Love is a decision or an emotion is our first article in our latest category that celebrates our one year! Check out this article by a trusted psychologist!
“I fell in love the first time we met! It was love at first sight! He went down on his knees to ask me out!”….. “She held my hand while crossing the road!”….. “(S)He goes out of the way for me!”
When we meet couples in romantic relationships, this is usually how they express about the journey of their romantic relationship. These statements certainly hold an element of truth in them. When we see someone we find attractive, when they do specific things for us that we have always admired, when they say things that are meaningful and valuable to us, we do feel differently.
The heart races, the stomach feels ticklish, our vision seems to blur out the surrounding with detailed focus on the person we see, the hands and legs feel warmth, and all our thoughts boil down to that person… it could feel like the earth stopped moving, and it was no longer the gravity that held them there (remember Jacob saying this sentence to Bella in the film series Twilight?).
Now ponder on this question: Is this love or do we call this love? Love is a decision or an emotion: let us find some answers through some scientific evidence.
They love me…They love me not…They love me…They love me not…
The creator has crafted humans in the most unique ways. Many of the physiological (bodily) processes are built to function in an autopilot mode; this means they are auto-trained to sense the trigger (cue) and do their job, without instructions, every time a trigger appears. They are involuntary. The processes you read above (increase in heartbeat, digestion alters, pupils dilate, blood flow to arms and limbs, etc.) are involuntary. They just happen – the intense emotions, sexual attraction perhaps, anxiety, affection, or jealousy. Correct? So, what do you think was their cue to get activated?
Here is an explanation for why that happens in the case of romantic, passionate love. Elaine Hatfield and Ellen Berscheid (1974) explained that we usually experience passionate love when two events come together: these intense, physiological arousal in our body + a situational cue that indicates this could be love! In other words, you feel a rush in your body and you hear the words, “Ah! This must be love” in your mind, both at the same time.
Question: Why do we hear the words, “Ah! This must be love” and not anything else? For example, when someone I feel attracted to offers a gift to me, I feel acknowledged, accepted, joy, grateful, excited, and contended. I choose to call it love. However, could it be possible that the person wished to only express gratitude for what I may have done for them, and may not necessarily be passionate love? It could be mere compassion! But I still choose to call it romantic love!
So, love is a decision, right? This understanding helps us clarify why humans can experience deepened love, even in the face of rejection or hurt. It is our interpretation, our decision to label those intense emotional arousals as love!
Why label it ‘love’ only? The answers to this lie in the process of ‘priming’. Over the years, our popular media (films, stories, novels, shows, songs) have portrayed such labeling as desirable, possible, and acceptable. It is made so desirable that being loved by someone with grand, filmy (sometimes overly dramatic) gestures becomes the only goal in life. Sadly, it can become the only way to exist for many.
Another answer lies in the way we are socialized (raised). Not many of us, in our cultures especially, have been taught or modeled the healthy ways of dealing with failures or rejection. And hence, when met with unpleasant rejections, we tend to cling to the best available explanation, which again, finds its roots in popular media: ‘this must be love.’ You see, our own personal dictionary stores this definition as love.
It is clear, therefore, that it is our interpretation and decision to label the experience of intense emotional arousal as romantic love. In fact, a label a combination of emotions as love! So, love is a decision, right?!
Love, the decision and Love, the emotion
Decision-making is a cognitive (thinking) process that involves an examination of facts, data, and strategies to connect the dots (happens in our frontal cortex of the brain). Ponder on the word ‘decision’: it sounds heavy, determined, firm, focused, well-thought, and implies a sense of commitment (loyalty).
Emotions are an affect (feeling) component (operating from the amygdala part of the brain) which shows up in our bodily processes (yes, emotions are embodied!). And our actions are closely interlinked with these thinking, feeling, and bodily processes (see diagram).
Love, as an emotion, appears in phases. We are not chronically invested in experiencing love for someone. There are phases when we experience moments of shared positivity (kindness and care and compassion) for someone. The momentary experiences of positive emotions such as joy, excitement, passion, care, compassion, etc together get labeled as love by us.
Now put the picture together: when we experience this above mentioned specific combination of emotions momentarily, for several moments of our life, in the presence of a person or animal or situation or thought, we label it love through a quick, implicit decision-making process in our brain. We decide to call that combination as love. This really means that you have decided to call that combination of emotions as love because your dictionary in your mind defines that as love. You are determined, firm, focused, and committed to that person, to that experience, and to yourself in that relationship.
And this can be any type of love – it could be simple liking or infatuation or romantic or companionate! We feel a different type of love for different people.
(Psst.. there are 8 types of love explained by Robert Sternberg in 1986 – watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nu_5xcWjQI&t=673s to learn about the different types of love).
Furthermore, all of us have a different combination of emotions that we want to label as love (remember we have a personal dictionary in our mind). That makes us unique, creative, and fun! Over time of learning from life, the combination of emotions that I decide to call love is inspired by the Word of God in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (read it as 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 Versus 4 to 8).
So, when I pick up feelings of protection, trust, hope, security, humility, selflessness, kindness, truth, and vulnerability in my body when I am in the presence of a person (or even when I think of them), I decide to call that love (see picture). And I decide to function from this definition at every moment of my engagement with them. It is seen in our actions.
The mindset of Love: Choose to choose love!
To love and to be loved is, in my opinion, one of the powerful decisions that we are empowered to make as humans. Observe in the last paragraph, the lines say, “I decide”, not “I have decided”. It is in the present tense. So love is a decision to make in every moment of the present. We can decide to love every moment of our existence, love myself, love others, love my life in every moment of the present.
I believe that when seen as a decision, love automatically fuels our loyalty and keeps us more aware of our relational space. More importantly, we feel in control of our emotions, rather than being controlled by the very emotions. Chances of blaming our unhealthy behaviors onto the emotion of ‘love’ reduce a personal sense of responsibility increases, we feel more accountable and therefore more mindful when we engage with that person who we have decided to love. We don’t, therefore, fall in love. It is not really some cupid striking you down that you fall on your knees. Remember those are media depictions. As desirable as they may look, not everything that shines is gold!
In this sense, love does not fade away in unfortunate circumstances; you change your decision through yet another decision-making process that takes in the new information of rejection or hurt or betrayal (the definition in your personal dictionary gets tweaked). The complex of emotions you had once decided to call love continues to exist because it was real when it happened and it exists in the story of your life with that person. It exists in your memories, as a decision that was authenticated and stamped in the affidavit of your autobiographical memory.
If this is true, then we can continue to experience love for people who are no longer in our life now. We can replace our experiences of hatred, jealousy, anger, and revenge with this experience of love stored as a decision in our mind when we think of that person. The difference, however, is that now this decision has changed clothes: it is unconditional, kind, and stays as an emotion that motivates us (not something to act upon and show it to that person). In other words, it would be ehsaas-wala love(the feeling-type love), not action-wala love(action-type love)! So, love need not necessarily hurt. It is not compulsory for you to feel hurt to be able to feel the love!
Just imagine, if every one of us functions from this mindset of love (mind is set on love). Just imagine!!!! Wouldn’t our world become a kind place?!
What do you think then, love is a decision or an emotion? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.