Faith: “I thought love was supposed to conquer all?”
Jack: “It does, if it’s really love.” -When Calls the Heart
What does love mean to you?
Fittingly for February, the love month, I have already had multiple conversations with friends and family this week about relationships. The discussions included topics such as falling in love vs. choosing to love, passive vs. active love, and differences between love for family and love for your spouse. In each of these conversations, it was difficult to articulate what love actually means. I wondered how despite the fact that we have all felt love, our definitions of what love is could be so different.
The topic of love is so vast and yet the English language is limited in describing it. “The topic of love is so vast and yet the English language is limited in describing it.”
We use the same word for various situations: “I love you (to your spouse)” and “I love chocolate cake.” Surely we don’t imply that we love chocolate cake with the same intensity of emotion that we love our spouse? This prompted me to research in order to better articulate the meaning I (and we) attribute to love.
In Tamil (a South Indian language), there are 20 plus words used to convey different types of love. This specificity takes away a lot of the confusion with regards to the object of one’s love and the intensity or nature of the love being described.
Reading the Tamil script (தமிழ் அரிச்சுவடி) is beyond my capabilities at the moment, so I will stick to Ancient Greek, in which there are actually 7 different words for love.
- Agape – The love extending to all people, universal love. In Christian faith, this is the love that God shows to mankind.
- Eros – A passionate romantic love that leads to infatuation. The butterflies and tingling feelings that you normally see depicted in popular culture. This type of love is sometimes contrasted with logos and reason in Greek mythology (think Helen of Troy or Samson and Delilah).
- Storge – The natural bond formed between parent and child as well as siblings. It stems from familiarity or dependency instead of personal qualities (like eros). Sometimes couples in the beginning of a relationship will unrealistically expect this type of unconditional love, but over time eros can to change to storge.
- Philia – This is the love of friendship that you have with a best friend. These relationships are characterized by vulnerability with emotions, loyalty, companionship and trust. Eros can beget philia creating a romantic relationship that focuses on getting to know each other better and changing for one another. This deep sense of friendship can then strengthen the passionate feelings of eros.
- Ludus – This is defined as a playful love between children, strangers, or young lovers. It encompasses flirting at a bar or telling jokes and laughing with friends at dinner. It is characterized as casual and uncommitted.
- Pragma – Described as the long standing love, pragma to the Greeks was a mature love in which the couple works together to compromise and show patience, growing closer. In this case, eros takes a back seat to seeking out shared moral beliefs, goals and personal qualities. This love is stereotypically expected for arranged marriages, but is also one of the results of eros that has matured.
- Philautia – This refers to self-love whether healthy or unhealthy. The healthy variety is liking yourself and feeling secure in who you are. Unhealthy philautia is characterized by a prideful nature: an inflated sense of self worth coupled with arrogance.
So that’s a lot to take in. Go ahead read it one more time (I did several times to truly understand it and apply it). “The difference in opinion happened because we were talking about two different types of love.”The Greeks understood that these 7 types of love show up differently according to person and relationship. One couple might have a strong passionate love (eros) while another values a practical love (pragma), which may cause a disagreement in regards to the meaning of love. A married couple of 50 years might have a different definition of love than one of 5 years.
In reality, throughout a couples time together, the different types of loves might show up in stages. After understanding this in greater detail, I was able to think back to the various conversations I had this week and realize that the difference in opinion happened because we were talking about two different types of love. Falling in love usually refers to eros while choosing love is more typical of pragma.
So I’m interested:
What does love mean to you?
I will explore this topic and many more in my new series “Love Is” starting soon. Stay tuned!