Go to any library and you will find ruminations on love from Diogenes to Dumbledore. It is a construct as old as humanity, yet as the modern world grows more complex, fewer people seem to find and keep it. As a non-expert with a notoriously extended run as a bachelor in residence at Foster's Home for Imaginary Lovers, I have many thoughts on the subject.
So here's the case for love - thoughts and advice for love in every form. There are several broad categories of love, as defined by the ancient greeks. I'll touch on seven below, aided by some of my favorite authors, writers and philosophers.
Philia - affectionate love. The bond of friends
“We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.” —Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
Philia is the love between friends and family. Often referred to as 'brotherly love', it emanates from shared values. Friendship for many is easy to cultivate and hard to maintain. Like many other forms of love, strong friendships are built on foundations of love, trust and mutual understanding.
"Whenever I saw her, I felt like I had been living in another country, doing moderately well in another language, and then she showed up speaking English and suddenly I could speak with all the complexity and nuance that I hadn't realized was gone. With Lucy I was a native speaker." —Ann Patchett, Truth and Beauty
It is important to know, intimately, who your friends are beneath the surface. How they love and how they like to be loved. Successful friendships require vulnerability or at least deep intuition. If you pick the right friends, to know them is to know yourself. That isn't a reflection of your similarity, but a familiarity that holds a mirror to your own self, and spurs you both to continual growth.
Pragma - enduring love, maturing over time
“When you fall in love, it is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake, and then it subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots are to become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the desire to mate every second of the day. It is not lying awake at night imagining that he is kissing every part of your body. No … don’t blush. I am telling you some truths. For that is just being in love; which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over, when being in love has burned away. Doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? But it is!” —Louis de Bernières, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
Some of us fall in love the way others take showers - on in a flash, with a searing heat that warms and fulfills. We revel in the eternity of the moment, and then suddenly the tap is off, the towel is on and the feelings that once consumed us evaporate into nothing.
“People find it far easier to forgive others for being wrong than being right.” —Dumbledore
It takes a considerable amount of emotional fortitude to make relationships last—romantic or otherwise. It takes a willingness to be open, to be seen, and to accept others as they are. The balance between forgiveness, acceptance, and commitment is the kind of trick you have to learn in different blends with different people.
Relationships require continual pruning, otherwise, gardens that once flourished will be overtaken with weeds.
Storge - familial love born from shared memories
“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” —L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
One of the greatest joys is rediscovering old friendships - those rooted in a bed of shared memories. Those kinds of friendships are hard to shake. So make memories with the people you love. Forgive quickly. Sacrifice selfishness. Connect deeply with those you interact with, however long those initial moments last.
Eros - romantic love. Primal and physical
Intimacy is not something that just happens between two people; it is a way of being alive. At every moment, we are choosing either to reveal ourselves or to protect ourselves, to value ourselves or to diminish ourselves, to tell the truth or to hide. To dive into life or to avoid it. Intimacy is making the choice to be connected to, rather than isolated from, our deepest truth at that moment —Geneen Roth
I think many of us (mainly men) are taught early on to confuse sex with intimacy. They are not the same. Counterintuitively, there's a part of physical intimacy that lives on the edge of emotional risk - creating an atmosphere of safety, acceptance and connection that allows two people to be unapologetically themselves and communicate their truth through all of their senses.
Real intimacy is a sacred experience. It never exposes its secret trust and belonging to the voyeuristic eye of a neon culture. Real intimacy is of the soul, and the soul is reserved. —John O'Donohue
Mania - obsessed love. Possessiveness born of survival
“Extinguish my eyes, I'll go on seeing you. / Seal my ears, I'll go on hearing you. / And without feet I can make my way to you, / without a mouth I can swear your name. / Break off my arms, I'll take hold of you / with my heart as with a hand. / Stop my heart, and my brain will start to beat. / And if you consume my brain with fire, / I'll feel you burn in every drop of my blood.”―Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours II
Mania is often romanticized in popular culture, but the spice of adoration quickly ferments in the mouth once unrequited or unequaled. This is true not just of love, but of friendship. Love is a powerful drug. It is as important to let it flourish as it is to set boundaries.
Ensure both parties are well rooted and can stand on their own. This doesn't always necessitate spending extensive periods alone and starving yourself of affection in order to ‘find yourself’. However, it takes regular, concerted effort to stay grounded and continue developing as an individual, rather than leaning overwhelmingly on the perceived strength of others.
