CONTRIBUTORS: Elizabeth Dicesare, Wanda Wagler-Martin, Megan Nourse and Cathy MacLellan
TCE asked contributors to share about love, loosely inspired by the Ancient Greeks, who thought about the concept in many different ways. We may have created one or two types of our own.
Philautia: Self Love
In my experience, Valentine’s Day goes one of two ways: celebrating your love for your significant other with some cheesy date and flowers that will inevitably die within the week, or sitting at home in your sweatpants binge-watching Netflix. Should these be your only two choices when it comes to deciding what to do on February 14? Heck no!
This year, try celebrating the Ancient Greek’s concept of Philautia, the practice of self-love.
Ancient Greeks recognized two types of Philautia. The first was a form of narcissism—drunk on power and self-betterment—which no one wants to put up with. The second, however, was the practice of self-love.
In order to practice a healthy level of self-love, and be true to the idea of Philautia, you need to truly love yourself. The idea behind this belief is that you can only truly begin to form strong, healthy relationships with other people if you have a strong understanding of your own self and your own being. How are you expected to love someone else—friend, family member or significant other—if you don’t truly love yourself?
Learning to love yourself can be difficult. Being critical is easier than being proud of yourself, but those harsh feelings aren’t going to make you a happy person.
One of my first steps towards self-love is finding small things that make me happy.
Whether it’s spending more time with family and friends, writing, reading or going to the gym, figuring out what makes you happy is the first step. The second step is practice. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself by ordering a large pizza for dinner this Valentine’s Day, do something productive for yourself, whether physically or mentally. You’ll feel better.
You can also try making a list of all the things you want to accomplish for yourself. Sometimes you need to be a little selfish to figure out who you are, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Take some time to reflect on who you are, and who you want to be. Being true to yourself will allow you to flourish, and your positivity will reflect well on others.
Finally, don’t forget to treat yo’self! Whether or not it’s Valentine’s Day, buy yourself those flowers and chocolates. Dress yourself up, or down, and wear what feels good. And don’t take crap from anyone! Remember, Philautia comes before other forms of love, because you need to love yourself first.
Pragma: Long-Standing Love
In a technology-laden, rapidly changing, instant everything kind of society, lasting long-term love is increasingly counter-cultural. In a world of multiple choices we may simply move on if our relationship no longer seems to be working.
Through my 28 years of work as a therapist I am well aware of the energy and creativity that people commit to sustaining relationships, and that at times relationships do need to end. And yes, during our dating years we may need a few “practice partners” before we refine the relationship that fits best for us.
Long-term love is hard work, but we see ourselves reflected back most clearly in the context of long-standing intimacy.
This reality holds gifts and challenges, and I’ve observed that relationship struggles can be as much about unresolved personal issues as about the relationship. Sometimes leaving a relationship can feel easier than facing the issues that arise for us in an intimate partnership.
I believe in the rewards of long-term love and the value of working through the challenges that can arise in any relationship.
That being the case, it’s important to talk about the incredible gifts a long-term commitment can yield, and to encourage people to consider staying the course in relationships. Commitment is not a one-time pronouncement, but requires ongoing clarification and re-committing in the midst of lived experience.
Long-term partnerships go through different stages. Some of these stages are life giving while others can be taxing. Every relationship ebbs and flows—we should not be alarmed or give up too easily. In every relationship we will at times feel connected and secure, and at other times distant and uncertain. An ongoing commitment to work on and to care for the relationship, and the courage to face each other and our own issues, can take couples to a significant depth of trust and understanding.
And, when couples have done the hard work of connection over many years, it is possible to integrate the sexual, spiritual, social, emotional and cognitive aspects of the relationship in ways that bring satisfaction and enjoyment that were simply not possible in earlier stages.
So we shouldn’t assume that love and passion will decrease over time, when the opposite is a real possibility. A well-kept secret may be that the best sex is happening in long-term committed relationships, where a depth of trust and care has laid a solid foundation for both passion and openness to new experience. When a relationship reaches the place where we are fully known and accepted for who we are, we can truly experience the many dimensions of love.
Love comes in many forms and people have the right to choose how they approach relationships. But let’s not sell ourselves short: so much is possible in a long-term, committed relationship. I’ve been married for 28 years and in spite of the challenges, and because of the growth that has come with facing them, I’d marry my partner all over again.
Ailouros: Cat Love
The Ancient Greeks knew what was up when it came to love. Though less discussed, they were obsessed with the concept of cat love. In the modern world, cat love describes the beautiful experience of sitting on one’s couch watching Netflix while a precious angel sleeps on your keyboard, blocking the screen and hitting mute every time they roll over.
True, cat love can feel one-sided. Your feline friend outwardly wants nothing to do with you, unless it is on their terms, and offers no emotional support, unless they’re looking for food. This is what makes cat love the most treasured form of all. We spend our lives taking care of these darling creatures, let them sleep on our pillows, drink out of our water glasses and barf wherever they want. And still we love them.
Philia: Friend Love
I love Valentine’s Day. As a strong-willed feminist and independent woman, I feel constant tension between my values and my love for Valentine’s Day. Can I support gender equality while celebrating this inherently patriarchal day? I feel pressure every year to be anti-Valentine’s, whether or not I have a significant other. And yet I love wearing red and pink, drinking wine, eating chocolate and watching You’ve Got Mail on February 14. Can I do that as a feminist? Yes, I fucking can. But not without tension, which started in high school.
Once sharing cards with the whole class stopped being mandatory and we all became inundated with hormones (for me it was around 2005) Valentine’s Day stopped being fun. It became a day that pitted single girls against those in relationships. Some ladies got useless but cute stuffed animals, and others got to be bitter on Myspace. That tension remains, but it’s moved to Instagram.
Valentine’s Day is a consumer-driven, made up holiday, but I can’t help but love it. Instead of focusing on romantic love, as pop culture tells us to do, I like to celebrate the platonic love in my life. Just as important as the romantic variations on love, platonic (or Philia, as the Greeks named it) love describes the profound and deep relationships we have with friends.
As a woman, I feel especially lucky for the female friendships I’ve formed. It’s a strong and pure love, just as worthy of celebration as romantic love. And most of the year, I don’t bother telling my friends how much I love them and how grateful I am to have them in my life. So even if a greeting card company made up the holiday, I’m happy to celebrate. As the 90s proverb says: friends are forever, boys are whatever.
Agape: Unconditional Love
Valentine’s Day, like so many other special days, bears little resemblance to it’s Roman origins, thank goodness—not that the present consumerist version is much better. Valentine’s Day endures because love is eternally interpretable, adaptable and essentially human. The highest form of love originates from the Greek word agape. In Latin it is caritas, which is the origin of our word charity.
Agape means unconditional love. It is also the most powerful, sacrificial and willful way to love someone. While falling in love can happen before your brain even registers it, agape love requires far more investment. The principle of agape love is found in all major religions, but religion is not the only way to access agape love. When we resolve to put the welfare of others above our own, or give until it hurts, or act with compassion, kindness or tenderness, then we are exhibiting agape love. Without question, the world needs more of this. Without question it is the most difficult expression of love. But it is not impossible.
People like Jean Vanier—not that there are many like him—provide an example of how to cultivate agape love in our lives. The Canadian created L’Arche, “a revolutionary international network of communities where people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together as peers.” L’Arche communities are focused on connection rather than commerce, and when Vanier won the Templeton Prize last year, the citation declared that he “discovered that those people who society typically considers the weakest enable the strong to recognize and welcome their own vulnerability.”
Vanier is also a prolific writer, and in his books explores fully our loneliness and anguish and directs us to the only thing that will help us: love, agape love. As he puts it, “there’s in us all an ego we have to conquer. You kill the ego so that the real person may rise up. And the real person is the one who’s learning to love.”
That seems doable. Who doesn’t want to be a real person? And all it takes is a willingness to learn to love. In Becoming Human, he puts it thusly: “We do not have to be saviours of the world! We are simply human beings, enfolded in weakness and in hope, called together to change our world one heart at a time.”
Featured image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.