The first mistake that I think people make is they think emotions are binary. Are you in love, yes or no; do you like something, yes or no; do you hate that person, yes or no; whatever the emotion people tend to think it is on or off, yes or no, binary.
I don’t think love, or any emotion is binary. They are analog, filled with millions of shades and intensities. There are an infinite number of ways to feel the same emotion.
Digging deeper into this, I also don’t believe emotions are distinct. They all sprout from the same well. I almost think of it as a color wheel. Sure there are groups, reds, blues, yellows – same as emotions where you have groups of love, hate, happy, and sorrow. But they all come from the same place.
On the pin wheel there are infinite shades or hues in between the colors, just like emotions. The difference between Liking someone and loving someone is a different shade of the same emotion.
The other variable is intensity. If we move from a color wheel to a bulb that can be dialed to any shade/hue, we are now closer to describing emotions. Not only are there shades of love, there are intensities of it. I can love two things or people, and potentially even have roughly the same shade of love, but have different intensities.
Let’s put this into some context – You love your mother, you use the same word to describe how you feel about your girlfriend, your child, your favorite shirt, etc. How can they all mean the same thing? They don’t, not exactly at least, they are different shades, and potentially different intensities.
I mentioned something critical just now – context. Before we continue we need to understand, context is critical to how we understand things. Everything we here, see, taste, touch, feel, etc. we compare it to our previous experiences.
To demonstrate this, imagine someone was born in a cave, pitch black, and lived there his whole life. Now imagine one day someone lit a candle. He would consider that the brightest thing he had ever seen in his entire life. Clearly nothing exists that is brighter than that. Next week someone brings in a 40 watt light bulb and now that is the brightest thing that has ever existed. Walk him out into a very bright summer day and you have blown his world.
The same goes with emotions. You are a kid and get a crush on someone, you have never felt that emotion before, but you are sure it is love. It feels intense. How many times has a teenage said to an adult “you don’t understand love like this!” Then one day they fall in love and look back and laugh.
The other thought I have is that we have an infinite supply of these emotions. That is not to say you will always feel the same about someone, every interaction we ever have with that person adds context, shifting the shade of the emotion in one way or the other, and even intensity.
To put this in perspective, I thought I knew what love felt like, regardless of it’s shade. Then one day my first son was born. I realized in terms of intensity everything I had felt to that moment was a candle and he was staring directly into the sun. The intensity overwhelmed me, crushed me.
Then an interesting thing happened. I had another child on the way. I can’t describe the torrent of emotions. One of which was actually betrayal. As odd as it sounds I felt like I was somehow either going to be cheating out my first son, or the next one on the way. I thought I surely had reached the limit of my ability to love, so another son would mean either I would love the first one less to make up for it, or not love the second one as much.
Well, the day came, and that’s when I realized I had infinite capacity. I loved the second one with just as much intensity. I am not saying the shades were identical, but they sure as hell we the same intensity. I realized I could have 100 children and have the capacity to love them all with the same intensity. Now patience to deal with them – that is an entirely different thing!
I realized though, that this doesn’t just end there. I can hate multiple people, and love multiple people. I don’t think any two people or things are ever the exact same shade or intensity, but I can have feelings for many people.
Thus love, and other emotions are analog, not digital.