Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Seven Loves

My grade 13 Classical Civilizations course with Rev. ("Uncle Rog") Roger McCombe affected me more than the rest of my high school classes put together.
We learned a lot about the ancient Greeks and Romans in that course, but we learned even more about ourselves. He was one of the great teachers: passionate enough to jump up on desks and stomp around ("A.D. DOES NOT STAND FOR AFTER DEATH!", he would scream); compassionate enough to offer free hugs to anyone who needed them (and many of us, girls and boys both, took advantage).

Some time before my OAC year, I had decided my purpose in life was to love. This wasn't something I could have articulated so baldly back then; in fact, "decided" is may be a bit of a stretch. I was at the very beginning of the process of taking on my Aspect and raising up my Attribute. It's a process that is ongoing today.

But one particular week of Classical Civ classes kick-started that purpose in earnest. It was the week we covered the four loves.

Greek, we were taught, had four words for love:

  • eros, lustful and passionate love;
  • philia, comradely love;
  • storge, familial love; 
  • agape, selfless love for everyone (translated into Latin as caritas. whence comes the word "charity"). 
It was clear to us students that four words for love made a hell of a lot more sense than one. I have always found it ludicrous that "I love you" and "I love black forest cake" use the same verb. The more I learned about the Greeks, the more I empathized with them. 
Take their religious pantheon, for instance. Their gods and goddesses are clearly humans writ large, with glaringly human flaws and vulnerabilities. The Christian God is the same, but it's blasphemous to even think so. (God's flaws? Read the OT thoroughly and just try to tell me He's not the Prime Asshole. Vulnerability? Like any god, lack of belief. He knows it, too, which is why worship is so important to Him. Needy, clingy, jealous God. He even admits as much (Exodus 20:5)--but also devotes not one but two Commandments to coveting. 

I filed all that away for future study, but in the meantime decided these Greeks were on to something. And so I listened closely when Uncle Rog told us that they did not value Eros highly. Many schools of Greek philosophy prized self-control, and lust is known for the lack of it. 
That revelation resonated with teenage me. I was a walking tripod long before this point: if you were female and shared a class with me, you shared a hell of a lot more in my dreams, going all the way back to fourth grade. But I recognized self-control as a prime virtue (son of a cop), and so...right there you have the root of my disdain for pure lust.

Philia, the love we have for our friends, was, by contrast, very highly valued. It was exemplified by sacrifice, by sharing of emotions, and by loyalty.  I have tried very hard, with varying degrees of success, to  embody this quality. 

Storge, love for family, is a subset of philia, and here I admit I have trouble. Even now.
It's not that I don't love my family. I do. At least my close blood relatives. But all around, my family is so scattered and fractured. There are many, many rifts, some of which I know the source of, others of which I have no clue, and trying to bring them together involves a lot more energy than I have. Selfish of me, I admit. But coupled with this underlying sense I have had since my teens that "my family" and "my tribe" don't necessarily overlap...I find  storge harder to practice than other forms of love.

Agape is the purest form of love. I have a friend on Facebook -- she's the godmother of my nieces--who IS agape, as far as I'm concerned. Every day for the past several months, she has taken three names from her voluminous friend list, handwritten a paragraph praising the qualities of each, concluded that paragraph with "I love you", and posted a photo of her paragraphs. Something tells me she'd be able to do the same thing on short notice with total strangers. I aspire to her level. 

Further research uncovered three more words the Greeks had for love, and all of them have a bearing on the way I love today. 
  • ludus, playful love;
  • pragma, longstanding, mature love. (Pragma in Greek  also means 'deed', from which we get 'pragmatic'.)
  • philautia, self-love, which was subdivided into a harmful variety akin to narcissism and a highly beneficial variety that Buddhists would recognize as 'self-compassion'. Ultimately, of course, to love yourself is to love others, because on a very high spiritual level...there are no others. We are all one.
 Ludus is the kind of affection shown by children and new lovers. It's free-spirited, energetic and bright. Add a touch of eros to ludus and you have what mono people call "falling in love" and 
poly people often call NRE ("new relationship energy"). 
Incidentally, I never said I didn't feel eros, nor that it doesn't have value to me. It's only when it's alone that I distrust it. 
NRE lasts one to three years, and it's a powerful, powerful bonding agent. And oh, is it a beautiful ride. With nurturing and time. it hopefully turns into

Pragma, which is ORE--"old relationship energy". I have this with Eva. This is not "falling" in love. This is "standing" in love. Precious metals come in ores: ORE is precious. It may not have the shininess of ludus, but it has a deep respect, admiration, tolerance, and loving peace. 

One of many nice things about polyamory is being able to give, and receive, so many different forms of love at the same point in time; to give each partner the sort of love that matters most to them. Another wonderful thing is the realization, common in poly and rare elsewhere, that love evolves over time. How many marriages fall apart when the NRE abates? So unnecessary. 

And finally we come to philautia, self-love. I struggled with this mightily for the longest time. It took really recognizing all the love in my life for what it was and is--and I'm currently experiencing all six varieties, several of them hugely--for me to actually recognize a truth I've been espousing about others for decades. 

I am loveable, too. 


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