One of the best definitions of love that I’ve encountered is this:
Love is to delight in the existence of the other.
(Fr. David Garcia, O.P.)
Isn’t it the case that when people are in love, they cannot stop thinking of the other? They would love to spend, if possible, all their time with the other. Why is that the case? Because when one is in love, one cannot stop but to delight in the existence of their beloved!
Love in its truest and purest form is really to love the other for who she is.
If I were to say that I love Sophia (not an actual person; just using that name since it means wisdom), what shall be a good reason for loving her?
Were I to say that I love her for a certain quality, e.g. her looks, her intellect, her wit, etc., I do not love her but merely her attributes. If one day, she were to lose those qualities that I love, does that mean that my love for her has ceased? Well, if it were the case, we would normally say that such a love was superficial.
But of course, though we usually say that we love someone for having qualities X, Y, and Z; we do not mean to say that we love only those qualities. No, love extends beyond those qualities. What we mean to say is that we love our beloved one for who she is, and not just for certain qualities which she possesses (though that is something that we often say).
And so, to say that I love Sophia means that I love her for who she is – I love her very being. I love her for who she is, and I delight in the fact that she exists. For if she were not to exist, there would be no Sophia to delight in, in the first place.
But how else is love a delight in the existence of another?
For many of us, we would have experienced cases where we have liked someone, and did all we could, but that person did not love in return. Sometimes, we may (perhaps enviously) look at some couples, and wonder why one loves the other, even though the other seems like someone who does not deserve the love from such a person.
From our experiences in life, we recognise that getting someone to love us has very little to do with what we do. We may cry out that it is simply unfair that so-and-so has fallen for someone else despite all our efforts.
In such cases, we see delight in action. (Not very comforting, I know. But that’s not the point.)
Sure, the person may see us as a friend, and delight in our company, but not to the extent of delighting in our very existence.
Love is not a contract where justice requires the other party to love us in return for the love we give. The problem arises when we begin to think of love that way. We cannot demand a person to love us in return for what we have done. That would not be love anymore. It will just be doing favours so as to compel someone to treat us nicely. We cannot force a person to love us – for that would not be love, a free act of the will.
At the end of the day, it is up to the other to freely choose to love us, to delight in our being.
But what is so special about delighting in the existence of another that makes love, love?
True love, in delighting in the existence of the other, loves the person for who she is – her strengths and weaknesses, her beauty and grace, her faults and failings. Even though she may be annoying in a certain way, or have a certain fault, it is those qualities that make her who she is.
To love such a person is to say: I love you for who you are – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is these qualities that you possess that make you who you are. Sure, I do indeed delight in your essence (who you are), but most of all, I delight in your existence. But, if you did not exist, I would not have been able to delight in you.
When we see that love is delight, it becomes easier not to be distracted by anger, over the failings of the beloved. When we look at old couples, who have been married for so many years, we see how they are able to stay married for long – because they have come to realise that it is not about what one does that merits love, but love lasts because one has delighted and will continue to delight in the existence of the other.
What makes this definition more beautiful is when we recognise that the way we love one another is a reflection of the way God loves us.
Love is to delight in the existence of the other. When God thinks of you, God thinks about how wonderful, how beautiful, how amazing, and yet how wounded you are as a human person. But nonetheless, the very thought of you brings God great delight.
And so, in delighting in you, He says, “I love you”, and thus, you are loved into existence.
Having first loved us, having first delighted in who we are, God’s love for us remains constant and unchanging. Sometimes, we make the mistake of looking at God’s love as a contract (much like changing our human love relationships and friendships into contractual relationships). As a result, we think that if we were to do X, Y, and Z, we would merit God’s love.
Children recognise that no matter how naughty or nice they have been, their parents will not stop loving them. Sure, they may be punished for being naughty, but they recognise that their parents will not stop loving them no matter what. And in like manner, God never ceases to love, to delight in who we are – no matter how horrible and undeserving we have been of his love – because love is not about how much one does.
He loved us into existence, and will always continue to love us, regardless.