I am the Ebenezer Scrooge of Valentine's Day! That is, until about 24 hours before the arrival of the day, when I frantically "go all hallmark" just like most of the western world. It is an annual microcosmic reflection of my own inner conflict/confusion over the word and the concept of "love."
This year, it came out in an essay.
To “Love,” or not to
by Judith Cullen (c) 2014
The Greeks got it right.
The language has four distinct words to distinguish the different types
of “love”. We American-English speakers
don’t manage it quite so well. We get
It’s easy to get confused!
Depending on your nature depends on how confused you are, or how much
confusion you create. Let’s not delve
into suppositions of what is inside individual hearts, that only makes the conflict more complicated.
The Greeks identify Agape – a spiritual, unconditional
love that gives and expects nothing; Eros – the physical, passionate, sensual longing that is the source of
so many romantic misadventures; Philia – a mental love applied to affectionate regard or friendship; and Storge
– possibly the least “love-like” sounding of the lot, it refers to simple
“affection” and is usually applied to family or just acceptance of a relational
One can reason that there is an evolution inherent in these
words, while each type is capable of standing on its own. One might move from philia to eros, though in
my experience eros tends to flare up
without preamble most of the time. The
next step might be from either philia
or eros to agape. While modern Christians like to use the word agape to describe their relationship
with the divine, amongst the more mundane creatures agape takes time, and shared history to build. I use the term "build" because, unlike the
popular use of the word “grow,” building agape takes personal commitment,
engagement, and plain old-fashioned hard work.
You can’t just water it and pray.
In English, we don’t fare as well. We have one word – “love.” We dress it up for every possibility, and
trot it out for everything from casual meetings to formal occasions. If you are a cuddly person, you use it
liberally in everyday conversation, tossing it about like so many candy
sprinkles. The very casualness of it
identifies it as philia, you
I am just this sort of “sprinkly” person, and I sometimes
pause to wonder if I am doing damage with my liberality. Except, I do actually mean it. I love people. I want to love people. I like to love people. People are endlessly fascinating, marvelously
diverse, and I learn so much from them.
I also get into trouble this way. Relating to people in a loving way does not
always mean they reciprocate, and we all do tend to default to assuming everyone views
through the same life lens as we do. Most frequently they don’t share your
particular view, and admittedly there are some less worthy of love than others. Still, I like who I am far better when I am
loving people. So, while an occasional “proceed with caution” message may flash
up in front of my eyes, continuing to fully embrace philia is simply who I am.
There’s more trouble lurking, and I have gone through more
of that in the past few years than I would have anticipated. It involves eros. There’s a whole lot of
emphasis put on eros in our 21st century society. I’ll confess, as a cuddly person, eros provides certain tactile rewards
that I need – scratches certain sensual itches that are part of being human. Being snuggly and functioning at a snuggle deficit does not make for the sanest of mind sets. There’s no denying the romantic aspects of eros, because they excite: make your head
spin with the thrill of it, and your whole being seems to tingle. The rush of
dopamine when you see or connect with your lover can be incredibly
addictive. It is exhilarating, and
dangerous. You want to feel that way all the time - forever!
Eros can be
deceiving. There is a desire to blur the
lines and assume that eros and agape are one, or that the shift from
one to the other is a given. After all,
in English it is the same word – love: “I
love you,” “My love.” These easily lead one to believe in something that is
more lasting and enduring than eros
can typically deliver, and that it is possible to float on that sizzling romantic high always. We think it is “love” when it is really “desire,” “want,"
or “like an awful lot.” But we still
call it by the name of “love.”
I have been in several relationships, in the past few years,
that were eros driven only to become
heartbroken when they fizzled. You feel
stupid, because you feel like somehow you should have known better. Every time I ask myself, "am being smart,
putting my heart out there so easily like that?"
I even went into one relationship carefully, cautious to not let myself
believe it was the wrong kind of love. I
failed. Up went my head over my heels at
some point, and I was lost in the thrill again.
I keep hoping somehow I’ll become wise, even going so far as
to write this essay. But the
truth? The real truth? The heart has the incredible ability to
endure, overcome, and to heal: it
doesn’t matter whether it is philia, eros, or agape. The ability of our
hearts to recover and fight another day - to charge back out into the fray
again and make messes and mistakes just as big as the ones we made before - are
part of what makes us uniquely human. It is not a
weakness, as some popular punditry suggests, but ennoblement. Our capacity for loving, of all kinds, is
So, as with my “huggy philia,”
will I accept that I am who I am, and keep on falling in love? Yes. Am I foolish not to learn from previous
misadventures? Probably. But love is like so many human
conditions: it can’t be learned
academically, intellectually, or from writing essays. You have to go out there and do it:
fieldwork, hands-on learning, engagement that might require copious amounts of soap and hot water. So, I am going to keep smashing my nose,
making a mess, and generally tripping over my own feet in the quest to learn to
accurately identify the different types of love.
Or maybe, I’ll just start learning Greek.