Ah, love! What rapturous, torturous words have been set down to try and capture the essence of love? Those clever Greeks, who invented the Olympics, also invented many names for love—Cupid, Eros, Venus, Aphrodite—and each name represented an aspect of love. The ancient Greeks had several words for several categories of love—they did not attempt to squeeze all of it into four little letters! Eros was erotic, or sexual love; Philos was brotherly love; Agape was altruistic, spiritual love. The Latin poet Ovid spoke of amor ludens, or playful love—love as a game.
Having separate categories like these can be very helpful in thinking and talking about how we love. In modern times, we speak of romantic love, mature love, parental love, innocent childlike love, friendship, and even intellectual love. And why not circumstantial love for those we become fond of because we’re thrown together at work or some other activity—even though the relationship or friendship doesn’t last once the circumstance changes? A shipboard romance might be in that category.
Many of my clients could use some handy way to think and communicate about all the differences in the ways they love:
“I love her, but I’m not in love with her,” agonized a client of mine recently. “But she’s a wonderful person, I don’t want to hurt her—I don’t want to lose her friendship.” Until he tells her the truth about how he feels, they’ll both be stuck in a very uncomfortable situation.
“I love Vince, we’ve been together a long time, but I’m not excited about him anymore,” sighs a young woman. “I’m not sure I still want to be lovers.” Until she talks about her boredom, Vince won’t have a chance to make any changes—the longer she waits, the harder it will be to improve the relationship.
“I love my mother,” muses another client, “but I don’t like her very much.” Mother may never need to know this, but the client needs to have a talk with himself about how to resolve his ambivalence and develop a workable relationship with his mom. It’s time for the old relationship to change.
“I know he likes me, but does he like me?” worries another young woman. “I mean, does he love me—is he in love with me?” She’ll remain unrequited and unsure until she gathers enough courage to ask him directly.
Many clients ask me, “How will I know if I’m in love?” Ask ten people what love is, you’ll get ten different answers. Ask those same people how they want to be loved—and each one will want something unique. One wants to be given space, another wants constant companionship. To be held and touched sounds great to some, smothering to others. There is no way we can know how to love each other without communicating about it.
Love’s home is the heart, and love is not limited to one type or expression. There is plenty to go around, and the more of it we share, the more we have. As Richard Rogers put it, “Love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay/ Love isn’t love ‘til you give it away.” You have to let someone know how you feel if you want your love to be returned. Yes, it’s a risk, but I think it’s even riskier not to express your feelings.
To find out what love is, we all have to ask our heart, which always knows when we feel abused, and when we are too demanding. We may not like the answer, but we can recognize it for the truth. When I listen to my heart, I can stop worrying, because my heart is surprisingly in tune with one of the world’s oldest definitions of love: “Love is patient and kind; love is neither jealous nor boastful; it is not arrogant or rude;” wrote St. Paul. “Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.” Whether I’m receiving love or giving it, the “real thing” fits that description. The interesting thing is, when I give love away instead of hoarding it, I always seem to receive more than I can possibly give.
Try feeling the love in your heart, and once you’re clear on what aspect of love you feel in a given situation, you can begin to communicate it. If you want to learn more about how to do those things, there are several options on this website.
(Adapted from How to Be a Couple and Still be Free © 2004 Tina B. Tessina )