What Is Love?

February 4, 2014

Love is a very complex word.  It is used all the time – and is one of the most researched key words on the internet – but what does “love” actually mean, and why do we only have one word for so many different feelings?

Love can be beautiful.  It can warm your heart and make life worth living.  Loving without reciprocation can also be that catalyst that sends you spiraling into gloom and misery.  Love can be thrown to the wind, hoping it lands somewhere great.  Or, it can be kept close to your heart and only let out to peek at the open sky every now and again. We all share and receive love in our own unique way.

There are many types of love: Parents’ love for their children; the love of a father for the mother of his children; the love of a child for his or her parents; grandparent love; lusty, sexy love; the love of a man and woman who are celebrating a half-century of marital union; and, love for many of our pets, neighbors, friends and co-workers.love

How is it that, in the English language, there is only one word used to describe this wide panoply of feelings?  Is it the relative sameness of the physiology of love (i.e. the totality of the chemicals, electrical impulses, and other physical effects brought about by love (or is it vice versa ?)) that strands us with only one word for so many different modes of the feeling ‘love”? It seems absurd and probably could use a redo.

It has not always been this way.  Way back in the days of the ancients (mostly ancient Greece), all the various emotions that our culture now labels as “love” were not categorized under a one-word umbrella.  Instead, they had several variations on this theme, including:

  • Philia a deep, but usually non-sexual intimacy between close friends and family members, or as a deep bond forged by soldiers as they fought alongside each other in battle.
  • Ludusa playful affection found in fooling around or flirting.
  • Pragmathe mature love that develops over a long period of time between long-term couples and involves actively practicing goodwill, commitment, compromise and understanding.
  • Agape – a more generalized love, which is not about exclusivity, but about love for all of humanity. Agape was used for the love in a “spiritual” sense.  This love is selfless; it gives and expects nothing in return.  (Agape was used by early Christians to express the unconditional love of God.)
  • Philautia – self-love, which isn’t as selfish as it sounds. As Aristotle discovered, and as any psychotherapist will tell you, in order to care for others you need to be able to care about yourself.
  • Storge – which means “affection” in ancient and modern Greek. It is natural affection, like that felt by parents for offspring.
  • Eros – used for sexual passion and desire. Eros does not appreciate the balance of logic and is found everywhere there is a claim of “love at first sight”.  Unless eros morphs into another brand of love, eros will burn itself out.  In other words, eros is a love for a short-term only.

We all have the basic human need to experience love in its myriad forms as both the giver and the receiver.  What so many people seem to miss, however, is that experiencing the various forms of love is best accomplished by having loving relationships (not necessarily love of the romantic brand!) outside of your spouse and children (if you have any).

I have seen over the years that this “putting all your love in one basket” approach can be devastating when your spouse disappoints you with his or her lack of love-skills. This is why friends, extended family and community are so important.  External relationships (to be distinguished from tawdry affairs!), which are built on the types of love that are not necessarily strong within the marriage due to personalities, emotional limitations, and even time constraints, help to balance the marital relationship by taking the pressure off the spouses to be their partner’s “everything”.

As the famous psychologist Erich Fromm wrote in his classic book, The Art of Loving (1956):

“. . . love is not merely a feeling but is also actions, and that in fact, the “feeling” of love is superficial in comparison to one’s commitment to love via a series of loving actions over time.” 

Fromm also described love as a conscious choice that, in its early stages, might originate as an involuntary feeling, but which then later no longer depends on those feelings, but rather depends only on conscious commitment.  This is the transference of “eros” to some of the other forms of love that were so artfully referred to by our predecessors as unique and often independent forms of love.

Love is something that you cannot have too much of – especially considering the wide variety of loving feelings that we are able to experience as human beings. Also, there are different times in our lives when different types of love will be dominant, while others recede (often temporarily) into the background. There are shifts, too, in our capacity, willingness and desire to love and be loved as we have children, get older, find ourselves going through divorce, form new relationships, rekindle old relationships, change our outlook, engage in therapy, and make determinations to forge new, loving relationships when there may have been a previous void.

