In 1984, from her immensely successful comeback album Private Dancer, Tina Turner released what is perhaps her signature solo song, which became her first and only #1 hot in the Billboard Hot 100, “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” The song became so synonymous with her as an artist that it was also the title of a movie about her life. If you know a little bit about the back story of Tina Turner’s life, the title of the song and its sentiments make more sense. Having spent many years in an abusive relationship with the controlling Ike Turner, Tina Turner had better reason than most people to be more than a little bit down on love. To be sure, she is a woman with the same sort of longings that human beings have in general, but in this song she questions why people should put the longings and chemical reactions inside of us on such a pedestal. She saw, again more clearly than most, that merely following the chemical reactions inside of us often led to unhappiness and misery. Certainly that is true for many of us in this world.
Throughout my life I have had very little sympathy with those who rage against all restrictions against following their defective brain chemistry wherever it wants to go. To be sure, I have a lot of empathy with those who struggle to deal with longings in the face of moral, legal, and cultural opposition, but I have little sympathy with those who rage against the need to struggle against their own natures. Anyone with a shred of self-knowledge will know that we are all filled with a great deal of loathsome and problematic longings. Perhaps I am aware of such matters better than most because my own longings have been more loathsome or at least more problematic than most , but I know the level of heroic self-restraint that is necessary for me to live anything remotely approaching a decent and normal life. I have to continually remind myself that the slow people on the road or the frustrating people I deal with in my life are not intentionally trying to bother me but are people likely focused on their own problems and issues and just unaware of the irritation that they cause to others through their ignorance or incompetence. Being a bit more aware of the difficulties I cause myself and others through my own incompetence, I tend to feel a sense of deep melancholy and shame for myself.
I have a dear relative whom I deeply love. I remember when she was very young that I taught her how to play checkers. I remember that from the time I become an adult that we would frequently walk around the country block near where our grandparents lived and would talk about the goings on of life, and the way that it was so complicated by the behavior of others. Shortly after I turned twenty-one my grandparents and the widow of a Belizian sugar farmer took us to a wine tasting (a grape juice-tasting for my dear relative) and it was thought that we were a couple from the way we got along. One time I took her as a date for a ladies’ night and my pastor at the time thought it necessary to announce to the whole congregation during announcements that I was there with my cousin, on account of how struck he–and apparently everyone else–was by my rapport with her. The fascination other people saw in how I got along with this relative, and with other people for whom I have felt a great deal of love and fondness, has always struck me as more than a little strange. Did people think that I lacked any sort of emotional longings being a person of deep intellect and more than the usual amount of awkwardness and discomfort?
Being a person with a heart formed for love, I have never thought it necessary to hide or disguise the love I felt for others when I felt it. God knows I have known too little love in this life as it is. But I have never viewed the love I have felt as an excuse in acting for my own selfish desires. I have plenty of selfish desires, have always had more than my share of them, and likely will struggle with them as long as I live and draw breath in this human existence, just like everyone else. Fortunately, though, my love has always been combined with a regard and a respect for others and a deep horror at coercing others into being mere objects. I have loved others as subjects far too much to engage in the sort of objectification I find all too common in the world around me, and if that has saved me from a great deal of suffering and torment, and saved others from a great deal of suffering at my hand, then perhaps it has been worth at least some of the complications and unhappiness that has involved my own emotional life.
Famously, the Greeks had at least four words for love. Our English language seems a bit impoverished in comparison, but we too have plenty of words, it just that the word love itself is a bit too slippery and elusive for the purpose of clarity. Perhaps this is so because we want it to be. We could, if we wanted, cut and slice our own complex and even contradictory definitions for love into other words if we wanted to. We could have a word like storge to describe family affection, phileo to describe the love of brothers and friends, eros to describe our considerable sexual and romantic longings, and agape to describe a self-sacrificial love that few people approach in their own conduct towards God or others. The fact that we, and I speak here as a native English-speaker with a large vocabulary, do not choose to do so says something about us. It is as if we know somewhere intuitively that calling something, whatever it is, by the name of love will give it a dignity and a legitimacy that it would deserve if it were called by a more limited and precise term. Our language is fuzzy because we want it to be. We do not want clarity, because if we were clear about what we meant we would have to stare into the dark abyss of our own hearts, and be honest with ourselves and others about the limits of what we meant. That is not an appealing prospect for any of us.
 See, for example: