As we approach Valentine’s Day, Lucy Colman reminds us that there is more to love than the romantic kind. 12/02/2021
Sunday is Valentine’s Day. A day celebrated across the world in many different and unusual ways. In the Philippines, mass weddings take place with the bill footed by the Government (gosh). Over in Guatemala, thousands take to the streets for the annual ‘Old Love Parade’ where senior citizens dress in feathers and masks and celebrate being old and in love. Americans go all out with cherub–stuffed window displays to rival even the most festive of Christmas decorations and only–in–America–sized boxes of chocolates sent all over the country. Increasingly, women are using February 13th to celebrate Galentine’s Day, a day to mark the sacred bond between women.
In the UK, Valentine’s Day remains a celebration of romance. However, it can also serve as a stark reminder of the wonky priorities of our culture, which hold romantic love as the highest form of love a person can experience: the promised land, compared to which all other loving relationships are pale reflections or ‘practice runs’. Part of the problem here is an etymological one. We have one word for love: love. The biblical Greek, however, has a few more options on offer. It has four words for love, with each describing a different kind; eros (romantic or erotic love – your classic V–Day fodder); storge (affection); philia (friendship love); and agape (unconditional love, particularly referring to God’s love for humankind). All of these loves have their place in the human experience, but we’d be forgiven for thinking that eros is the only one that matters today.
However, I think we might be wrong. The new series of First Dates has recently begun to air on Channel 4, and though it’s known for its saucy characters, cheeky banter, and its ‘will they hook up or won’t they’ storylines, once the individuals scrape away their bravado, their interviews largely come down to one thing: I want to be loved, known and accepted. It’s not all about romance. It’s about belonging. Beyond eros, the other loves can get us some way to meeting this deep need for acceptance.
In his brilliant book ‘The Four Loves’, C. S. Lewis explores the interplay of the loves offered up in the Greek language. Storge (affection) is that humble love for those around us. The fondness that grows from familiarity. For me, it’s the feeling I get when our local postman waves through my window. I don’t know him well, but I storge him, as it were. Acknowledging the human ability for this kind of love gives meaning to those seemingly unremarkable daily relationships, and naming our capacity for this love is an important exercise to help us see the opportunities for love around us (especially in lockdown).
Whilst eros gets the reputation as the most exciting, perhaps the more precious love is philia. Friendship. As C. S. Lewis puts it, friendship is ‘the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others’. Not that eros and philia are in competition with each other, but on this day when love hearts, red roses and vomit–inducing Hallmark cards fill our shops, perhaps a shout out to friendship is permissible. Again, according to Lewis, friendship offers many things that eros cannot – at least not on its own: ‘Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly ever talk about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest’.
And of course, when we look to the Gospels and the account of the life of Jesus, in many ways we see much more resembling philia than we do eros. Jesus never had a Valentine. Christians believe Jesus is the perfect example of a fulfilled, purpose–packed life; the most human human who ever lived. And yet there was no girlfriend for him, no fiancée or wife. He was however surrounded by philia relationships that offered deep love. Christians also believe that Jesus’ relationship to the Father God was one of agape, deep, unconditional, transcendent love that, according to the Bible, God has not just for Jesus but for each person in the world. This Valentine’s Day, I’m going to celebrate the other three loves that give our lives and relationships meaning; eros gets enough press as it is.
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