In the category of ‘What is X?’ searches for 2012, Google found that the most most popular search for the year was ‘What is love?’ And after love came: iCloud, 3G and Scientology. It’s fascinating what we seek when the door is closed and the computer switched on.
The Guardian, in an attempt to get to the bottom of the question “once and for all” (I love the emphatic nature of the quest!), gathered writers from the fields of science, psychotherapy, literature, religion and philosophy to give their definition of the much-pondered word ‘love’. This included the perspective of ‘The Nun’, Sr Catherine Wybourne, a Benedictine sister. You can read the responses here.
The most interesting is from Philippa Perry, ‘The Psychotherapist’, who says – just as Pope Benedict did in Deus Caritas Est – that we simply need more words to describe the stuff we usually put under the crude heading of the word ‘love’:
Unlike us, the ancients did not lump all the various emotions that we label “love” under the one word. They had several variations, including:
Philia which they saw as a deep but usually non-sexual intimacy between close friends and family members or as a deep bond forged by soldiers as they fought alongside each other in battle.
Ludus describes a more playful affection found in fooling around or flirting.
Pragma is the mature love that develops over a long period of time between long-term couples and involves actively practising goodwill, commitment, compromise and understanding.
Agape is a more generalised love, it’s not about exclusivity but about love for all of humanity.
Philautia is self love, which isn’t as selfish as it sounds. As Aristotle discovered and as any psychotherapist will tell you, in order to care for others you need to be able to care about yourself.
Last, and probably least even though it causes the most trouble, eros is about sexual passion and desire. Unless it morphs into philia and/or pragma, eros will burn itself out.
Love is all of the above. But is it possibly unrealistic to expect to experience all six types with only one person. This is why family and community are important.
And it’s telling that in the Guardian headline to the article (‘What is love? Five theories on the greatest emotion of all’), and in the Perry passage above, the starting assumption is that love is nothing more or less than an emotion. Sr Catherine is brave enough to use the phrase ‘theological virtue’, by which ‘we love God above all things and our neighbours as ourselves for his sake’; but there is not enough space to unpack this in the article, and to explore how love might be much more than simply an emotion.