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Love

A heart sculpture made of porcelain with an eye in the middle, decorated with stars, flowers, and a moon.
Porcelain heart sculpted by Kat Ford.

February is the quintessential time to muse about love due to its equally hated and loved heart-filled holiday, Valentine's Day. There are holes in what we know about the true origin of this celebration of sweethearts. NPR offers one genesis story based on secret weddings, healing a child, and martyrdom, and another pointing to the pagan fertility festival of Lupercalia. HISTORY offers a third theory, including a poem by Chaucer in the 1370s, which seems more likely based on an argument against Lupercalia's role by TIME.


The vague history of the holiday itself is fascinating to me. Was it an all-encompassing love that drove a saint to heal and unite, the church's attempt to water down a sex-charged festival, or simply the popularity of a love poem? To me, the day is a tangible manifestation of the problem with the English word "love." I often consider if the seed of some of our jealousy, commitment, relationship, and intimacy issues doesn't come, at least in part, from a tendency to discuss a wide range of emotions under one word's giant umbrella. There are nuances to love that, without definition, require experience and self-reflection to identify and compartmentalize.


The Greeks had multiple words for love.


Agape - unconditional love. Agape is the kind of universal love we feel for strangers and humanity. In the Bible, this word describes God's love for the world.


Philautia - self love. As in self-esteem, to love oneself with regard for one's happiness. The dark side of this type of love breeds vanity and narcissism.


Philia - affectionate love. Philia is love between friends and is void of romantic attraction. -philia is also used at the end of words when defining fondness for a specific thing. For example, bibliophilia is the love of books.


Storge - familial love. The love parents feel for children, siblings feel for each other, and extended family feels for kin.


Ludus - playful love. This emotion includes flirtation and courtship and is noncommittal.


Eros - passionate love. Eros is the romantic feeling between lovers and includes physical and sexual desire.


Pragma - love based on obligation and duty. This type of love is committed, dedicated, and practical.

Coexisting with additional types of love pragma can describe a long-term, healthy relationship. Void of other forms of love, it can be as logical as a political marriage or a financially dependent business partnership.


Mania - obsessive love. Mania is impulsive, uncontrollable, and maddening. -mania is also used at the end of words when defining obsession for a specific thing. For example, pyromania is the obsessive desire to set things on fire.


Some relationships might consist solely of one of these types of love; many grow from one to another or expand to encompass several. While the Greeks offer an incredible toolkit for dissecting the myriad emotions huddled under the love umbrella, other languages give us further insight.


The Japanese term "koi no yokan" differs from their word for love at first sight, "hitomebore." Koi no yokan better describes the premonition of love, the feeling of meeting someone and knowing that you will inevitably fall in love with them.


The Arabic word "Ya’aburnee," translates to "you bury me," and describes loving someone so much that you hope they outlive you so you won't have to live without them.


"Bashert" is a Yiddish word meaning destined with several uses, one of which is a predestined soulmate, the one who you will perfectly complement and who will perfectly complement you. The Talmud states that 40 days before a fetus forms, a voice from Heaven declares whom it intends for it to marry. Kabbalah believes that when a soul prepares to enter the world, God breaks the soul into two halves and places them in two bodies.


Another Kabbalah belief that I like to consider is that God is one. The Shema, a prayer Jews say each morning and evening, expresses the singularity and incomparability of God. Because God is everything and created everything, we are an extension and expression of God, bringing a more expansive understanding of Jesus' commandments that we should love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.


These spiritual ponderings bring me to my cosmic point. If we first consider that the universal energy of all things, all of us, all of those we care about, all of the people we can't stand, every sliver of reality, was the same, would we experience a paradigm shift? Would we suddenly find the grace and compassion we give to ourselves in others and vice versa? Would we more easily identify the other forms of love in our day-to-day relationships if we understood our innate disposition towards and desire for a foundation rooted in agape love? The Beatles told us, "All you need is love," maybe we should better define the type of love we need.


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