The Lie of Love

In the study of languages, it is well known that a concept that can be easily conveyed with one word in one language, must be conveyed with a whole phrase in another language.  It is also known that while one language may use just one word to mean a category of similar things, another language may use many words to describe each thing in that category (such as the adage that the Eskimos have many words to describe snow).

So it is with love.  In English, we use the word ‘love’ to describe any form of strong positive affection.  But in ancient Greek, there were four words used to describe what the Greeks felt were the different forms of love: Eros (intimate or romantic love), Philia (brotherly love or friendship),  Storge (familial love, such as a parent for a child and vice versa), and Agape (charity, the highest form of love, the love of God for man and man for God).

To be honest, I believe that most people in Western society recognize the different forms of love, but the fact that we use the same word for all of them has produced some ambiguity that can be harmful to our individual search for happiness as well as some of our perceptions as a society.  One of the most harmful misconceptions of love is that we have only one form–eros–as a goal, a requirement for happiness, while (at least in popular culture) ignoring all other forms.

Think about it.  Many of us have seen the Disney version of The Little Mermaid, wherein, after 16 year old Ariel sacrifices her voice in an attempt to win the heart of a man she has merely seen and ‘fallen in love’ with, Sebastian the crab stops berating her rash decision by agreeing that if she doesn’t win the man (in a 3 day attempt, with no ability for conversation, or in other words, in a situation with absolutely no chance for any type of non-lust or non-eros relationship) she will be ‘miserable for the rest of her life.’

I would like to say loud and clear, THIS IS A LIE.  It is a lie we are told over and over and over again in our society.  We are told that people can ‘fall in love at first sight’ and then that tired adage is mashed together with the saying that ‘love conquers all.’  This leads to a number of false beliefs, including the idea that if a relationship is ‘right’ (or if you have found ‘The One’), it will ‘just work.’  We hear stories of people who feel twitterpated for 50 years and think that is the gold standard for ‘love’ and if we get it we are ‘lucky.’  Even more pernicious is the idea that this love (pure eros, make no doubt about it) requires sex (which, honestly, since it’s just eros, is the only ‘true’ thing about it), we must not just associate with people to find out if we are in love with them, but we MUST have sex to find out if they are ‘The One.’  In this definition, sex is required for love, and we not only cannot have a ‘real’ relationship without sex, but if we can’t have the object of our physical attraction, we cannot in any way be ‘happy.’

Now, in an idealized Hollywood world, where everything is summed up neatly in a maximum of 3 hours and ends when the couple simply admits that they love each other, this seems fine.  But relationships don’t end when the “L” word is spoken, nor even when the couple says “I do.”  Heck, people, anyone with any experience knows that’s only when the relationship begins!  And biological clocks, hormones, and the effects of gravity and time guarantee one thing: eros does not last.  If eros is the only way you define love, you are going to find that the scent of roses fades, the thrill of the chase dies down, you may still be physically attracted to other people, and the hormone-induced buzz is not enough to carry your relationship through to your deathbed.

Is eros fun?  Heck yes.  It’s supposed to be fun.  It’s also really powerful because the door it leads into can be very hard and very scary.  It’s kind of like a bait-and-switch emotion: you think you’re getting swept away in Cinderella’s carriage to live happily ever after, but what you’re really getting is daily dish duty, shared finances, and a person who never remembers to put the toilet seat down.  And if you feel you got robbed because you didn’t get the Cinderella Deluxe Edition Carriage, you are probably going to want to get out of that relationship fast.  Which is why our divorce rates and not-getting-married rates get higher and higher every year.

This brings me to a few points that I want to get across and maybe I should have just said in the first place (but if you’re here, you know how ding-dang long winded I can be).

  1. Sex is not for finding the right relationship.  It’s just one of the steps for building the right relationship.
  2. Eros is fine as a push to get into a relationship.  But it is not, nor ever can be, the end goal.  The best relationships have all four aspects of love: eros, philia, storge, and agape.
  3. Most relationships build up through the aspects of love in that order.  The sooner you can reach agape in your relationship, the happier you’ll be.
  4. Out of all those aspects of love, the only one that can EVER ‘just happen’ is eros, and even that is a crap shoot.  Every other aspect takes work.
  5. Sometimes eros goes away sooner than we thought, or even was missing from the beginning (think of arranged marriages, which actually have a lower divorce rate than our romance-based marriages).  This can be hard to build on its own (eros can be a fickle thing), but that doesn’t mean we can’t be happy.  In fact, if we build on the other three aspects, we can be far more happy than relationships based on eros alone.
  6. Working on the relationship is only half the battle (and no, knowing is not the other half.  Stop watching G.I. Joe and listen!).  Working on yourself is the other half.  Going on dates every 3 days doesn’t help if you go in a wife beater stained with greasy cheez puff dust, burping the alphabet through dinner.
  7. Part of working on the relationship is just learning to let some things go.  As long as he’s not abusive or destructive in some way, there is almost always good to be gained by not caring whether or not he is the Tetris master of loading the dishwasher.


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