Tuesday, September 30, 2014

On love: What the heck even is it, though?

Part Two of Two

So, I wrote a few days ago about love, and how you have a choice regarding what you do with the
love that happens to you. The blog entry actually started by me trying to define love, but I never got around to an actual answer. As I was writing, I got to a certain point, and it just felt like the end of the blog entry. So I had to do a "Part Two." Because I think defining love can be empowering. I think when we better learn what love is, we can better learn how to love. And as cheesy as it sounds, I believe the more love there is in the world, the better the world is. So, despite Eliot's warning to avoid examining love too closely, here it is, "fixed and sprawling on a pin."

First of all, a disclaimer. I don't claim to be any kind of "love expert." At all. My only claim to knowing anything about love is the fact that I've experienced it and the fact that I looked up definitions online. But as I've been thinking about the whole idea of love, a few things I've found have been particularly enlightening to me, so I thought I'd share them here. Save you a little bit of research time and all that. It's all a bit academic, but also awesome. Let's start with the ancient Greeks, shall we?

So the ancient Greeks had a list of a few different kinds of love. They recognized that the love between friends and the love between lovers wasn't exactly the same, so they kind of split it all up. Here's how they defined love:

This is the steamy passion between lovers. It's closely tied to sexual attraction. It's powerful and intoxicating and usually a little bit irrational. It's also what we usually think of first when someone says "romance."

Deep friendship. This is the camaraderie that exists between people who have known each other for a while. It's the sisterhood among women, and the brotherhood among men. It has to do with loyalty and sacrifice and shared experiences and/or emotions.

Playful or flirtatious love. It's the combination of this kind of love and eros that makes starting a romantic relationship so exciting. But this kind of "fun" love isn't limited to romance...this is also what you feel when bantering with friends or laughing with others over dinner.

Love for all mankind. Also known as charity, compassion, or Christ-like love. This is the altruistic kind of empathy that leads us to serve others.

Deep understanding that develops between long-together couples. This is the kind of quiet and beautiful connection people have when they've been together for a long time. It's based on patience and sacrifice and a determination to make a relationship work. This is what EROS has the potential to develop into.

Love of self. This kind of love is a double-edged sword. It can be a healthy respect of oneself and valuing your own contribution to the world. It can also be narcissism and pride and self-obsession.

Honorary Mention: MANIA
Crazy jealous dangerous love. This probably shouldn't even qualify as a type of "love," but it's what EROS can develop into, and we might as well give it a name. This is the kind of obsessive "love" that leads to stalking or harm of self or others. It can be characterized either by mild obsession or by crazy assassination attempts.

And of course, all of these kinds of love are related. You can feel ludos and eros and pragma for someone all at the same time. The kinds of love you feel, and the amounts you feel it in, are constantly shifting and changing.

In modern times, there are all kinds of psychologists who have defined love in different ways. I'm a big fan of Robert Sternberg's "Triangular Theory of Love." (Sounds hot, right?) Here was his deal:

This Sternberg fellow said that there are three main components to love: Intimacy, Commitment, and Passion. Consummate love (or ideal love) is made up of all three. I like this model because it covers all the different kinds of love that can happen within a romantic relationship, but still includes friendship, too (companionate love). And, just like with the Greeks, you can move around on this triangle over time.

Here's where all this falls short for me, though. While all of this gives awesome insight into how we love each other, none of this defines the love one can have for things or worlds or activities. I love theatre, and I love nature, and I love the Gospel, and I love art. But none of these words or models give me much insight on what that means. I know those things give me pleasure and that I'm willing to sacrifice for them. But I haven't yet found a word that covers all that. (Anyone have any suggestions?)

But still, knowing all of this and thinking about it has helped me make choices about love in just the few days I've been learning about it. I hope it guides you too.

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