Philautia - self-love. Internal compassion. Understanding the soul
“The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.” ―C.G. Jung
Personally, I think we are mistaken when we say we must love ourselves in order to love others. Some find it easy to love themselves and hard to share that light with others. Meanwhile, some use a continuous outpouring of love towards others as a mask to hide their own perceived deficiencies.
I believe loving ourselves allows others to love us better. It is a fundamental piece of what it is to be loved. Often, through fear, we hide parts of ourselves in the shadows, thinking it will make us easier to love - but things obscured in darkness will always hurt those who reach into our lives and inadvertently rupture our facades.
Love is a powerful light that eventually strips back even the deepest of shadows. The more effort we put into maintaining our darkness, the less we have to develop deep love. Don't shortchange yourself.
Take the time to discover what you love about yourself and what makes you feel loved. Understand what love means to you. Feel out your strengths and weaknesses. When you know yourself, others can know you.
“You deserve a love that's deeper than the ocean. A love that's brighter than the sun. A love that's higher than the mountains. A love that you can only find inside yourself.”―Juansen Dizon, Confessions of a Wallflower
Agape - selfless love. Ultimate empathy. Unconditional grace.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. [...] And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. —1 Corinthians 13
People wander the earth looking for love, and often catch glimpses of it that may last a moment or span several years. Ultimately, unconditional love is not an act but a choice. And it's not a choice you make just once. It is a resolution to make a series of continual decisions, each harder than the last, to choose love over instinctive self-preservation.
Ultimately, all of our emotions are rooted in a will to survive. Anger, hate, jealousy and selfishness are all rooted in a fear that we will be left behind - that we will not have enough; that we will be unfulfilled. Love and scarcity will always be at odds because real love is boundless. Unconditional love is choosing to find fulfillment in the happiness of others. Boundaries are essential, but sacrifice is a necessary prerequisite for lasting love.
And this love shouldn't only be limited to close friends or those we have decided to spend the rest of our lives with. We should always be looking outward, with empathy, for ways we can touch the lives of those around us.
“That's the thing about flying: You could talk to someone for hours and never even know his name, share your deepest secrets and then never see them again.”—Jennifer E. Smith, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
If the quote above is the definition of flying then I know I'm deathly afraid of it. The empty solitude of emotional safety promises that we won't be harmed in pursuing love. Solitude is the Faustian bargain promising temporary invulnerability for permanent frailty. Perhaps to be vulnerable is to be human. We are social creatures, and the connections we share with others make us collectively stronger. Maybe our energies are best spent pursuing and creating spaces where we can truly be vulnerable, even if only in fleeting moments, and to express love to one another in all the ways we know how.
“Do not pity the dead, Harry, pity the living. And above all, those who live without love.” —Dumbledore
Books I’ve read/seen/will impulsively buy and add to my “to read” shelf on Goodreads. Recommendations from newsletter readers are always welcome:
- Talking to Strangers by Malcom Gladwell - seen. I added this to my wishlist immediately after seeing my friend Rachael review it on Goodreads. She also just wrote an interesting article on the history of money.
- The Bingo Theory by Mimi Ikonn - recommended. In the spirit of talking to strangers, this was a recent recommendation from someone I met online.
- Bad Blood by John Carreyrou - read. Bill Gates wasn’t lying—this book is a rollercoaster ride—” the riveting story of the biggest corporate fraud since Enron, a tale of ambition and hubris set amid the bold promises of Silicon Valley”.
Things I’m loving
Films and shows:
- Always Be My Maybe - An awesome feel-good story that apparently everybody has watched and nobody thought to tell me about.
- To All The Boys 3 - I’ll be watching this tonight but I’m recommending it in advance because the franchise has been awesome so far. The second installment lacked the punch of the first, but early viewers have promised all is remedied in this third film.
- Notion - It seems like every week I find new ways to import another part of my life into Notion. It’s been a game-changer and I don’t know what I’d do without it.
- Oval - An app I’ve used consistently for 3 years now. And when I say use, I mean set and forget. It’s been saving me money I never need to think about, and I love it. You can also use this code: ‘DED9EMQU’' to get £5 when signing up. You can also now invest through the app, but I still prefer Nutmeg for that.
- Superhuman - the email service that’s slowly separating me from email-induced social anxiety. They claim it’s the fastest email experience ever. They’re probably right. The waitlist is currently c.275,000 people though, so email me for a referral :)