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Theory of Love: What my FYS Taught me About Love in Crisis

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Amherst chapter.

In a world that leads with hate and selfishness, where does love fit in?

This is the question my first-year seminar (FYS) sought to answer and explain with the help of theories from renowned theorists to everyday activists. Within the past year, we have seen a country that has been consumed with white supremacist values and outbursts that have allowed for the brutality against subordinated communities. Of course, this terror has always been there, but these past years have shed a light on how far we have strayed from love. Along with this we had a virus not only wreak havoc on our health but also unveil a larger morality question between those who chose to be concerned with the safety of themselves and others and those who did not. Combine both of these with growing concerns of the strength of our government, a presidential election, international wars and genocides, and a climate crisis that’s not going anywhere; you get the perfect recipe for disaster. 

So, what do you do when the world feels like it is imploding in on itself?

The answer can be found within embracing a love ethic. A love ethic is one that uses power and justice as a way to liberate the world, and not just oneself. Our class explored how institutions of white supremacy and the patriarchy have upheld a misinformed ideology of love that cannot be achieved. If we are not actively seeking freedom and justice for those who have been wronged, then we will not be able to love in any aspect of our lives. We focused on Martin Luther King’s idea of love, where he stated “power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” This is the central theology of love, and what it means to have a love for humanity and life; because as we learned, having a basic level of love in your life is the standard. What this means is that you need to already have love as a focal point of your being, before you can expect to love others and even yourself. This love is found in the power for change and the desire for a better world for everyone, and once you have this you are solidly embracing a love ethic. The best material form of love can be viewed in activism movements that have taken place throughout the centuries, from the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s to the Black Lives Matter summer of 2020. 

crowd of protesters against Asian hate
Photo by Jason Leung from Unsplash

Often when we think of love, our minds go to the romantic notion of love we have seen in the media and around us. Disney taught us as kids to expect a whirlwind romance between a girl and boy, in the stereotypical gender roles, and that in the end, we’d get our ‘happily ever after’. However, this is exactly where we have been misled. This type of ‘romantic’ love is a love that fuses without integrity, for both partners because their expectations and conceptions are in the wrong place: precisely why so many relationships fail. A ‘Disneyfication of love’ is unrealistic, as it is the glamorization of an action that is not meant to be looked at in that light. I think a lot of us have this misconception that love is related to femininity, and for men that can be something to fear and strive away from. For women, we are taught being loved brings value to our lives and without it, we have essentially failed in some way. Others, such as nonbinary folks, face these same societal pressures. Another important idea is that we look for love because we fear loneliness, and to be isolated or by oneself is the equivalent of failure. Thus, love becomes solely about avoiding aloneness and nothing more; where we attach our love to the bare minimum of standards. This is a relationship that quickly will become one of sadomasochism, in which a sadist and a masochist exhibit a toxic environment that dilutes any possibility of humanitarian love. Rather, humanizing love is the love we ought to nourish in ourselves because it requires us as humans to acknowledge the embarrassment, the guilt, the shame, and the fear we feel. In this sense, love is intrinsically bound to a political sphere where we face pain and find the beauty in it; and in turn love humanity for what it is and what it could be. Love is not just about a romantic relationship, and in fact, that is a small decibel in the grand scheme of what it truly means to love. Not to sound too philosophical here, but love is pain and that is what gives it power. This pain is not to be construed with physical impairment or abuse, but instead the pain in being vulnerable to the raw emotions of humanity and putting in the much-needed work for change, acknowledgment, and reparation. 

The Notebook
New Line Cinema
Love has come to be undervalued and seen as a gimmick for a storyline in movies and to be bought and sold by industries to the millions of people who want a taste of real love (see The Notebook). Its existence has even been debated with the question ‘do you believe in love?’, which is utterly incomprehensible as love is not something you believe in. Love is an action, and when we act with love we are acting for the needs of others as love is about giving. There are so many dimensions of love as we learned in my FYS that my own writings here will not do any justice. If you are interested in learning more about a love ethic, I recommend reading Fromm’s The Theory of Love, Mattias and Allen’s Loving Whiteness to Death, Bell Hooks’ All About Love, Martin Luther King’s Strength to Love, and Durryle Brooks’ (Re)conceptualizing Love. All of these theories impacted how I viewed love and intrigued my own thoughts on what it meant to lead with love. 

So, what do we do from here?

The first step is to look inside yourself and do the hard work of changing your perception of love. It is necessary to rebuild how we view love outside of the romantic sense, and construct it around a love for humanity and therefore ourselves. To transform our society, we need to all be on the same page about what it means to love. If we all have the same conception of love, then healthy relationships with our families, friends, and partners are all possible and in reach. I can’t tell you exactly how to do so, as I am also still trying to figure it out as I go. Deconstructing what you have been taught and shown is much more difficult than it may seem, but there is a reward in doing so. By committing to a humanitarian view of love, you choose to seek justice for those who need it most and find the power in love and vice versa. Kneading love into our everyday lives and our every action with the intent to do so for the benefit of others IS what will heal the world. This may seem superficially bound, and I’ll admit I was even cautious of what I was being taught at first too, but this is love that evokes change like no other. People coming together for the sake of humanity and rights has to have love at its core, and for that reason, it is the most powerful force to be reckoned with.

Contributors from the University of Massachusetts Amherst