Sunday, 1 April 2007

An Intellectual's Apology VII: 'Love'

Love is an immensely complex issue. The title of this post is thus very broad indeed. But Mr Watson, over chez lui, has raised several interesting issues of adolescent relationships that I'd like to add to. Mr McCamley, on the other hand, has accused me of denouncing all teenage relationships. He wonders whether I consider 30 the correct time for a courtship. I beg your leave now to answer such questions. Perhaps somewhat long-windedly. And do excuse me if it's a rant, or blindingly obvious.


Love, in our society today, has many different meanings. I'm going to use the ancient Greek terms in this post, in order to be precisely clear about what I mean by 'love'. Many of you will know the four Greek 'loves' - they've certainly been used many times before. But they're useful, since the term in English is so vague. If you don't know the Greek, I'll summarise it for you briefly below:

  • Eros: This is most commonly used to refer to sexual and romantic love. 'Passionate love, with sensual desire and longing', according to Wiki'. But it can just be a deeper, more passionate form of Philia. In this article, assume it means the former, unless I specify otherwise.
  • Philia: a 'virtuous dispassionate love', often of loyalty, friendship, family, and also of activity and objects. [Hence Philip - 'lover of horses', from Philippos in the Greek]
  • Storge: 'affection' in modern Greek; used in ancient Greek as purely familial love.
  • Agape: this is the noblest form of love. Unconditional love, often also 'sacrificial'. That's not its only meaning, but it's the one I'll use.
In our society

In our society, I observe that 'love' is taken almost entirely to mean Eros. Or, worse still, it's taken to mean 'lust'. I will not make that generalisation. Eros is romantic love, not sexual lust. (The reason I'm being so precise with my definitions is that English is so euphemistic and vague, and that what I want to do is to observe some of the differences.) That, I find is a real shame. Love is such a beautiful thing that its relegation to physical pleasure is truly tragic. One area where this is particularly true is modern adolescence.


Before I start this comment, I would add that what I say applies to me as much as anyone else. I'll speak in general terms. Some of what I write will not be applicable to my intellectual audience. But some will be. And all is worth contemplating.

We expect too much from our teenage relationships. We expect them to work. We dream of happiness, of acceptance, of mutual eros. Perhaps that is because we're all longing for acceptance in general. I don't think that's just the youth. But perhaps many adults have found it or learned to do without it.

Teenage relationships are - in the vast majority of cases - doomed to failure. That is not to say they are not worthwhile. But they are therefore to be taken carefully. One must accept that the likelihood of a painful break-up is there. And one must be able to ignore that, and love despite it. As CS Lewis put it, one of the delights of love is that one can see through its illusions without being disillusioned.

One of the things I find most annoying is those who have no realism. I know that others would call it pessimism, or fatalism. But some relationships - based on true mutual affection - must end, because the people are simply not 'meant to be'. I realise that that sounds very romanticised. So I'll explain it. Some people have such different outlooks on life that it is exceedingly difficult for them to understand each other. I can think of examples - who I will not name. Such emotional maturity to love in those situations is almost always way beyond the maturity of any adolescent. Thus the relationships cannot work. Not that they are therefore worthless, of course.

The other thing which drives me crazy is people's relentless perfectionism; those who believe that a relationship is not acceptable when it is not perfect. This is ludicrous: nothing is perfect, because we are imperfect ourselves. Especially as immature teenagers. More CS Lewis:

Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling... Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go... But, of course, ceasing to be "in love" need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense — love as distinct from "being in love" — is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriage) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God... "Being in love" first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.

The Real love.

This leads me on the next point of my witterings. What is love actually? Well, as a Christian, I would suggest the 'God is Love'. But I'll not deal with that directly here. So what is Love, in its purest form? It must be a very strong emotion. It must indeed be so strong as to be beyond an emotion, one could argue. Certainly it must be strong enough to be a tangible factor in financial, professional and familial operations. Such strength is beyond simple 'feeling'.

What is the point of this with regards to our questions of adolescence, which have been so artfully raised? I would use these observations to show how difficult it is to get a working relationship around. Because such depth of 'love' is not possible in immature adolescents.

To conclude in a few words, I would like to answer directly Paul's question. I believe I've emphasised enough that I don't condemn all relationships at all. Just the belief that they'll always work.

