The English language was once beautiful. Shakespeare wove sonnets, Milton composed his epic, and Lincoln penned his moving address all from the rich trove of English words.
Today, we have lost some of this beauty due to our heavy usage of electronic communication, the increasing use of slang and colloquialisms in modern poetry and literature, and the decline of grammar education in schools. Some words have been lost altogether, while others remain but have lost their true meaning through misuse or overuse.
One of the greatest casualties of this decline is the word “love” which is now used to both profess one's deepest sentiments for another person and to express a fondness for fried chicken. The word has become immensely overused and, as a result, no longer carries with it the gravity that it once did. It has even led to our inability to understand love itself.
The Four Types of Love
While English has just one word for love, there are, in fact, four types of love. The great author C.S. Lewis wrote The Four Loves, detailing the nature of each type.
Storge, or affection, is derived from the Greek word “philostorgos,” which means “tenderly loving.” This love speaks of devotion to your kindred. It’s strong, loyal, and natural. Lewis describes this love as a humble one. The bond between siblings, a child and her mother, and even a man and his dog is storge love.
Affection is a natural, domestic love.
Philia, or friendship, was seen by the ancient Greeks as the happiest and most human love. Today, we fail to regard friendship with the same reverence — something which Lewis greatly laments. He describes philia as the bond between those who share the same interests and aims. It’s not a self-absorbed love and it’s certainly not necessary — which is what makes it so beautiful. “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art...It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival,” he writes.
Eros, or romance, refers to the "falling in love" feeling that occurs between a man and a woman. The term originates from the Greek god of love, Eros (whose Roman equivalent is Cupid). Eros love transcends pure carnal passion and is, instead, deeper and more selfless. Nevertheless, this type of love is still far from perfect. Lewis describes how this love can tend towards evil just as easily as it tends towards good. It can result in beauty and harmony within a marriage or decline into idolatry of another person.
Eros can result in beauty and harmony within a marriage or decline into idolatry of another person.
Agape, or charity, is unconditional love. It’s completely self-sacrificial. It’s purposeful and chooses the good of the other despite flaws, offenses, and even a lack of love on their part. It’s perfect — the very height of Love. Lewis identifies God as the perfect example of agape love and asserts that it’s a great virtue for which we should continuously strive.
We Have Forgotten What Love Is
So, the word that we have so dumbed down is actually an extremely complex and loaded term. It denotes many deep emotions and sentiments and ultimately points to the highest aim of humanity.
In the way we casually toss “love” at trivial things such as clothing brands, television shows, and edible indulgences, we have created a culture that confuses pleasure for love. There’s a real difference between liking and loving. Love isn’t just an intense liking.
It’s not just a flutter in your heart, a fleeting feeling, or physical passion. It’s not what we feel when we sip a Starbucks latte. It’s not what we feel when we see an attractive actor on screen. It’s not what we feel when a charming date attempts to flirt his way into the bedroom.
Love is a surge of the will, a desire to do good for another.
Love is a surge of the will, a desire to do good for another, a sacrificing of your selfishness for the purpose of the other. It involves action — not just feeling.
For example, storge love is a mother comforting her crying child. Filial love is a friend spending her Saturday helping another haul boxes into a new apartment. Erotic love is a man and a woman vowing to stay together in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. Agape love is a passerby stopping to give money to a beggar because she sees that he, too, has great worth and dignity.
Love is selfless. It’s sacrificial. It’s sometimes difficult. But it’s the most noble, beautiful, and awe-inspiring aspect of humanity. And it’s what we created for.
It’s important that we speak with conviction so that we can act with conviction. We have to choose our words purposefully, understanding that they carry great importance. With this in mind, it's time that we reclaim the word “love” and save it for those actions, those bonds, those movements of the heart that really show what it means to love. In doing so, we can reclaim love itself.
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