What is love?
Love is one of the widely used yet highly misunderstood words in the English language. Depending upon the type of interpretation, this word can take you to the sublime level of spiritual excellence or abysmal level of debased humanity. In modern-day English language, the word ‘love’ is a general word used for many different kinds of feelings of pleasant attraction towards another person or another living or nonliving thing. It has much to do with emotion and will. Let us learn along as we read on.
Going by the views of the ancient Greek philosophers, there are at least four such feelings of pleasant attraction towards a fellow human being. These are Agape, Philia, Storge and Eros. I would add Romance before Eros in order to make it somewhat complete.
Now let us explore each of these categories of ‘Love’ one by one. (Click here if you want to know what is not love.)
Agape can be interpreted to mean pure selfless love of a person towards another without expecting anything pleasurable in return. God’s love towards humankind, is the best example of Agape. You can have this form of love towards any fellow human, whether he/she knows that you exist or not. Agape leads to compassion, lovingkindness and goodwill towards other fellow humans irrespective of any form of attractive quality in them. Agape knows no hatred towards fellow humans, even towards those who have/had been unfair either to you or someone close to your heart. We do not like hard-core criminals and we are very much within our rights to avoid them and also hate their evil nature; but we should not hate them.
If a condemned criminal can be given an opportunity to repent and save his/her soul, that would be a wonderful service to humankind, and there will be rejoicing in heaven for one soul saved. God has come to the world not to condemn sinners but to call them to repentance.
Paul, a great man of God, aptly describes the attributes of Agape love in one of his great letters, as below:
- Love is kind
- Love does not envy
- Love does not brag or is puffed up
- Love does not behave rudely
- Love does not seek its own
- Love is not provoked
- Love thinks no evil
- Love does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth
- Love does not end.
Agape love can be, and should be, shown towards any fellow human being. But it cannot be shown towards Devil because the aim of the devil for humankind is to destroy our soul. You will see more on this subject in this website under Soul.
Philia implies friendship between two individuals irrespective of their sex, blood relation (filial) or marital bond. Philia is a form of love that is founded on mutual appreciation and respect, and common thinking; and enjoys each other’s company. Philia becomes more intimate, stronger and cherishable when interlaced with Agape love. Though God’s love for humanity is of the nature of Agape, He would prefer to have it spiced with Philia. God desires to become our friend in this manner.
The word Storge is used to imply four different varieties of pleasant attraction towards fellow humans. Read on.
i. Parent-child love
It is a strong bond, which parents experience towards their children. It is felt stronger by the mother, especially at the early stages of motherhood when she is still physiologically related to the child, which is from birth to its weaning stage. A particular hormone, oxytocin, which is released liberally into the bloodstream of the parents during this period, is understood to enhance this feeling of love towards the child.
The flow of oxytocin is further enhanced in parents when they hug, kiss and caress their babies. The babies who receive such physical expression of love, too, receive their own dose of this hormone, which helps them to bond with their parents and develop, mentally, into a healthy personality. The parent-child bonding can occur effectively even with adopted babies if the adoptive parents care to hug, kiss and caress them more often and express their love for them verbally and with physical closeness.
In this context mothers and fathers, even of adoptive babies, will find the following articles interesting and useful.
- How love blossoms between you and your child?
- Men and oxytocin
- Science behind love and mother-infant bonding
ii. Child to parent love
At the beginning stages, the onus of child to parent love rests with the parents. It is the parents who express their affection to the child with physical closeness such as talking to them, hugging, kissing and caressing them. The babies, as they start growing, start realizing that the parents are the immediate love-and-support givers and start acknowledging this with smiles, gurgles and hugs. Gradually, the dependency on parents is joined by emotional closeness and a deep love towards the parents.
Right from the time they can discern, little children start recognising their siblings as part of the family and start loving and protecting one another. The constant physical closeness to each other and the sharing of limited resources also tend to create a level of friendship between each other, thus adding Philia to this form of love.
iv. Inter-family love
This form of love is somewhat similar to the former, but not so compact and not so intimate. It is experienced by family members who are immediately outside the parent-sibling boundary. Here again, the bonding gets stronger with an addition of Philia into it.