And what's the best way of making them work? No prizes for giving the citation of this, but consider such an answer:

'Learning to love each other as a couple is a wonderful journey, yet it requires a demanding “apprenticeship”. The period of engagement, very necessary in order to form a couple, is a time of expectation and preparation that needs to be lived in purity of gesture and words. It allows you to mature in love, in concern and in attention for each other; it helps you to practise self-control and to develop your respect for each other. These are the characteristics of true love that does not place emphasis on seeking its own satisfaction or its own welfare. '

Not an easy suggestion.



Gavin said...

Very insightful indeed. It is very important to emphasise that love is not really a feeling, it is what's left once the feeling has faded. If there's nothing left, you never loved, you were just in love with being in love, which is a fallacy and an illusion.

Secondly, I feel that celibacy is ver underrated. There is great joy to be found in solitude - it allows you to find new depths to yourself that are not found when in constant company. One might almost say that solitude is the window to the soul.

It is very important to learn to be master of our feelings, not vice versa. We must learn to love and expect nothing in return, we must learn to love even when those that we love neglect us or are inconsiderate of our feelings. I actually find the most joy in fraternal (brotherly) love between friends, although of course agape is the noblest love.

I would partially put teenage obsession with lust and/or eros down to hormones, but it is also to do with the maturity of the soul, as you rightly point out.

Lidia said...

*hug* :)

Scarfboy said...

Yes, ok wou have destroyed the 30 thing, despite it being a joke.

At some point in our lives don't we all crave love? It's unfortunate during these years particuarly. Although, I have defended my singleness my saying that I don't have the time or money but that goes against the point of love. Love (eros) isn't so kind upon circumstances such as mine as anyone can, ahem, fall in love at any time.

And to answer to Gavin, celebacy I think is something one should choose after they are no longer a virgin - you can't make such large decisions being so uninformed. (no I'm not mocking you) And if you are so keen on solitude, there are other solutions, if you know what I mean.

I agree with you about fraternal love, a life without lovers is unfortunate but a life without friendship is not worth living.

Phil' said...

What a ludicrous suggestion, Paul! Celibacy after sex is a bit of a weird idea. You seem to have missed entirely Gavin's point: that sexual love is not as important as most people make out.

We do crave love; but we look for it too mundanely. 'A life without lovers', as you put it, would be good: what is mere physical pleasure? Agape is much better.


Gavin said...

Paul's point demonstrates my own very nicely - sexual desire is held up as far too important in our society, and no-one should have to "defend" being "single" (a stigmatised word). Your comment shows that people assume you should be in a relationship unless you have a valid reason. I suggest the opposite is true: you should ONLY be in a relationship if you have a very valid reason. The modern concept of "dating" or "going out" only developed in the 20th Century, by the way.

And I'm afraid I don't know what you mean in your comment about solitude, perhaps this demonstrates my ignorance / innocence / take it as you will.

Scarfboy said...

Sexual desire is totally natural and it would be wrong to hide it or dismiss it as unimportant.

I was joking about defending my singleness - everyone knows I'm single because I'm cruel and miserable lol.

Gavin is right that people assume you should be in a relationship or there's something wrong - oh well.

I don't see too much good in celibacy - it's well known what sexually frustrated 'celibate' priests get up to (please head over to my blog for details).

Finally, Gavin please do get an imagination, as regarding the solitude remark (or ask your father, earthly that is)

Gavin said...

Your comment about celibate priests shows ignorance and bigotry. Some priests may have turned out to be paedophiles (hence VERY bad priests), but there is no link between celibacy and paedophilia.

Francis said...

If anyone wants any advice of staying single and celebate, I'm superb at it :D

Matthew B said...

