Ahhhh, February. Valentine’s Day, lovers, and love. One of my favorite topics and undoubtedly one of the most powerful feelings we can experience. It can be so overwhelming and powerful that it resembles a drug ─ an addictive one at that. I know this drug called Love. I’ve been on it. Not right now, but I know it will happen again. And I can’t wait!
Don’t we use the same word ─love─ when we say we love our dog or cat, a cake, a friend, a movie, a family member? Yes, in many modern languages, all these different kinds of love are identified by the same word. But not so in ancient Greek. According to linguistic sources, the Greeks had over 30 (thirty!) words to depict varying versions of love! I don’t have the space to discuss all thirty, so, being the incurable romantic that I am, let’s focus on romantic love. Yes, romantic love, from those first stirrings of passion to the everlasting adoration of a life-long partner. The ancient Greeks had three words to describe aspects (and stages) of romantic love: Eros, Philia, and Agape.
Eros love is that initial love of passion, lust, and desire. It is the love of strong physical attraction, sexual draw, and erotic fire. It is when you tremble with excitement thinking about being in bed with the subject of your desire. I’ve felt it. Have you? Maybe it’s someone you’ve known a little. Or someone you just met. Or someone you’d like to get to know. You don’t even know them well. But what you do know, what you do feel, is that you physically desire them with every fiber in your body. The thought of having your bodies touch and your lips unite is … well, overwhelming. That’s when you’ve been struck by Cupid’s arrow. Cupid is the Roman counterpart of Greek Eros, both being described as Gods of erotic desire and physical love.
Eros is intense, exhilarating, sexual, zesty, and mushy. This is when you’re literally crazy about a person; you can’t get enough of them in a physical sense. Don’t let this passion go. Explore it. This romantic passionate love is extremely important in the beginning of a relationship. This is what ignites the fire, triggers the chemical reaction of genuine attraction. And it’s what can later lead to real love if the lovers connect on a deeper level – one of understanding of the hearts and compatibility of the souls.
If, however, the two don’t find this deeper connection, Eros love is usually short-lived. “Summer love” or “vacation love” descriptions come to mind.
Philia love is the love that can be translated as “friendship affection.” It is a fraternal/ sororal love for a friend. You share common interests, you enjoy doing some things together, you’re happy for each other’s achievements, but you don’t desire the person sexually. The feeling of love is definitely present, since you sincerely care about your friend. But Cupid’s arrows aren’t flying and no carnal fantasies are filling your mind.
Philia can take on many different forms. It can be an alliance of utility, for example, when two parties benefit from each other, but don’t necessarily particularly enjoy each other’s company. Or it can be a friendship of delight, where two individuals enjoy having drinks together or riding bikes together. This kind of friendship produces true companions. Or it can be a friendship of the great, where two parties admire and appreciate each other’s characters or talents. Friendship of longevity is another variant of Philia, where people have known each other since 1st grade and the familiarity brings a sense of ease and joy.
Philia love is not the love of erotic desires, but it too is a crucial component in the development of real, sustainable love. As I described above, Eros love is not enough; there must be a deeper connection. The two need to become very close friends who enjoy sharing personal stories, accepting each other’s idiosyncrasies and foibles, and who truly look forward to spending time together, doing whatever.
Agape love is a divine love that ancient Greeks initially believed couldn’t be compared to human love since human love was considered too sinful. The ancients originally described Agape love as the love of God for humans. It can never die, is selfless to a fault, and is magnanimous. Over time, Agape love came to represent the love of the souls, making it clear that it is, in fact, considered to be an aspect of human love. The thought was that for real love to develop and mature, the love of the souls is a necessary component. It must be present for love to survive over time.
Since Agape love was described as the self-sacrificial love of forever commitment, philosophers began seeing marriage proposals as a form of Agape love, when the marriage is desired for love and love only (e.g., not for financial advantage, political purpose, or other reasons). When two people are in Agape love, “I” is replaced by “We”. And Agape love as part of human love makes perfect sense. We will age; our body will lose its youthful form, our skin its tautness, and our hair its lustre.
But as I always tell you, the hair, skin, and body is not the human being. The physical body is simply a repository for what we are. When we truly love someone, we love them for what’s inside, not outside; for their character, their thoughts, their personality, their interests, their truthfulness. It’s not physical beauty that sustains love in the long run. It’s everything but. The body will age, the being inside will not.
Without the love of the soul, without Agape love, how would old couples stay in love? They wouldn’t, but they clearly do. When I go for a run in my neighborhood, I see adorable old couples holding one another’s wrinkled, arthritic hands and gazing into each other’s eyes. What they see, and what I see, is unconditional love. Agape love.
So, my dears. As we’re first struck by the arrow of Cupid, we’re filled with Eros love. If we connect more deeply, we develop Philia love with that person too. And if we’re truly lucky, at some point we find ourselves loving that person so much that “I” becomes “We” as we experience the divine bliss of Agape love.
And then we say “Meet Me In My Dreams Tonight” when we go to sleep. Because we know we’ll miss them immediately if they don’t come into our dreams that night.
Have a question? Give me a holler! No question is ever too personal when talking to Dr. Inna!
So very truly yours,