4. Romance or Kaadhal – காதல்
‘Romance’ in the modern times is a rather loose word. However, for want of a more apt word, I am using it here in its original meaning. Kaadhal is an uncorrupted word in Tamil language for Romance. It is a form of pleasant attraction, which is exclusive between a male and a female human being who have an inexplicable desire to live as husband and wife at some time in the future. They are not in any hurry to have a sexual relationship; and would rather wait indefinitely until the time they may be united as husband and wife. This form of affection continues into life beyond marriage although the romantic zeal is gradually replaced by mature and monogamous stability, which leads to raising a good family that contributes to the welfare of the society.
Boys and Girls, this is for you!
Romance is not Eros (see item 5 below). If a person of the opposite sex, who is supposed to be in love with you, rushes you to jump into Eros, rest assured that he or she is not into real Romantic Love with you; and the relationship will either breakup before marriage or lead to a failed marriage. You will be deeply hurt in the process.
Girls, you may think, or may be influenced by your boy friend to believe, that you do not love him if you do not let him have physical relationship with you before you are married in public. Beware that in most cases, once he has had physical relationship with you outside wedlock, he would expect you to give more of you just to gratify his sexual urge with no responsibility going with it. And now you get caught into the reality that he would leave you if you do not continue to satisfy him.
The usual prognosis includes broken hearts, broken lives, broken families, abortions or unwanted orphaned children. Even suicide is attempted at times, in desperation. But you can easily avoid all this misery by boldly saying an emphatic no to sex before marriage. Also never get yourself into a situation (time or place) where your modesty can be compromised. A man who expects you to have sexual relationship with him before marriage is not worthy of you. You will never miss him.
Similarly a girl who expects you to have sexual relationship with her before marriage is not worthy of you. You will never miss her.
Romance and arranged marriages
Arranged marriage, where marriages take place without the would-be partners going through a period of romance, is not an ideal situation because of its several drawbacks. However, in mature societies, where the parents act as responsible parents and their children are brought up properly and then given the freedom to make the final decision, Romance smoothly merges with Eros after their marriage. Such marriages have often been far more successful than many marriages that take place after a period of intense courtship besmirched with Eros. You can turn to the page on Teenage for more information on this topic.
Eros has nothing to do with love. Yet this is the only attribute many people refer to as ‘love’ in the present generation. It has been included here only for convenience.
Eros is the logical follow-up of a mature Romantic relationship (see above) when the lovers are united in marriage as husband and wife. It is mutual gratification through sexual intimacy. Eros is a form of physical urge that leads to perpetuation of human race on earth. While it is the starter for procreation, it is also the means of physical intimacy of two individuals united in love, and may continue to be expressed throughout the active period of their lives.
A stand-alone Eros cannot ensure success in raising a wholesome family. A wholesome family is an essential component of a good society and a great nation. Eros is perfected only when there is Philia or friendship between the couple. Philia should remain the prerogative of a husband and his wife in order for Eros to accomplish the purpose behind it. Further, Eros would rise up to its ultimate purpose and perfection only when a combination of Philia and Agape step into the life of this couple. Eros can be expressed only towards your spouse. If it crosses the boundary, it becomes lust. Lust is Eros at its worst. Lust will lead you towards unhealthy and promiscuous relations, contributing to disturbed family life, damaged childhood, and moral decadence of you and the society.
Food and Sex
Food and sex are two factors that are indispensable for the existence and continuation of humans on earth, and for that matter, for most living things. Food is necessary for an individual to grow and to live. Similarly sex is necessary for the human race to continue until such a time when the earth may not support human life any longer. There would be no human beings around, today, if they did not have access to food and sex. So the Almighty God decided to make both these items pleasurable and tempting so that these would be sought after eagerly; and that eating and procreating would take place without coaxing or coercion.
We should also hear the loud fact that we do not live for food or sex. Let us not undermine the value and purpose of each of us, unique beings, who have been created in the image (personality) of God.
Two other pages of this website that are related to Love, and worth reading, are listed below. You can click any one of them to start with:
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