The Hebrew word for love is ahava. The word aHAVa has a common root with the Talmudic word, HAV, which means to "give." Right away, we clearly see that "loving" is related intrinsically to "giving". How we proceed from here will be fundamental to understanding true love, which must be clearly and decisively differentiated from the common misconception of love.
A woman I know, let's call her Chana, got married to the son of a dear friend of mine. The first two or so years of the marriage were very rocky. About five and a half years after this rocky start, I met Chana again. I asked her, with some trepidation and with expectation of a disheartening answer, how things with her husband were going. She smiled and said with a sweet and soft warmth, "Lovingly."
Anticipating my inner surprise, she continued, "I guess you're wondering how we did it. The secret is, EACH HAS TO GIVE AND GIVE AND GIVE TILL IT HURTS. When you give till it hurts, that's just when you've STARTED TO GIVE. It's when you keep on giving AFTER IT HURTS, that's when you start seeing the beautiful things and qualities in one another that make you love each other, appreciate each other and not want to lose each other."
About a month after our conversation, Chana gave birth to their third child. Things are growing in quantity as well as in quality!
The fifth chapter of Pirkei Avos teaches that conditional love will disappear when the condition disappears. If A loves B for physical attributes or possessions, if the physical thing disappears or grows tiresome, A will abandon B. Which is the love that endures? The mishna concludes, unconditional love. Only.
When one "loves" conditionally, one loves the "condition," not the other person. It is self-love. It is allowing the other person to furnish a self-serving gratification.
All the while that:
1. I enjoy, need or want the condition, and
2. you supply the condition,
I say, "I love you."
1. I cease to enjoy, need or want that condition and/or
2. you cease to provide the condition,
I have no earthly use for you (or, alternatively: consider yourself lucky that I'm not throwing you out and don't expect me to impose on myself for you).
We live in a self-indulgent, materialistic "me generation" of disposable pop-top throw-away convenience containers. Marriage, lives, hearts and people are as disposable and as functional as paper cups and soda cans. It's love of self all along; before, during and after marriage. I love you to the extent that I can use you and take from you. If I no longer can use or take, we throw the marriage into the garbage, together with yesterday's empty plastic milk carton (and with the children).
In the Torah, we learn that love arises out of giving; love is not a precondition for giving.
The Torah's relationship orientation is to give. The giver is dissatisfied to the extent that (s)he does not give 100% of all that one can give or all that one's partner needs. Mutual giving pleases and satisfies both partners. The couple keeps working on the relationship. Over time, each learns to give more and more, better and better. Each receives as much as is realistic to expect. The relaters with a giving orientation do not get upset or dissatisfied by not getting every last bit that they want. They are delighted with as much as they receive and appreciate their partner BECAUSE THE OTHER GIVES AS MUCH AND AS NICELY AS IS HUMANLY POSSIBLE - AND DOES SO WITH A VOLUNTARY HEART.
Rabbi Ovadia Bartenura, one of the classic commentators on the Mishna, describes [writing on tractate Pirkei Avos, cited above] two people sharing unconditional love with the words, "lihashlim ratzon konam [to COMPLETE the will of their Creator]." We see from this explanation of the mishna:
* that love between Jews (married or not) must be done because it is the will of G-d - not because one has a feeling about the other person [it is a commandment for every Jew to love every other Jew; Leviticus 19:18],
* that the love is to be there in order to completely accomplish the will of the Creator through practicing that love.
We see that love is related to the will of G-d, to completeness and to peace. Further, as we shall soon see, completeness and peace are related to each other. And, when we tie this all together with kavod, we have the foundation for a harmonious marriage.