiday, we could all probably use the time to rethink our definitions of love and to be thankful for all the loves of our lives that we’ve been blessed with, both big and small. J
         --Suzy Ismail       


  1. Love is... okay, so we both love the first bite of a new jar of peanut butter, right? Now, I'll bet you think I'm gonna say that love is when one person saves that first bite for the other person. You're wrong. Love is when you both find creative ways of sneaking that first bite before the other person does, putting the jar back on the shelf, giggling until it's discovered, and then both laughing uproariously together when it is. THAT's love, baby.

  2. I'm suddenly craving peanut butter. Time to go out and buy a new jar because I totally want that first bite. :-)

  3. Suzy for some reason I'm pretty sure it's not peanut butter that you think of when you read the words "first bite" but Twilight (-;
    A love story for sure, but I think I'll take patience, understanding, and forgiveness over fangs . . . at least this Valentine's Day.
    Great post!

  4. I swear I was thinking of peanut butter... but come to think of it, Mimi... :-)