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What is Love?

Updated: Aug 11, 2021

Love is in the air at the moment: there tends to be a flurry of enquiries after Valentine's Day… it's a popular day for proposals! What does love mean from a humanist standpoint?

For me, personally, love is feeling safe enough to make yourself vulnerable... coupled with an unconditional sense of compassion that means your partner can reveal him/her/themself with total honesty. In turn, this brings a lightness that gives space for fun and passion.

It's actually pretty rare to find a singular humanist viewpoint on a topic, so I'm now going to pass the mic (as it were) to a cohort of what could be considered as 'experts' on love….

Us celebrants hear so many stories about what love is - whether it's when someone has met the right person for them, lost someone they love or learnt what it is to love as a parent. So I posed this question to some humanist celebrants - enjoy the variety!

Love is the feeling, belly deep, that you would do anything for someone. It's not written in the stars and it's not a magical fairy tale. But it's big and brilliant and sometimes it's scary too. It makes you willing to be vulnerable. It makes you want to give the best of yourself to someone. And when you're really lucky, they feel it for you too!

Laura Gimson, Celebrant accredited by Humanists UK

Love is… none of the flowery things, the eloquent sweet mutterings or declarations of devotion in epic locations. It starts that way, but when you dedicate yourself to another you learn what love truly means. It's dressing your partner's wounds, it's asking their opinion about your guttural distress. It's clinging desperately to them when pain takes your capacity to speak and knowing that they will never take a step away. It’s being humane with the mundane and never wavering.

Sarah Hammal, Celebrant accredited by Humanists UK

Love is knowing someone's bad habits as cute quirks, someone's failures as tenacious attempts and their shortcomings as possible ways you can help them. You want more for them than you do for yourself, and being with them makes you feel you are home.

Lottie Holmes, Celebrant accredited by Humanists UK

Love is attraction, connection, acceptance, respect and commitment. I'm not much of a 'fairy tale' person - I think falling in love is fairly easy; but loving and sustaining love take effort and compromise. It's a warts and all type gig. It's knowing each others' quirks & foibles and celebrating the person anyway, it's revelling in the wonderful and accepting the things we find more challenging; because no matter the ups and downs, you feel your life is better if you share it with that person.

Christine Berrisford, Celebrant accredited by Humanists UK

Love is: romance, sex, grief, comfort, creme eggs, excitement, family, gratefulness, unexpected, Prince, adrenaline, puppies, dancing, friends, food, serenity, work, alone, together, humanity, caring, easy, happiness, rugby, fast, forever, one night, winning, warm, all consuming.... I wouldn't want to define love for fear I might miss something out.

Claire the Humanist, registered with Humanist Society Scotland

Love is knowing I am yours and you are mine. Knowing your arms will enfold me and I will forget the world, just for that moment. Love is knowing that we are different - and yet in love, we are the same. Love is never forgetting you, always wanting you. Love is knowing we are old now but our love is fresh like the first day we realised that this is forever.

Dawn Rees, Celebrant accredited by Humanists UK

I’m not a quotey type person (!) but I think Elizabeth Barrett Browning pretty much has it for me: “I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you…. I love you for the part of me that you bring out.” It’s being equals with someone where we challenge each other, keep interesting each other and – crucially – know that our partner finds us hilarious. But it’s also being pragmatic enough not to be able to promise ‘forever’, just to hope that continues to be what we both want.

Hannah Hart, Celebrant accredited by Humanists UK

Love is having someone to share your day with - even if they haven’t a clue what you’re talking about; putting up with your bad habits, even if it drives them mad. The other that can read your mind and finish your sentences; someone who’ll brave the cold, just so you can wonder at the stars, and wants to share experiences with you. Love is snuggling up with each other, feeling comfort and 'as one' together.

Janet Lopacki, Celebrant accredited by Humanists UK

Love makes life worth living, its vibrancy and warmth feeds the darkest times and adds joy to the humdrum that is everyday. Love whispers in the night, the touch of a hand, a gentle caress. Like a flame, love keeps us warm, creates a beacon to guide us home. With love, we strive to be the person our love believes us to be. Love makes us strong. Love makes us vulnerable. Love is risk and certainty.

Janni Knox, Northern Ireland, Celebrant accredited by Humanists UK

If we are talking about romantic love, then it is patience and kindness and cheering for someone's dreams and aspirations as much as your own. It is wanting to share life's precious moments with that person whether that be a board game win or backpacking in Goa. Love is learning from one another. It is supporting your partner through tough times and celebrating the good times together. It is pride and unity and compromise. It is unique for each relationship and yet part of what makes us all human.

Lisa Bourne, Celebrant accredited by Humanists UK

You may feel that this is a ridiculous, shallow, explanation of love, but I first realised that I unquestionably loved my future husband when it stopped mattering which football team he supported. Up to that point, I would probably say that I liked him ‘despite’. Then there was a palpable, and memorable, moment when it stopped being an issue; when our shared sense of humour, humanity and values were more important than our insignificant (and significant) differences. And that's love."

Lorraine Hull, Celebrant accredited by Humanists UK

[Photo credit: Kwaku Alston for Essence]

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