“Love,” said Erich Fromm, “is the only satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.”   Go for it.

And now, a musical interlude:

Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.


Help in Moving On: When Others Misperceive You and It Makes you Want to Scream!

July 2, 2013

Positive-ThinkingMy mother is one of the smartest people that I know.  I have gone to her for every problem I have ever suffered through.  Over the years I have come to see my mom as one the world’s greatest advocates of “turning the other cheek”.  She is not a fan of putting one’s head in the sand, but feels that staying true to oneself – even when others have nasty things to say about you – is, in the end, the best way of pushing through life and coming out the other end as a happy, well-adjusted person.

So, for those of you who are suffering under the oppression of other people’s negativity towards you, here is some advice that my brother and I were raised with and that, in turn, we both rely on when raising our children.  I asked my mom to write up her philosophy on this topic.

The Question:

When your spouse, ex-spouse, friend, or former friend personifies you in a way that is demeaning, hurtful and incorrect, how can you avoid the personal pain that is caused by such misconception?

The Answer:

First off, you must know that the image portrayed and accepted by these persons may be permanently installed in the folklore of their family (friends), and is NOT you.  Think of this image as an invention of someone else’s imagination shared at your expense.

What to do?  You must rise above it all BECAUSE you know who you are and this image built around one single version of you is not you.   You also know that you are being pushed down so that those pushing you down can appear higher (right, superior, the winner, whatever).

You must know yourself and who you are so well that nothing can shake you (otherwise you won’t survive.)  You must feel so right about decisions you make and things you choose to do that it does not matter what those around you say.  You are as entitled to an opinion as they are.

Do not worry that former friends now taunt you.  They are no longer friends.  They were friends not worth having.  It may worry you that they do not like you, but plenty of people do like you.  Shift your attention to those people.  Remember, no one is liked by everyone.

And remember, also, when you are put down by a friend or former friend, spouse or ex spouse, despite what they may think, they do not run the world.  They are just one voice and not necessarily the voice of wisdom and reason that they may think themselves to be. Treat them with the same type of respect as you would accord a next door neighbor that you weren’t really close with, but had to deal with occasionally (or even often).  Don’t expect anything gratuitous from them and then you won’t be disappointed when they say hurtful things to you or about it.  It will just be business as usual.

When you know you have to come into contract with one of these ex-friends who is going to put you down, even ever so subtly, practice a mantra in your head: “I’m not listening to what you are saying, I’m not listening to what you are saying, I’m not listening to what you are saying”  Then, you will hardly what they have to say and it won’t hurt nearly as much as it otherwise would, or even at all.  Eventually you won’t hear what they are saying.  Eventually they might even notice that you hardly hear what they are saying and will stop wasting their breath.

Here is some wisdom that I recently found in an art magazine, regarding artists who are hurt by critics and even other artists (my mom is a collage artist at the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia):

“When someone says, either in veiled language or in no uncertain terms, that you are an idiot, have no talent…often your reaction will be a hard-to-tolerate emotional response that shifts your world.  Nearly everyone has a strong, visceral reaction to being criticized, humiliated or shamed.  …Some very advanced or very detached human beings may be able to avoid these feelings.  For the rest of us, we feel them.  What to do?  The author continues (and I will summarize):

  1. Acknowledge to yourself that you just got slapped in the face, or worse.
  2. Realize that nothing important really happened.  What hit you is only one person’s opinion.
  3. Engage in a courageous personal assessment of the situation.  Maybe what they said is true and maybe that is the way you want to be.  Maybe they only took one part of your personality that they did not like and used it to define your whose being.  Maybe they are totally unqualified to pass judgment on you at all….like when a realistic painter feels an abstract painter isn’t really a painter…or a person who writes poems that do not rhyme is really not a real poet…etc…etc.

Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator with Gwendolyn Graine of graineart.com

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.


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