Rethinking Love: Is love an emotion?

Rethinking Love: Is love an emotion?
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February 14, 2017

Is love an emotion? Let's put aside loving your job or a piece of clothing, in which the use of the word "love" is as a superlative. That still leaves romantic love and parental love: Are either of these emotions? I think not and here's why: the time frame for emotions and love are radically different. Emotions come and go, sometimes lasting as little as a few seconds, and rarely more than an hour. If we recollect that we were mad for an hour or afraid for an hour close examination reveals that actually we felt that emotion a number of times within the hour, it wasn't one continuous emotional episode.

Both parental love and romantic love involve long-term commitments, intense attachments to a specific other person. Neither is itself an emotion. Emotions can be very brief, but love endures. However, while romantic love can endure throughout a lifetime, it often does not. Parental love, more typically, is a lifelong commitment, although there are exceptions in which parents disown their children. Loving your child doesn't mean that you might not be afraid of the risks that they take, annoyed when they don't show up for a meeting with you, sad when they are disappointed, or happy when they succeed.

While romantic love does not usually endure as long as parental love, sometimes it does, and even when it doesn't, it's not a momentary state but, again, a committed attachment during which many different emotions are felt. In parental love and romantic love, you care, you're involved, and you're more susceptible to experiencing a variety of emotions. And those emotions don't endure, they come and go, lasting only seconds or at most minutes, not a lifetime as is found in parental love and hoped for in romantic love.

If this blog has raised questions for you in relation to the concept of love as an emotion, see Paul's book, "Emotions Revealed", for a straightforward and easy to read of this fascinating area.

Dr. Paul Ekman is a well-known psychologist and co-discoverer of micro expressions. He was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine in 2009. He has worked with many government agencies, domestic and abroad. Dr. Ekman has compiled over 40 years of his research to create comprehensive training tools to read the hidden emotions of those around you. To learn more, please visit:

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