Certainly, love is a very complex thing, that requires maturity to deal with. One of the problems here is that the term "love" itself is very vague and open to interpretation.
Eskimos have 52 terms for snow, such is its importance in their lives, and as such love being of such great importance to everyone's lives, we should understand it more, though your 4 Greek Definitions certainly make it clearer.
In our society, I sense that more and more people lack the emotional maturity to tell the difference between love and lust. You could even cite it as the cause of most of society’s problems – two people develop lust for each other, mistake it for love, get married, their lust leads to children, then their lust dies, they argue, have affairs, break up, and this leads to single parent families, then children may lack a father/mother figure to look up to, and boys are then more likely to become violent and be less respectful to women to show their authority, as their fathers weren’t around to teach them this. They then treat women as sex objects. Girls develop a poor perception of men, without a man to look up to, and thus don’t realise other men may see them as sex objects. As such, more couples get together through lust rather than love, and the cycle continues (Some generalisation in the above maybe, but this does still happen frequently in society – I’ve seen it in Southend.)
I suppose with our “here and now” society, love is treated the same way, as people want it as soon as possible, but love does not work in that way. So they go after lust instead, which is more easily accessible, hence rising rates of promiscuity in society, particularly amongst the youth of society, leading to all sorts of problems such as teenage pregnancy and more STIs.
From my own personal perspective, I feel I can normally identify what form of love I feel towards people – be it “lustful” love, “romantic” love or philia love (friendship?) and try to keep them separate. (I don’t think I’ve ever been on the receiving end of any of the first two or maybe even all three – but that is my life). I would say that I have only ever met one girl who I could say I “love” and after meeting her, I realised then what the boundaries were, as those who I thought I loved in the past, I merely lusted after I suppose. Of course, a future love for me may exceed these boundaries and reset them, but at the moment, I still sense strong differences between feelings for person, and feelings for another. If you feel you could spend the rest of your life with someone and be happy with just their mere presence and not ever do anything physical with them, then that could be one way of identifying love, though of course, it is said that sex is part of love, but then again, it doesn’t have to be. In a relationship, as you say, realism is important, you need to honestly ask yourself if you can see yourself spending the rest of your life with this person. Equally, accept that no relationship or person is perfect. Arguments are inevitable – people so often divorce over the most mild disagreements, but if they felt that strongly, then maybe it wasn’t love. Remember, “for better or for worse”. I don’t think it is until people are emotionally mature, that they should really take relationships seriously – this usually is somewhere between 16-20 – but the idea of 9 year olds trying to get boyfriends and girlfriends is really quite preposterous. I’ve never yet had a relationship, mainly because there hasn’t been anyone to have a relationship with, but also because I didn’t see the point. Incidentally, the love I had was unrequited, but I’ve come to live with that now. Musically, I feel “If You’re Not The One” by Daniel Bedingfield conveys love quite well in the lyrics, if not fully, as love is difficult to express in words. It is cheesy pop, but that is more to do with the style and I do like the lyrics.
I suppose there is nothing wrong with relationships based on lust, as long as both parties realise that that is what the relationship is indeed based on, instead of trying to convince themselves that it is love, whilst it may not be the approach favoured by the Bible, if more people realised this, then at least more people would be able to satisfy their own freudian desires with much less harm to themselves, other people, and society. Lust is much more easily recognised than love.
Marriage is a declining institution in this country, as it is taken less seriously. There should be a distinction between “I want to have sex with her” and “I want to marry her”. Of course, there will be people that as part of loving them, you may have the desire to engage within sexual intercourse with them, as well as marrying them. But I don’t suggest to marry people with whom there is no other feeling than the sexual desire. Whilst I don’t believe in abstaining from sex before marriage (though those who do are to be commended, as I don’t criticise them for it, as I imagine it is becoming harder to do in our society, and requires a great ability to resist temptation, but that ability alone is what sets some people apart hugely) sex is best in a stable relationship – be it one based on lust or love (as long as you both know for sure what it is) as you really should at least get to know whoever you intend to have sex with. Marriage is best served as a way to strengthen the already strong bond between two people who already both know they love each other. It still has its role in society.
On a sidenote, can lust develop into love? I don’t believe in love at first sight, for it is gradual, something that develops as you get to know someone further and identify what you love about them. Yet lust can occur at first sight, and it is what may attract us to someone we may eventually love, for by our nature, we judge people by their looks, be it consciously or unconsciously – though we all have our own different tastes. Lust is mainly based on the physical, whereas love could be seen to focus on the emotional, yet it may only be by noticing the physical, that we then go on to notice the emotional.

Anyway, that is my 6 cents, or rather 600 cents judging by the length, and a waste of valuable essay time for homework, but nevermind, hope you enjoy reading and it stimulates much thought – in agreement or disagreement.

Yours, MPBuzza

Gavin said...

Matthew B (whoever he has) has just given a rather narrative account of how social breakdown, as Right-wing papers like to call it, develops. I like to think that this social breakdown is bad not simply because changing social patterns are inherently bad but because our own particular social patterns were formally rooted in Christian teaching and we are moving away from that very quickly. But perhaps I'm naive.