What is love, anyway?

Illustration of three figures with hearts
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At 2 a.m., I sit directly under Sather Gate, facing Bancroft Way. The trees’ leaves rattle softly, as the light night breeze runs by, car lights flashing on the distant streets. I take a bite of my pizza slice bought from Artichoke Basille’s Pizza — a classic and utmost favorite. What tastes like a little piece of heaven melts in my mouth, as I realize how beautiful Upper Sproul Plaza looks and what a good decision coming to UC Berkeley was, regardless of the never-ending stress. But the scenery and good food are not all that make me feel warm in the middle of this cold November night. 

Seated next to me are my friends. I’ve only known them for a couple of months, but I can tell you with certainty that I love them. I think about that a bit more often than I used to. It’s become a habit of mine recently to think about love at seemingly random times of the day. 

The way I see it is that we all grow up with different concepts of love. We can’t come to a consensus on a definition of love that encompasses all of our beliefs and experiences. Depending on our personalities and what we’ve experienced, our ideas of love vary slightly (or greatly) from each other; we think differently about what is and isn’t love, the types of love you can feel, and the ways you feel loved and show your love. And these definitions can change, as all feelings do, at different paces and go in different directions.

A common belief is that romance is the pinnacle of love, and romantic relationships often seem to rule over friendships, or what I also call platonic love. Is loving romantically really the most significant way to love? Both romantic and platonic love have unique aspects to them, and each holds different degrees of value to people.

Is loving romantically really the most significant way to love?

I think neither should be underestimated because of the other. Both require work and a commitment of some sort to maintain a healthy and happy relationship. We learn more about ourselves with every relationship we build. But personally, I feel as though there is a strong social drive to pair up that dismisses the importance of deep platonic relationships. I can survive without a romantic relationship, but if I had no friends? I’d die. 

Platonic (aka friend) love is usually the second love we experience after familial love; it plays a big role in our emotional development. Platonic relationships connect us to the outside world and give us a sense of belonging and identity.

Platonic love has helped me reach my own definition of love and give it meaning. My friendships have taught me so much about others and about myself. I’ve learned to love people the way they need to be loved, and I’ve also learned the ways I need to be loved. 

Love is commitment. Invest in me, and I will invest in you. You commit to becoming a part of each other’s lives. Share your time with me, and I will make time for you. Let’s share a meal, even if it’s once a week because our schedules conflict, as that commitment of meeting up and showing sustained interest in each other is love to me. 

Love is generosity. I will give you all I can when I love you, no matter how little I have. If you need something, I will scramble to find a way to help because I want you to be well. Share what you have with me, and I will appreciate it deeply, for with it I feel a part of you.

Love is taking action. You lend me one of your sweaters when it’s cold outside, and I forgot to bring one with me, and I’ll give you my portable charger when you need it (even though I’m also at 8%). I compliment you because I know your vain self loves being called pretty (and you are pretty), and you let me borrow some of your clothes because I’m late on doing laundry. I listen to your existential crisis over your major and cry with happiness when you find the right fit; you help me think about what I’d like to do with my life when I say I don’t have a single clue. You stay over to make sure I don’t choke on my vomit while I sleep, and I lend you my clothes when you get locked out of your dorm after taking a shower — it all means “I love you, I love you, I love you.” 

Love is understanding. It doesn’t need to be vocal. We know each other so well and aim to ensure each other’s happiness, so there’s an unspoken understanding about our feelings and the place we occupy in each other’s lives. We both know we’re important to each other and can ask for anything, can tell each other anything. Like this, there’s no need to say “I love you,” but we know it.

Love doesn’t have to involve sex, romance or dates in order to be real and important.

Love can’t be forced. You can’t make someone love you, as much as you would like to. And, oh, how much I’ve wanted people to love me in return to no avail, and how much other people have wanted me to love them when I could not find it in me. Both instances feel … awful, to say the least. But that’s how it goes sometimes, romantically and platonically. Sometimes we just don’t click, even though I think you’re so cool. When this happens, I know something better will come — we’ll each find a love made for us. 

Love doesn’t have to involve sex, romance or dates in order to be real and important. How lovely it is to not have to do anything specific to make love stick around. How lovely it is to spill drinks on your friend’s floor and be forgiven for it because they did the same at your place the day before, and honestly, that just happens every time you get together.

These are the many aspects of love that I’ve come to appreciate through platonic relationships. Platonic relationships also helped me come to the conclusion that stable romantic relationships demand friendship as a building block. It’s essential with a potential partner to get to know each other casually as friends do, build trust over time, get comfortable with each other. Through trial and error, I realized I just can’t connect to people on a romantic level if I haven’t loved them platonically yet — at least not in a way where a relationship could work in the long term. And even though romantic relationships haven’t worked out for me, I’ve been shown how important other forms of love are. 

I’m still here, under Sather Gate, loving others without any romance and yet enjoying it so much, as I hear my friends laugh frantically at some witty joke I missed while thinking about all of this. I finished the pizza, kind of, and one of them is nibbling at the crust I never eat. The love I feel for them is what helps me survive here, so I collect myself and let them know it. 

“You’re so dumb.”

Contact Lucia Barranco at [email protected].