There's even a comic strip "Love is ..."
Now the comic strip is illuminating, if you'll excuse the pun. It tries to explain what love is by describing what love does. Rather like the Bible, "Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous, ..." (Corinthians 13:4-7). Its far easier to say what love does (and does not) do, than it is to explain what love is.
There are books and books written about love, and books written about books that write about love. There are books that endlessly pick apart the types of love. But they almost inevitably resort to describing love through its actions. And actions described have little meaning until they become actions experienced.
Try and describe first love between two teenagers. The description is meaningless without the experience. "You lose perception, lie awake at night, experience an elevated heart rate, sweat in embarrassment, have unusual sensations in your stomach, lose your appetite ..." Sounds like flu to me. Love is flu?
So if we want to try and get a handle on what love is, where do we start? Of course we can experience it. Then we know it, but that doesn't help us to articulate it, or give us the means to really think about it. Is love unthinkable (on one level, perhaps it is)? We can throw around generalities like "God is Love", and so forth, but for most people that's equally meaningless.
Consider: when we try and explain something that is so complicated or so simple as to defy definition, there are two approaches we can adopt. First we can try understand the opposite.
So what is the opposite of Love? Hate? Some people would say so. But hate shares many attributes with Love ... in fact hate lies very close to Love, and its often only a tiny step to go from one to the other. Hate is focused, consuming, passionate, just like love. Hate hurts. Always. Then again, Love also hurts sometimes. Hate is Love twisted, so perhaps hate is not the opposite of Love.
If not hate, what else could the opposite of love be? One might think of anger? No, I think not. Finding the opposite of love is not easy, perhaps because love is so simple that it's depths are unfathomable, and so we can't think of it's opposite. Consider the ocean. Its water, so simple. What's the opposite of the Ocean? Its so simple but so deep, so wide and huge that I just don't know.
I think that perhaps there is no opposite of love, its simply too all-encompassing, just like an ocean.
Well, if we can't tackle love by looking for the opposite, then there's a second approach. One way to get at what something is, is to remove it and see what's left. As if we could take a sculpture out of the block of stone, and the remaining hole would help us see the sculpture in a new way. So try and take the attributes of love out of our experience, what do we have left? Well, take away vibrancy, focus, attention, passion, feeling, intensity, awareness, sensitivity, etc., etc., all attributes of love.
Now interestingly, as we take away all these things we also find that we end up also having removed hate, and laughter, and joy. To take away the attributes of love, none of these other things can be survive. So does love include all these? Does love include hate? Can love hate? In some circumstances I think so.
If love's attributes are removed, with all the attendant consequences, then what's left? Apathy! I suggest this is the closest we can get in saying what love is not; the absence of love -- apathy. Apathy has no action. Apathy simply lets things happen. Apathy couldn't care less. Apathy is total carelessness.
Love has no space for apathy.
OK, perhaps we've made progress. We've possibly identified something that is the epitome of NOT love. But now, if that is not love, than what is love?
Here, like countless authors before, I have to return to my starting point. Love is action. Even inaction can be love ... one can be actively still! Love is also only known through the experience of love's action. Part of defining what love is means stepping into love. I cannot know an ocean; I can describe its actions, the waves, the currents, the surges. But I cannot know it. Only when I experience it can I truly say I know something of the ocean.
What separates this from hate? Hate is also experienced.
In mathematics, if you can define a number, then there is always a number greater than the one you define. Likewise, hate cane be defined, hate has limits ... it is bounded, it cannot do or be everything, it is finite. Yet love can hurt to heal. Hate would stop at the hurt, love always goes further, love would seem to have no limits.
If love is always bigger, unlimited, then it is always surpassing. If it is always surpassing, it is undefinable, for to define love would be to define a limit. Love then, would seem to have no bounds, and the boundless is undefinable ... it is therefore impossible to explicitly state what love is. To say love is "this", is to say love is limited. The phrase "Love is ..." becomes meaningless as an objective to define love, the statement "Love is ... " can only ever at best describe love's actions.
One question remains, and each and every person seeking to understand love must inevitably face this: If love is an action that is experienced, then what, or who, is the cause of the action?