the four loves
I have been thinking a bit lately about the nature of love that forms the foundation of relationships – especially between friends. Not because Valentine’s Day has come and gone but because I felt compelled to examine the idea to better understand my own motivations in one of my strongest current relationships as the dynamic of that friendship evolved in a new direction.
The details of that change are immaterial other than to say it caught me so off guard that I needed to pause to reflect and satisfy myself that my motives were pure. The friend is someone I respect and cherish deeply. I would use the “L” word with that person if I were comfortable using such language (and sadly, for me it is only a word I use to describe how I feel about things not people). And it seems this moment of realisation about my degree of comfort with the friendship came upon me with such stealth and gentleness that it did not even occur to me there was a giant elephant that had found its way into my room. I am denying its existence as only I can and do.
Let me describe the four types of love that permeate our world. I borrow heavily from a book by C.S. Lewis (in fact called the Four Loves and summarized nicely in Wikipedia!), which explores the nature of love. By distinguishing need-love (such as the love of a child for its mother) from gift-love (epitomized by a love for humanity), Lewis happens upon the contemplative that the natures of even these basic categorizations of love are more complicated than they, at first, seem. In considering the nature of pleasure, Lewis then divides love into four categories, based in part on the four Greek words for love: affection, friendship, eros, and charity.
Affection (storge) is fondness through familiarity, especially between family members or people who have otherwise found themselves together by chance. It is described as the most natural, emotive, and widely diffused of loves: natural in that it is present without coercion; emotive because it is the result of fondness due to familiarity; and most widely diffused because it pays the least attention to those characteristics deemed "valuable" or worthy of love and, as a result, is able to transcend most discriminating factors. Ironically, its strength, however, is what makes it vulnerable. Affection has the appearance of being "built-in" or "ready made", says Lewis, and as a result people come to expect, even to demand, its presence—irrespective of their behavior and its natural consequences.
Friendship (philia) is a strong bond existing between people who share a common interest or activity. Lewis explicitly says that his definition of friendship is narrower than mere companionship: friendship in his sense only exists if there is something for the friendship to be "about". Friendship is the least natural of loves, states Lewis; i.e., it is not biologically necessary to progeny like either affection (e.g., rearing a child), eros (e.g., creating a child), or charity (e.g., providing for a child). It has the least association with impulse or emotion. In spite of these characteristics, it was the belief of the ancients that it was the most admirable of loves because it looked not at the beloved (like eros), but towards that "about"—that thing because of which the relationship was formed. This freed the participants in this friendship from self-consciousness.
Eros is love in the sense of 'being in love'. This is distinct from sexuality. Lewis identifies eros as indifferent. This is good because it promotes appreciation of the beloved regardless of any pleasure that can be obtained from them. It can be bad, however, because this blind devotion has been at the root of many of history's most abominable tragedies. In keeping with his warning that "love begins to be a demon the moment [it] begins to be a god", he warns against the danger of elevating eros to the status of a lustful god.
Charity (agapē) is the love that brings forth caring regardless of circumstance, self-sacrificing and unconditional. Lewis recognizes this as the greatest of loves. Lewis compares love with a garden, charity with the gardening utensils, and the lover as the gardener. Lewis warns that those who exhibit charity must constantly check themselves that they do not flaunt—and thereby warp—this love, which is its potential threat.
My favourite of these types of love is agape. And while philia is the least natural of the loves, this love along with agape are the pillars of strength within the strongest of my current friendships. And it is amazing just how empowering that can be. Almost makes me willing to take that leap of faith. You know, the one where you open up to a person and trust them completely.