Tag Archives: meaning of love

What Is Love? Part I

In the next few weeks, I will focus on that seemingly ever-elusive topic: love. Personally, I like the idea of lasting love and have devoted the last 3 years of my life to explain in plain English how to have it. Hence, the series:

What Is Love?

Part 1 – Love: Where did we go wrong?

Somewhere in the midst of caveman clubbing, hair-dragging, and procreation, romantic love developed. And in spite of the ancient writings of King Solomon and the Kama Sutra, our culture is largely ignorant on how to have lasting love with a significant other. Could this be due to what American culture is: apple pie, cowboy boots, Hollywood, and suburbia? Tsk, Americans aren’t that shallow.

Western history nonetheless has caused people of breeding generations to question love.

Exponential population growth definitely doesn’t help with the answer. Only 100 years ago, the world’s population was less than 2 billion. This year it will reach 7 billion. Maybe the trouble of finding true love today is simply a matter of decreasing odds. If that’s the case, some of us are smart, raising that probability by meeting our soul mates in college, in the neighborhood, or through a friend. Fewer are plain lucky. Most of us are sadly left to sift through the masses, or worse, online dating profiles.

“These days we question why couples stay together more than why they split.”

Are people staying together out of convenience, for comfort or companionship? It seems less likely that a couple is together for love. In that rare relationship in which the old man says of his elderly wife how beautiful she is, we’ve got to ask how to achieve that true love. Does it really exist?

In Greek there are 4 different words for love: éros, philia, storge, and agápe. Eros is the love we all know in the world of romance to mean intimate, or passionate love. Philia refers to friendship among family and friends. Storge is affection such as felt by parents for their children. And agape is unconditional love coming from compassion and understanding. These are rough translations, because in Greek, all four of these words are used to describe truly romantic marriage.

In English, love has been reduced to a buzzword. We say “I love you” even without romance. Even natives of other languages say “I love you” in English more than in their first language. This is ridiculous.

So, how can real love be reestablished?

Let’s think about reasons why we love. Let’s take man’s best friend for example. You give your new dog food, a toy, a place to lie down, maybe take her for a walk or play with her. That dog says thanks by showering you with kisses, guarding you when strangers approach, and panting with excitement when you come home. Reciprocity abounds as a bond develops. In a short amount of time, you grow to love that dog as she becomes part of your family. Pretty easy. If only loving women worked the same way.

The confusion with love these days begins with a word that isn’t love at all. Lust, or epithumeo in Greek, has passion and can be confused easily with éros. You see a pretty girl and the way she looks does something to your hunter instinct as it sniffs out the viability of this prey. A few things in common gives you ammunition for the kill. She falls. Devouring her makes happiness and oxytocin, but it doesn’t last. Next day, the carcass rots. Not love.

Then there’s the opposite problem – the “friend”.

Of course you love (philia) your friend. She’s easy enough on the eyes and you respect her companionship. In fact, you might as well be joined at the hip because she is you in female form. But she doesn’t turn on that hunter instinct. Too bad.

As finding someone to love in all 4 Greek forms is increasingly difficult, it’s important to remember that the benefits of ensuring success may outweigh the struggle, especially when we walk away from failure with experiential lessons. In the words of Alanis Morissette, you live, you learn. Besides, we’ve all gone wrong about love at times in our lives, except maybe for the fortunate few.

In the days when fertility and sexuality was celebrated on February 15 (later to become the 14th), courtship and romance was not very common. More often, marriages were arranged for financial, social, or political reasons. Today, we have every reason to be grateful for our liberties. Nobody wants to be miserable. Everyone wants love.

This series on the topic will explore different factors of love in romantic relationships – how to find it, how to use it, and exactly what it is. Let’s figure out how to make the most of it.