I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the nature of love over the course of my life. Everyone seems to experience the expression of love in a slightly different way, and apart from being a place to rant about my discomfort with the state of the world, exploring the topics of love and limerence was part of my motivation for starting this site.
English is a very descriptive language.. it actually has more words than any other language, by a large margin, but I think that we sometimes miss with the focus for where we put those words, and that has some pretty dramatic implications for the way that the minds of native English speakers work as compared to everyone else in the world…
I tend to steal the Greek words when I talk about love – they had at least seven different forms. Of course, because Latin is very dependent on Greek and English is very dependent on Latin, these words are often the roots of the words that we use in English anyway:
eros: this is the Greek word for ‘romantic love’ – but also lust – and as such is the most overused of these words. Eros was specifically a word about sex though – it was, after all, the name of the Greek god of fertility. It was actually a frightening concept for them because it involves a sense of a ‘loss of control’ – which is commonly seen in art from and inspired by the period, including the very famous story of Cupid and Psyche wherein Cupid himself becomes overwhelmed by eros and tragedy ensues. Using modern English words, the Greek concept of eros was probably far closer to limerence than love or even lust.
philia: this is what we might call ‘brotherly love’ – but it meant a great deal more to the Greeks – this is the word I use to refer to my chosen family. To the Greeks, this was far preferable to eros. This is the love that leads one to make sacrifices for others. This is the love felt between soldiers on the same line – the kind of bond that remains in place no matter what barriers of space and time lie between the people for whom this bond exists, but the Greeks understood that even philia did not necessarily mean that both people in such a bond would be equally bonded. I may be willing to sacrifice almost anything for you, but that does not necessarily mean that you would for me — that does not negate my own feelings of philia towards you.
storge: this is a special form of love that parents have for their children. It’s akin to the above, but recognized to be a special case because there are ways in which you modify your own expectations and behavior for your children that you are unlikely to do for anyone else, even your romantic love(s). This is really the only form of love that the Greeks thought had to be shared between both parties – because it was of an instinctual nature, beyond the view of the self.
ludus: this is what we might call ‘affection’ – it’s the love that children have for each other, or the physical aspects of love that are not carnal in nature – hugs, dancing, playing. In our Western society, we tend to reserve expressions of this only for people with whom there are taboos involved that prevent sexual expression, which kind of perverts and cheapens it, if you ask me.
pragma: this is what I might call ‘patient love’ – it’s the love that you build over a long time with someone, that allows you to overlook small character flaws or acute events of an unpleasant nature and still keep a pristine mental image of the person that you care for. This is ‘mature love’ – or what we expect most romantic relationships to settle into once eros has taken leave and you have a chance to return to your senses.
agape: this is also a pretty commonly stolen word, often misused because we don’t think like the Greeks did… this is ‘hippie love’ – or ‘love for everyone’ and sometimes referred to as ‘brotherly love’ as well, but in the “society is full of my brothers” sort of way, rather than, “I would die for that man,” sort of way. This is really meant to be more like the Theravada concept of metta. I fear greatly the expunging of agape from the minds of people, but that does seem to be the way the world is moving – division is the rule of the day, not love.
philautia: self-love… to be held in direct opposition to narcissism – this is the concept that all expressions of love for anyone are really just manifestations of your mind recognizing in other people things which you value in yourself – if there is nothing that you value in yourself, you cannot love anyone at all.
And all of this information is useful, but kind of secondary to the point that I’m trying to make, which is that when I say, “I love you” to someone – I may mean that I feel any or all of the above things in differing measures, and the phrase may not mean the same thing to everyone to whom I speak it – just as it doesn’t always mean the same thing when I hear it from different people.
For some people, love is a jealous thing – it is possessive… if I say “I love you” to someone, and I mean in a romantic sort of way, society tells me that I’m not supposed to say that to anyone else – but that doesn’t stop me from feeling it, and because I’m polyamorous, it doesn’t stop me from acting on it either, but that may not address the feelings of the person involved with me, and sometimes that can cause friction.
I don’t have a silver bullet here – jealousy is a very normal thing to feel, and there is no way to magically stop it if that is what you feel, but surprisingly I’ve also found that the converse of jealousy is often almost as important to some people’s feelings of love. I have had partners who, while telling me of their interactions with other people, have wanted me to feel jealous and when I do not exhibit that kind of reaction, they begin to doubt the truth behind my statements of love. If I am not jealous of them being with someone else, how can I really love them? And yet, I do.
Love is one of those dangerous and chaotic things that makes our lives in this universe worth living, and yet it is also the one thing that has consistently laid me low when a relationship ends. I don’t think I will ever completely understand its power or be able to control it, and perhaps that is why it is so compelling for everyone and the subject of so many works of art and media.
Hopefully by communicating about it, by understanding that there are different facets to it and how those things are each individual spectra of emotion, we can find a way to live beside it.
There is a reason why every pantheon of gods contains at least one, if not several, deities who are personifications of this powerful force in our lives. Love is every bit as powerful as the sea or the wind or fire, perhaps even the Sun itself, and I consider myself fortunate to be its acolyte.