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The Greek language has many words for expressing love. In English, we have just the one. Sure, we can adore and worship and fancy but none of these have the weight or specificity of "love", and all of them still retain a level of romantic intimacy when there is so much variety out there. I tell my friends that I love them as much as I do my partners and lovers and while I know the difference, the feeling takes many forms. While we have our Five Love Languages, saying "I love you" in English can be close to true and so far from perfect that the phrase is used both too much and not enough.
So, what other aspects of love can we pay attention to?
Eros is the kind of love experienced in passion, and sexual desire. It was seen as possessive and dangerous, purely physical, and unemotional. (Timely, since Valentine's routes lie in Lupercalia, the Roman festival abounding in feasting and orgies!) There was a belief that the pursuit of Eros was a means of your soul transcending: the joining of two searching bodies is a pursuit of truth. Sex, as the ultimate expression of joy and exploration. Yes, this includes masterbation... vibrator anyone? This might not be a big one for our ace friends, or it might crop up in rare circumstances. In any case, do you know what turns you on?
Philia is for friendship. Whoever sprung to mind at that word, tell them you love them. An Aristotelian concept, philia is about loyalty for those you love as equals. This love abounds in respect, virtue, familiarity, and equality… something that we could all carry other types of love. Some of us have friends from childhood, some of us don't find our tribe until we are much older but I've found that the love, support and respect within a friendship can be the most rewarding of all. The loss of a friend can be more devestating than the loss of a lover.
Storge is to do with familial love, the love that of a parent to their children and vice versa. We tend to forget the value of family, and for many this year has been a brutal reminder of its importance. There's a lot that can get in the way with this, and sometimes your family isn't right for you... so this love extends to the families you choose for yourself.
Xenia is a temporary love, for hospitality. It is the focus on transaction between host and guest, a generosity of spirit in feeding and housing, even the giving of gifts. If you’ve ever bought a hot meal for someone living on the street, made a coffee to your electrician, given a thank you card to your online shopping delivery person, or opened your house to a friend in need, then this is Xenia.
Philautia is self-love. Perhaps the one we’ve most had to come to terms with over these last 12 months. Are you encouraging of your own forgiveness and fierce in your pursuit of your own happiness? Do you give yourself fallow periods as well as well as time for cultivation and reaping? Do you bring yourself pleasure, be it through a new toy, favourite meal, or time spent honing your unique skill-set? Philautia can become a flaw, something vain and selfish. When this is out of balance it negatively effects every single other relationship – but in health is it a positive act, necessary to our self-preservation and a feed-back loop of love and respect.
Language is personal and embedded in our culture and psyche. It takes a long time for it evolve into something we can successfully communicate. Different people reveal different things in us, and the way we interact with the world, so when was the last time you told these people that you love them, in your own unique way? That can be checking in on a mate or really hugging someone in your covid bubble, even donating to a food bank.
Does passion outweigh friendship or vice versa? Which love do you avoid, and require renewed attention? Which loves promotes the best possible version of yourselves? Pour your energies into allowing these to flourish.
We might not be able to show the people we love how darn much we love them today, but we can sure as hell tell them (maybe even send them a sex toy!) And we can sure as hell do the work to love ourselves that little bit more. Those three little words, aren't so little after all.