I love you.

Yup, those three little crazy words. The ones that can make you happy, make you freak out, make you run for the hills, or make you feel safe and warm.

The ones that can cause you to make fun of someone for saying I love you after one month, but that you find yourself one day saying to someone after a month.

I always wondered about how the same word ‘love’ can be used for so many different things. How can one single word encompass all the subtleties of such a broad range of emotions… How we feel about coffee, how we feel about our parents, how we feel about Amelie Nothomb’s books, how we feel about the new Titanium song, and how we feel about the person we want to spend the rest of our lives with. One word? For all those things?

Makes me want to invent a hundred different words that would include the nuances of taste buds, lust, craziness, passion, preference…

Saying ‘I love you’ to my dog is easy. In romantic interactions, it’s complicated. Timing and even form plays in- isn’t it funny how saying or writing ‘love you’ or ‘love ya’ or ‘luv u’ is so much easier than ‘I love you’?

And it’s different in different languages too. For me saying ‘je t’aime’ is a lot lighter than ‘I love you’. I’ve been wondering why and I think it’s because the words for ‘like’ and ‘love’ are the same in French.

And as in English, the more letters you remove the lighter it becomes. ‘J’t’aime’, ‘je t’m’, and even ‘jtm’ :-)

I once heard that Spanish is the most honest language when it comes to love because ‘love’ is the same as ‘want’. ‘Te quiero’.  And maybe love is just that. Wanting something or someone.

The three words are intricate because the emotions they attempt to reflect are intricate. I wonder about them and question them because I also wonder about and question love.

I’m the girl who always made fun of the ‘invention’ of romantic love’, citing articles that proved its foundation in chemistry, mythology, biology and the urge to reproduce, media brainwashing and romantic-comedy ‘gavage’ (don’t know what the word is in English, but it is what they do to poor geese to make fois gras). And saying that if we look back some years or look far enough away from our little so-called globalized bubble with an anthropological lens, we’d see that romantic love is very much time- and culture-based.

And evolutionary studies have shown bizarre facts about attraction that are kind of sad to think about, including how men are attracted to women of a certain hip-to-waist ratio and symmetrical faces, all in the unconscious name of ensuring healthy offspring and strong DNA. In case you’re wondering, women were shown to partially base their attraction on a man’s height and income. Income because it represents the man’s ability to take care of his woman. In the stone age it would have been represented by a man’s ability to kill an animal with a club and drag it back home (that is, cave).

Scientists have even come up with mathematical formulas of facial beauty and created a computer software that can beautify people in pictures (have a look at whether you prefer the before or after pictures).

In the brain, being in love is akin to being crazy, quite literally (read more), and I used to tell my friends: those butterflies you’re feeling are chemicals designed to make you stay with a person long enough to get your ‘progeniture’ past infancy (according to the science, a maximum of 18 months to 2 years), thereafter to be replaced by either a boredom-induced breakup or attachment/habit/dependency.

Add to all this the fact that our views of what is beautiful and what is desirable are programed by how and where we grew up, it really gives the lie to all our conceptions of freely ‘choosing’ who we love.  And don’t get me started on men looking for their mothers and all that. At the height of my meditation-Buddhist-retreats phase, I even considered celibacy. ‘None of that syrupy fake opium love illusion for me thank you very much’ I thought. ‘I want to view the real meaning of life and tackle truth head on’.

But as I’ve grown older the truth-truth is that I have realized what love can be. Beyond any cynicism. And I don’t care what any of the studies show. You don’t fall in love with someone just because of hormones. You fall in love with them because you love all those little crazy things about them. Their smile, their ears, the way they make you laugh.

And I want to be in love. I want the butterflies even if they are chemicals.

Sometimes, after falling in love, if you’re lucky, you get to experience true love: The difficult process of truthfully knowing someone, with every single one of their flaws and the things that drive you up the wall, and staying through painful conversations and still ‘loving’ the person even when you hate them. It’s not easy, but it’s beautiful. And then, if you’re really really really lucky, you get to fall in love with them again and again.

So love. That word, that feeling. So what if it’s the same word for so many different things? Even Juliet said: A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. So the name of love might not matter, and maybe its combined complexity and simplicity is its charm… Because in the end, isn’t the whole point that whatever it is alluding to is beyond words and names?

* Aside from all the linked articles, some interesting books on the science behind attraction and love are The Evolution Of Desire, by David Buss, and Romantic Passion: A Universal Experience? by William Jankowiak.