Before we fall in love we know what qualities we are looking for in a lover–or think we do. The profiles on or Eharmony or Yahoo Singles certainly suggest that. Once we have fallen in love, it’s a different story.

When people are pressed to explain why they love their lover, they usually have nothing to say except what a simpleminded answer would give: because she’s she, and because I’m me! When it comes to explaining why they love, they are tongue-tied. Is it that you can’t capture love in a finite list of qualities? How do you explain the reason for love? A list of physical and psychological qualities seems too quaint, like something out of an unsophisticated movie. A list of spiritual qualities seems to be a fabricated reason. Any spiritual reason would lead someone to love all people the same, making people inseparable from love of people.

At this point in my life the metaphor for love is the lighting at a ballet. What we love is well-lit, because love is the source of the light. When the light goes out, the beloved joins the rest of the ballet dancers. Unfortunately, what promises to illuminate love’s death darkens its birth. Only lovers turn love on, others do not. But love isn’t a searchlight. It’s more of a security light that only some things trigger.

Many people in defense of love say that it cannot be captured at all. Still, the illusion that love is grounded in something–some quality or list of qualities–gets things backward. Where I am concerned is the value-conferring kind of love might hold more promise. Someone can value where they love, rather than love where they value. That might explain why what is valued in a lover is not necessarily valued in someone else with the same qualities. The light is not on them. It reflects the subjectivity of the object of one’s love. It is simply a value judgment. It would also explain why, when love dies, what we once found beautiful, we now find commonplace or not even our type.