What is Love?

I’ve been thinking about writing a post for a while, but really I had nothing to say. The only thing circling around in my head lately is one question: what is love? And who want’s to listen to me blather on about love? But to hell with it, this is my blog and I can write what I want. Right?

The English language is woefully inadequate to describe love. There are so many different types, so many variables and changes. And love, when you do have it, can change over time as well.

One of the things I recall from bible study is that Greek has three words for love. According to wiki Hebrew has even more.

Agape is spiritual, or steadfast love. It never dies, nor changes. It is there whether or not it is returned. A love willing to sacrifice.
Eros is physical love. Sex. Passion. Desire. It is a flame that burns inside, and can consume.
Philia is mental, or friendship love. Denotes a love that has give and take. Respect, reciprocity, and loyalty.

All of these we, English speakers, lump into one feeling. Love. It makes little sense. The love I feel for my mother and father is nothing like the love I feel for a close friend, or the love I feel for a significant other. Oh yes we have other words. We have passion, and loyalty, and friendship. We have family, and sayings like “blood is thicker then water.” But what does it all mean in the grand scheme of things? What does it mean for me?

I’ve struggled with this question my entire life. When I was little I vied for my fathers attention. I’d clean the dishes, make him dinner, make sure my sisters did their chores, and happily wait for that affirmation that I did a good job. It never came.

My mother, on the other hand, freely said she loved me. She gave me hugs, and kisses, and never faltered in letting me know that I did a good job. When she was home. Then I got married and moved away and all of that stopped. I learned that her love had a condition. I had to be there. I had to be giving her attention, listening to her stories, and being her sounding board. Once I left I wasn’t those things for her. She didn’t call. She didn’t write. When I called it was all about her, or what my sister was doing. The one joy I shared with her was the birth of my first child, but even that was subtly about her.

I grew up and moved out, and thought love meant doing things for my SO to get him to appreciate me. I thought it meant being there for him no matter what, even if he wasn’t there for me. And while I came to grips with letting go of my parents it took me a while to see that I had married into this same situation and needed to divorce myself from it as well. Love can be self destructive.

When you are raised without knowing what love is, how do you translate that into a healthy and happy relationship? Is it any wonder I couldn’t? I failed, over and over again. I mistook “eros” for “agape” and kept trying to make it work. I mistook passion for loyalty and was hit by the hard reality. I mistook companionship and friendship for something greater, and again fell.

What is love? It is many things, in many situations. I love my parents but I have no relationship with them. It is a distant love of gratitude for giving me life, and raising me to adulthood. On the other hand, I love my children with a furious passion burning in loyalty, and would sacrifice every happiness I myself could have just to see them happy. I have love for friends who have been there for me when the chips were down and would give them the shirt off my back if I could. And I have love for others that would be more personal, with hints of ‘eros’ and ‘philia’.

What I do know now, that I wish I had known when I was younger, is that love isn’t enough to make a relationship. Love is so many different things in so many different situations that love will not keep a relationship going. In fact sometimes that love is exactly the wrong thing to build a relationship on, especially if it is not reciprocated, or not grounded in reality.

Someone once told me there are three kinds of love. One a passion that burns bright, then quickly dies. One a steady stream that may lack passion, but it will last for a life time. You can build a relationship on this second kind of love, and it may be a good long relationship. It is comfortable, and stable. But the last, and the greatest, is when you have both. That kind of love feeds upon itself, burns brightly, and does not die easily.

I don’t know if that is “the greatest” kind of love. That, I think, depends on the two people involved. I’ve met couples who are quite happy going down in a blaze of glory, their passions burning brighter and brighter with each touch. I’ve known others who are quite content in their settled lives together. I have very rarely seen that third kind of  love where two people are so compatible that they would seem incomplete without the other, and their passions are simmering just under the surface. Perhaps it is because it is so rare that it looks so beautiful when you see it.

I guess the only real answer is… I’m still trying to figure it out.


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