What the heck is love, anyway? Sure, we all think we know. We like to spout things about self-sacrifice, everlasting affection, and deep romantic attachment. Everyone has his or her own concept of what it feels like to love someone and of what this love should consist. We are eager to sneer at celebrities who marry one day and divorce the next, superior in our knowledge that it could not have been “real” love. Even I talk about it like it’s some defined thing, a concrete noun with assigned meaning.
Naturally, my opinion on this meaning is the only correct one.
Wanna hear it? Probably not. But I am going to tell you anyway.
The One True Definition of Love, as told by Kristine, shaming all other definitions of love because this is the one true definition and everyone else is wrong:
- There is no such thing as love at first sight, love must grow over time to be real, otherwise it is just silly infatuation
- Love means wanting to say you are sorry, over and over and over again
- Love means putting those you love first. In fact, it means being grateful you can put them first, without a smidge of resentment.
- That being said, love is not unconditional. I don’t care what crap your mom told you. Love can end.
- There are no varying degrees of love. You either love someone or you don’t. You can’t “kind of” love somebody or only love them when they behave a certain way.
- Love and need are two very different things.
I am going to stop now because I think I have made my point. I have no doubt ticked some of you off. If not, I have ticked myself off so I guess that’s good enough.
The thing is, I don’t believe anyone gets to tell us what love is. It’s too personal. It is such a profound word for some of us and an inscrutable one for others. Half the time, I don’t think I understand it at all. All I can tell you is how it feels for me based on my own experiences. Given that your experiences are – we hope – very different from mine I don’t get to tell you how you feel. As someone who was told throughout her childhood that her emotions were wrong, I believe in a person’s right to choose how she labels her feelings.
Or even whether she names them at all.
The author of Something Wagging This Way Comes wrote an insightful and wise blog post today about a – in my perspective – less than insightful study. Ever since I read the science article this morning I have been ruminating over the concept of defining how dogs feel love. Pamela has already done an excellent job of breaking down the methodology and pointing out the scientific flaws. I feel the need to push it further.
In my opinion it is an act of hubris to assume we can ever understand the way a dog feels about his human or anything else in his life. Science can help us predict his behaviour and even – maybe – help us understand the way a dog might view the world. But I do not believe it is possible to know if my dog loves anything, be it me, the Am Staff at the dog park, or a stuffed Kong. I just don’t feel comfortable labelling any of her emotions with certainty. I believe she feels them, I just don’t know if it is my place to determine what they are.
Love is too complex of an emotion, too intense. That doesn’t mean dogs don’t feel it – I believe they are capable of so much more than we will ever be able to prove in a lab. However, I don’t know if it is possible to interpret their actions as something so complicated without hearing from them first. It seems to be doing them a disservice.
No doubt you are narked again. If you are the kind of person who reads late night blog posts written by people who spend too much time pondering canine philosophy, you are the kind of person who puts her dog first. I know your dog appreciates it. I know your dog is happy when you are around. It is possible your dog loves you. It is just not my decision to make.
Nor is it a decision for scientists in a lab to make.
Do I think Shiva loves me? No idea. As I said in my comment this morning, it doesn’t matter to me if she does. In fact, based on my own definition above, I hope she doesn’t. I don’t want her to put my health and happiness before her own. If there is a threat, I want her to run away as fast as she can so I can handle it. It isn’t her job to protect me. What is more important to me, and what is easier to gauge by her behaviour, is that I do think she trusts me.
Trust is much less complicated than love, and – in many ways – is much easier to define. Shiva shows me she trusts me by letting me handle her, even when she is in pain. She never flinches from my touch, even when she doesn’t want to be pet. When she used to be terrified of water bottles, she now will drink from one as I pour it into her bowl. She lets me reach into her mouth, even when she scooped up something super yummy from the ground. Shiva looks to me when uncertain and dives forward when I say something is okay.
For Shiva, I am a means to getting what she wants. But I am also someone safe, someone she relies on to care for her when she is feeling unwell I don’t need to call it love in order to feel proud that I can provide her with what she needs. My love for her is more than enough for the two of us.