What Is Love?
How many times have you found yourself feeling upset but not know why, or feeling sad but unable to describe why, or feeling empty but unable to say what could help make you feel fulfilled? Emotions are murky waters at best. They are hard to describe, difficult to articulate, and nearly impossible to communicate accurately. That’s because the way you feel is amorphous, ambiguous, and almost always wrapped up in a quagmire of similar and conflicting emotions all at once. And on top of that, I’ve come to believe that language is quite limiting when trying to describe feelings. Case in point: the word love. What the heck is love? There are so many nuances and plentiful misuses of the term. The looseness and casualness of the way the word is spoken has muddied its meaning at best, perverted it at worst. In the smash Broadway hit, Hamilton, King George sings the hilarious line, “’Cause when push comes to shove, I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.” So many misdeeds done in the name of love. So many manipulations in the spirit of love. So many atrocities in the guise of love. But so few acts done in the true essence of love. When Hamilton’s acclaimed writer Lin Manuel-Miranda accepted the Tony Award for best score, he famously stated, “And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.” Such beautiful words at just the right time shortly after the Pulse nightclub massacre ensued as a hate crime against the LGBTQ+ community in Orlando, FL.
What is love anyway? Does anybody love anybody anyway?
– Howard Jones
C.S. Lewis defined four types of love which I find extremely helpful. By recognizing the different types of love we may feel, we can more clearly articulate our feelings within the nuances of this emotion.
Storge is the affection we feel towards another person based on familiarity or adoration. It is the effortless liking of someone “just because.” It is a connection of sorts that compels a like, a follow or a smile. You may find yourself saying, “Aw, I just love this guy,” because he makes you laugh, feel good, is endearing, or is entertaining. This type of “love” is easily broken, however, because it is somewhat superficial, it is not a deep or meaningful type of love.
Philia is the strong bond between friends which is supported by common beliefs, values, interests and activities. You spend time, enjoy conversations and each other’s company. A platonic relationship develops that fosters care, concern and joy. Depending on the depth and breadth of give and take, philia can manifest in one-on-one lifelong friendships or be the basis of culture and community. It offers a richer connection than storge but does also run the risk of breakdown if forces like envy, resentment or anger seep in.
Eros is the romantic emotion we feel for another person. It’s that crush, lust, or erotic fervor that is often stated as “falling in love” or “being in love” with someone. It begins with a feeling of attraction that can escalate into infatuation and unfurl into physical passion. It is often the basis of intimate or sexual relationships as well as marriage. There is deep attachment, wanting and needing associated with this love. It can become dark and dangerous if forces like control imbalance, distrust, obsession, jealousy, or fury enter in.
Agape is the universal, perpetuating God force that exists regardless of time or changing circumstances. It’s what inspires life, creation, progress, and overall good. It is the greatest of the four loves, as the other loves can be deduced down to circumstance and more easily manipulated by mindset. Agape, on the other hand is the energy of all life and is an entity less controlled or debased by fleeting emotion. When we say God is love, we are referring to agape. It is unconditional love. Its essence manifests in pure forms of storge, philia and eros. Its absence is equivalent to baseless, hateful destruction.
How Do You Love?
Now, knowing these dimensions, let’s ask some important questions: what do you love? Who do you love? How do you love them? Is the love pure? Has it become corrupted? How much effort are you and others putting into enriching the love between you? What honest conversations need to take place to set things straight? In cases of storge, you may decide you want to deepen the connection into philia. In cases of philia, you may want to nurture and preserve the love so there is give-and-take. In cases of eros, you may want to do everything you can to ensure mutual trust. And in the case of agape, you can believe in universal love and that every human is made of love, even when they transgress.