We, as human beings, talk a lot about love, romantic love to be exact. Society has become highly descriptive when it comes to this regard and suggests that in order to be a decent human being and our relationships to be considered “normal” , we all need to love in a very particular and specific kind of way : we should be constantly thrilled by our partner’s presence, we should long to see them after every moment of being apart , we should crave to simply hold them in our arms, we should often fantasize about kissing and being kissed by them and – most of all – want to have sex with them every day or so. In other words, we should follow the script and guidelines of romanticism all throughout our lives.
If we’re going to define love like this and shape the idea of normality around it , then most of us will have to admit, rather anxiously, that we don’t know much about this kind of love and can’t relate to it-which in turn will make us feel like we’re lacking in some way, like we don’t qualify as normal, sane and decent human beings. The phenomena we see here isn’t actual real life love, it’s the love that’s been advertised and sold to us throughout our lives, the prototype we see in movies and books but never in real life, what we aspire to find but never do : Romanticism. Romanticism has been a disaster for our relationships .It is an intellectual and spiritual movement which has had a devastating impact on the ability of ordinary people to lead successful emotional lives, because of the wrong expectations it sets us up with. This Romantic script is both pressuring and at points delusional. In order to be thought normal in the age of Romanticism, many of the following are meant to happen:
– we should meet a person of extraordinary inner and outer beauty and immediately feel a special attraction to them, and they to us.
– we should have highly satisfying sex, not only at the start, but forever.
– we should never be attracted to anyone else.
– we should understand one another intuitively, without needing words.
– we don’t need an education in love. We may need to train to become a pilot or brain surgeon, but not a lover. We will pick that up along the way, by following our feelings and listening to our hearts.
– we should have no secrets and spend constant time together (work or education or any other responsibilities shouldn’t get in the way).
– we should raise a family without any loss of sexual or emotional intensity.
– our lover must be our soulmate, best friend, co-parent and therapist.
These ideas suggesting how we should see ourselves and act in our lives is an ideal that we will never reach, because it simply doesn’t exist outside the perfectly romanticized world of books and movies. Instead of allowing these unrealistic Ideals to dictate how we live our lives and our love for one another , we should work on replacing this harmful Romantic template with a psychologically-mature vision of love.
This is where the ancient Greeks come in .They realized early on that love and romantic love can not only be defined with one word and one ideal , rather that there are many kinds of love, each with their respective virtues and seasons :
The Greeks anointed the powerful physical feelings we often experience at the start of a relationship with the word ‘eros’.It represent the idea of passion and desire. Eros is basically what the romanticized society thinks love is and when it’s over they consider that ‘falling out of love’ and abandon the relationship. The Greeks however knew that love is not necessarily over when this sexual intensity wanes, as it almost always does after a year or so in a relationship. In fact, they considered eros dangerous and fiery and looked forward to it transforming into other kinds of love that hold more depth and emotion.
After the fiery possessive Eros our feelings can then evolve into another sort of love they captured with the word ‘philia’ normally translated as ‘friendship’ though the Greek word is far warmer, more loyal and more touching than its English translation; one might be even willing to die for ‘philia’. In contrast to the desiring and passionate yearning of eros, philia entails a fondness and appreciation of the other .This second variety of love , the greeks valued much more than the first and recommended that we outgrow the sexuality filled eros and base our relationship solely on the principles of Philia.
The Greeks had a third word for love: agape . This can be best translated as a charitable love or a selfless . It’s what we might feel towards someone who has behaved rather badly or come to grief through flaws of character – but for whom we still feel compassion. . It’s the kind of love that we experience in relation to someone’s weakness rather than their strength. It reminds us that love isn’t just about admiration for virtues, it’s also about sympathy and generosity towards what is fragile and imperfect in us. It’s loving someone , despite their imperfections and wrongdoings and it is by far the highest form of love you can give someone whether it be a partner or a friend.
Having these three words to use freely – eros, philia and agape – powerfully extends our sense of what love really is. The Ancient Greeks were wise in dividing love into evolving parts, this way we can realize that we have far more love in our lives than our current vocabulary fails to recognize.
Don’t let Romanticism fool you into thinking that being sexually attracted to someone all the time or wanting to spend all your time with them is the tell tale sign that you love them, this is only a very tiny aspect of a complex and intricate Emotion that most of us haven’t figured out yet . If you can’t recognize your relationship in movies or books, that isn’t a sign of imperfection or failure , but rather a sign that you’re both human leading a real relationship with real problems and responsibilities.
Knowing that you love someone doesn’t have to be a huge show of emotion and a proclamation of desire , it can simply be the quiet realization that despite the bad parts your partner possesses , you will still be there for them and accept them for who they are and who they might change into and they ,in turn, will do the same .