Our culture has raised love to the highest pedestal. But not all love. Just Eros love. Romantic love and eventual marriage have been deemed the ultimate goal of life. And if you don’t find romantic love, if you don’t get married (whether or not by choice), you have failed. You will not be as fulfilled as your romantically matched cohorts. Your life will always be missing something.
We have forgotten that there are 4 types of love, and Eros is not better than the rest.
Storge: affection. This kind of love that comes with familiarity is common among family members or people who are brought together by chance. is the most natural of all the loves. It is not based on perceived value of the other person. It develops merely out of the familiarity that develops as you spend time with someone. It is not forced. My roommate expressed this love well. We took a class on an alternative therapy through our school’s center for spirituality and healing. We had to practice this therapy on others in the class. After, in a group discussion, she said that when she was practicing with me she had a deeper sense of caring than when she was practicing with classmates she did not know. She had a deeper desire for this therapy to heal me in whatever way I needed. We don’t consider ourselves best friends, but we have lived together for the last 3 years and have become familiar with each other. It was by no real effort of our own. It just developed over the years. This sense of compassion we have for each other is just a natural part of our familiarity. It is a simple, but profound, kind of love.
Phileo: friendship. This is the least natural of the loves. It is a love that we choose based on common interest and it is not necessary for the human race to produce. But because we choose it, it is that more profound. I think this love is far too often degraded by our culture of Eros. This love is seen as a second class love. This is love you settle for until Eros comes along, the leftovers. But if done right, Phileo love can be just as rewarding as Eros love. It can build character. It can give comfort in times of need. It is an art that the modern world has forgotten. As C.S. Lewis said, “to the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it.” We have fully downplayed this love and made it second-rate and expendable.
Eros: romance. This is the love between lovers but it is not merely sexual attraction (Venus), though that is surely part of it. It is the feeling of being in love. It is the difference between wanting a man,and wanting one particular man. This is the love that our culture strives for. It is the love that we believe will bring us the deepest fulfillment and unimaginable pleasure. We have made this love a throne and if not careful, this borderline obsession can lead us astray. Eros can lead to good things (holy marriages, children, compassion, etc) and it can lead to bad things (eg. depression if not found, jealousy, etc.)
Agape: charity. This is unconditional love. This love shows caring regardless of the situation. It is taking care of someone even if you know they can never return the favor. This love holds back a harsh word spoken out of anger. This love says, “You had a long day. Let me do something for you.” This love does not end because the other did something to upset you. This love does not seek to gain for itself, but to serve the others needs. This is the love that we really all yearn for. This is the love the 3 other loves must be subordinated to. This is the love that Jesus called us to. This is the love with which God loves us.
I am finally starting to learn that marriage and Eros are not all that matters. Not everyone is called to marriage. And that’s ok. A life without marriage does not equal a life without love. We can all start learning to love well in all of our relationships. We can all start learning to love with Agape love. We can all learn to love with a sacrificial love that puts the other before ourselves. And then if Eros does come along, we will be ready to love that person properly. And if it doesn’t, we will know that we have not failed. We have loved, and loved well.