The dozen words the Inuit have for “snow” sure would have helped sum up weather conditions north of The Other London this past week; the white stuff kept coming down, wreaking havoc on plans. Unlike the Inuit, we don’t usually need so many words to describe the complexities of snow. And it’s certainly not crucial to our survival.
There’s another four-letter word though. It’s laden with complexities and powerful emotion and has been on our minds and lips lately, with Valentine’s Day just passed: “love”. Do you think one measly word is enough for this feeling? In the English language, it’s all we have. And yet, how many types of love do we feel? Romantic – being a hopeless one, that’s the first that comes to my mind. Familial. Friendship. Then there’s kind I feel for Boris the Boston Terrier when I come home and he does his happy dance.
I guess what I wonder is this: is our experience of love altered, or even compromised, in any way because we only have one lousy word with which to express it?
If you pay too much attention to pop culture, you could be convinced you have no love in your life if you don’t have a love in your life. The ancient Greeks thought otherwise, employing seven words to describe the various aspects of love and actually fearing the one many of us spend so much time in dogged pursuit of.
- Eros. Sexual passion. Desire. Who hasn’t wanted to fall “madly” in love at some point in their life? But this scared the ancient Greeks. Says Roman Krznaric in Yes! Magazine, “In fact, eros was viewed as a dangerous, fiery, and irrational form of love that could take hold of you and possess you.”
- Philia. Deep friendship. The Greeks placed higher importance on this type of love. Krznaric describes it as the “deep comradely friendship that developed between brothers in arms”. This reminds me of the bond formed by players on sports teams, much like the bond I have with those I do Jazzercise regularly with. You know, we have each other’s backs. Philia is about loyalty, sacrifice and sharing emotions.
- Storge. Familial love. This is unconditional love, like that shared between parents and children, but I would extend it to any family member. Also, I think a really close friend, one who’s been around forever, could qualify. Or a friend of your parents’, who you call aunt or uncle.
- Ludus. Playful love. Puppy love. The affection between children, or the flirtatiousness of young lovers, or even the early stages of a relationship. Krznaric takes it further, saying that this feeling of “playful love” is what we experience when we banter and laugh in a bar, or when we dance with strangers. Ludus is fun and, although it may be frowned upon socially, I think it should be considered harmless and might just enhance your love life.
- Agape. Love for everyone. Selfless love. The first person that comes to mind when I think of agape is Mother Teresa. Writer C. S. Lewis, best known for The Chronicles of Narnia, called it “gift love”, the highest form of Christian love. In an article from 2014, Forbes said giving was down by high-earning Americans, but up for lower to middle earners. A Canadian report regarding the 2012 tax season said giving to registered charities was down to 22.3% of tax filers. If one practices daily random acts of kindness though, perhaps agape is not that easily measured?
- Pragma. Longstanding love. The type of love developed between long-married couples. Mature love. Said psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, “Immature love says: ‘I love you because I need you.’ Mature love says: ‘I need you because I love you.’” Fromm also suggested we need to learn more about how to “stand in love” as opposed to “falling in love”. Pragma is about compromises, patience, and tolerance. With divorce rates high in both Canada and the U.S., I think a little bit of pragma would go a long way.
- Philautia. Self-love. The Greeks recognized there are two types of self-love. There is unhealthy narcissism, in which one is self-absorbed, focused on fortune and fame. And then there is healthy self-love, like writer Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love, Big Magic) recently blogged about. “Peace will only be found,” she writes, “when you can love all the parts of yourself that you have always hated.” Because that’s what those of us in the Western world tend to do: beat ourselves up with negative self-talk. She’s trying a radical new experiment she calls “THE EXTREME LOVE EXPERIMENT”. She always thought she’d be better at self-love once she got her “shit together”, but don’t you find that getting your shit together is a constant process? Anyway, in the experiment, Gilbert throws love at herself all of the time. “I love the part of you who is ashamed of yourself right now.” “I love the part of you who can’t stop judging yourself right now.” “I love the part of you who broke your New Year’s resolution on January 4th.” “I love the part of you who is still having an argument in your head with a man you haven’t talked to in 15 years.” If you’re struggling with self-love, I posted this blog to my timeline on Facebook, so check it out. Healthy self-love is key, don’t you think? So much goodness is possible, yes? From a heart brimming with love.
Here is a great passage from One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, just sent to me by my daughter, Randelle. Not only does it describe the evolution of a couple’s love, but also how very many types of love two people can share in one lifetime.
Madly in love after so many years of sterile complicity, they enjoyed the miracle of living each other as much at the table as in bed, and they grew to be so happy that even when they were two worn-out people they kept on blooming like little children and playing together like dogs.
Love is a many splendored thing. That’s the title of an old movie and an old soap opera. But it’s also the truth. Love is magnificent and multifaceted and available – for giving and receiving – everywhere. So, don’t be stingy with it, even if your language limits you to one four-letter word.
Beautiful. And nice flowers too.