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When You Say You Love Someone, What Exactly Do You Love?


What’s so special about Romeo and Juliet’s love? When they said ‘I love you’ to each other, what did they mean? What exactly did they love about each other?

Many philosophers have given answers to this question. Some claim that people fall in love with a soul, others with a body, a mind, or a fully embodied person. They came up with these conclusions after thinking about a person in love that is split into two exact copies.

According to the majority of them, love is merely a pattern of neural firings and the emotions are neural processes that are there to represent an appraisal or the goal of a certain situation. Or in other words, when Juliet said that she loves Romeo, in her mind, there is only the mental representation of what looks like or what her ideal partner would treat her like and what personality traits will they have. Therefore, according to these beliefs, Juliet was faced with symptoms of an infatuation (not love) such as butterflies in her stomach and rapid heartbeat.

So, when we identify Juliet’s love in the form of neural processes, we cannot say that she is in love with the idea of being in love and with the mental representation of it. Even though all of them are fair examples of her thoughts, she is in love with Romeo as a person. But what is a person really?

The notion of ‘self’ is seen as a system of psychological, molecular, neural, and social mechanisms. Juliet, on one hand, lived many hundreds of years before these mechanisms were actually discovered even though she has been able to feel their manifestations. But, on the other hand, she made conclusions in her mind about Romeo’s character, personality, physical appearance, and social relationships. All in all, she fell in love with Romeo as an embodied person.

Love is an embodiment that happens in two ways. First, it is based on many psychological changes that happen in the person who is in love. Second, love as an embodiment of both what attracts us both physically, and sexually in a person.

And of course, love goes beyond those 2 ways. It’s because like every other emotion, love has a dimension where people can judge the person on how much effort they make and how much they contribute to their life.

Also, physical appearance is not all that matters when it comes to love. Abstract aspects matter such as personality, openness to experience, and personality, matter too.



Foster, G. (forthcoming). What matters in love: Reflections on the relationship between love and persons. Dialogue.

Thagard, P. (2019). Brain-mind: From neurons to consciousness and creativity. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mary Wright