Hello, dear readers, and welcome!
If you're on or nearing Spring Break, I hope you have a wonderful time -- and in general, I hope your Spring season is wonderful. I am looking forward to seeing some flowers bloom, and to Easter.
Today I'm going to talk about something that has been weighing on my mind for a while.
Just a note: this post is about the different types of loves, including sexual love, and it's not graphic in any way, but if you're bothered by the topic, you might want to skip.
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Today I want to write about another way that I feel we can make books diverse.
Okay, let me get this out of the way up front -- I am so tired of seeing sexually-based relationships be the go-to, the "acceptable" relationships, or the most "important" to be explored.
Before I go any further, let me add: I am not against sexual love. I don't find it a bad thing, and it certainly has its place -- but I believe that there are other types of love, too, and that these other types are just as important. To some people they may be more important, and I think that is valid and worth exploring.
Since I was young, I have always been fascinated by the Ancient Greek terms for love. In wonderful English we really only have one word for "love" to encompass all of the different types of love that can be displayed, but in Ancient Greek there is more than one word, which makes understanding a little bit clearer. As much as I love English, I definitely find this to be a flaw in the language, particularly as a writer. I think that in most cases (even unintentionally), the term "love" comes to represent (or at least easily call to mind) something either mushy and fluffy or, as is the seemingly obsessive case in some cultures: sexual.
So, what are the different types of love in Ancient Greek? I've found some adorable Disney illustrations, but I'll go into each a bit below, before I rant a little on why I think different portrayals of love and relationships are important. Some people focus on four words, some five, and some six, but since I'm less familiar with the other two, I'll only write a little bit about them; really, it depends on who you ask as to whether four, or five, or six is the number. I'm far from an expert on this, but I tried to summarize each fairly well by doing a bit of research online.
Agape: This is arguably the term that most people will find familiar. If you grew up in or went to a Christian church, you've probably heard the term used to identify God's unconditional love for his creations. I think "unconditional" is a good explanation of this type of love. It is selfless and allows us to care for others -- even strangers. As you see above, it can be love for family, too -- the different types of love are, like people, complex.
Eros: Eros seems to be considered sexual love, or intimate passion. It gets a little iffy after that. There is debate about what this means, and whether or not sexual passion is really the intent of the term, or just "romantic love". But I think, for arguments sake, that it's good to separate sexual love from other types of love (including romantic), because it's its own thing, in my opinion.
Philia: This type of love seems to point more towards friendship -- be it with friends or family or community. Dispassionate love and care centered around kindness, equality, and familiarity. This type of love, I believe, has less strings attached -- as we often like to attach strings to our romantic relationships that we wouldn't attach to our friendships.
Storge: This type of love seems to point to a natural type of empathy, like between family, or couples who care more about friendship than sexual love.
There are debates on every term, of course. This is just a basic description from what I've been able to read online.
The other types that I found (from the six loves) are: Ludus, a playful love like between children or young lovers that includes a lot of flirting and fun; Pragma, which seems to be a variant of (or part of) Storge in that it centers around a "mature" love between couples who have been together a long while, who have a deep understanding between them, with a focus on giving love rather than receiving it; and last but not least is Philautia, or love for the self, which (in its good, non-narcissistic form) means learning to like and love yourself for who you are, so that you can extent that love to others.
Now, again, I'm not an expert here; I merely find it interesting. And I think it's good to remember that not all love is passionate, sexual love (or even romantic in nature), and that the different types of love are all valid and worth talking about.
So, how do I think this translates into life as we know it today, and into writing especially? Well, here is my take:
If I had to rewrite these loves a bit, for simplicities sake, I would compile this list: Sexual Love, Unconditional Love, Love Between Friends, Love For The Self, Empathetic Love, and Romantic Love.
I personally believe that Romantic Love and Sexual Love are not the same thing; one is focused around passion, and the other is focused on the romantic aspect of the relationship, which in my mind is more about knowing the other person intimately, in a non-sexual way -- different from how you would know a friend, though a bit closer to Love Between Friends than to Sexual Love, which focuses on the physical connection. This stems from the fact that not all romantic relationships are inherently sexual, which I wish our society had more acceptance for.
Love Between Friends is, as I said above, a deep connection that is in no way passionate, and therefore can be less taxing because of the "rules" we like to use to regulate passionate love (and this can turn into Romantic Love, though it doesn't have to; friends are important, too!).
Empathetic Love and Unconditional Love sometimes overlap, because I believe that either can be had by family or friends, though we can have Unconditional Love for anyone, and can be empathetic otherwise as well; the biggest difference that I see between these two is that Unconditional Love is self-sacrificing in a way that the other is not necessarily.
I really believe that Love For The Self is sadly overlooked, because I think that loving and accepting yourself is important, because it really does make it far easier to love and accept others; we spend way too much time comparing and being judgmental of others because we don't yet fully love ourselves for who we are, and put our hatred for our faults onto someone else.
As I said at the beginning, I am really tired of the focus on Sexual Love, though I don't think it is a bad thing in and of itself. One of my main reasons is that it puts pressure on relationships -- whether the relationship is romantic, a friendship that is blooming towards romance, or our relationship with ourselves. While I am very happy that people are becoming more comfortable with themselves, and that multiple sexualities are being explored in books, I think a negative effect of this is that we have -- especially in a language where "love" is one word and tends to mean "sexual or romantic" -- a tendency to forget, ignore, or illigitimize not only the other types of love, but also the people who do not want sexual (or romantic) love.
Yes, news flash: not everyone is interested.
So, why is it important to explore different types of love in stories? And to make them as important in our writing (if not more important, at least up front, since we are saturated with romance and sex)? An easy answer is that sexual and/or romantic loves are not the only type, and that other relationships are important for healthy living, too. But also, if we are trying to make our books and writing diverse in order to give people a reflection of themselves / give children a chance to explore / enrich our books and culture, then why should we leave out these other key relationships?
There is nothing wrong with someone caring more about friendship than romance. There is nothing wrong with someone showing compassion, empathy, or selflessness towards another person. There is nothing wrong with showing a loving family, loving siblings, loving cousins, loving friends. There is nothing wrong with someone wanting romance but not sexual love. If these relationships enrich our lives, then they can certainly enrich our literature, films, songs, art, and anything else in our cultures.
There are all types of people with all types of relationships, and I don't think that any are lesser than others. With such a focus on romantic relationships -- and particularly sexual ones -- we are pleasing a crowd, but not opening them up to the bigger possibilities, and we are also (perhaps inadvertently) pushing aside and downing those who do not put an emphasis on these relationships, or who do not even care about them. There is nothing okay with making someone feel like they "have to" care about romance or sex in order to be normal, important, or to fit in.
Everyone should be made to feel like they are important and can love themselves for who they are, without feeling like they have to change themselves. Just as everyone should be able to see the differences of others, and appreciate them for it instead of feeling that they cannot relate or learn anything from someone else--
And stories are a perfect vehicle to spread this love: all types of love.