Monday, March 24, 2008

The Four Loves

Today and yesterday I reread C. S. Lewis' The Four Loves. I wanted to write this post even before rereading it, that was precisely the reason I did reread it, so that I would have some good, solid, sensible ideas to support my own disjointed musings on the subject.

The first of the four loves is storge, or affection. This is loving something simply because it is ours, because it has always been there. I notice this with my friends. Durnhelm, for instance, has a trick of blinking rapidly several times (I would almost call it fluttering her eyelashes, were it not for the cloying connotations of that phrase) when she is trying to remember something. I think this is the cutest thing in the world, because it is my friend who does it. I notice affection flavoring my friendships in other ways. I've actually only known Durnhelm for three and a half years--less than a quarter of my life. When I'm thirty I'll be able to say I've known her half my life. Perhaps by the time I'm sixty those first fourteen and a half years will have faded to insignificance and I'll be able to say I've always known her. That's one of the prerequisites of affection--you have it for things that have always been so. My friends have not always been my friends. Durnhelm I've known the longest. The Captain I've known for two and a half years. Of my college friends, some I've known for a year, others for six months, others still for only two months. Yet I find myself feeling affection towards them. There is a certain sort of friend whom you have always known, historical facts notwithstanding.

The second kind of love is philia--Lewis translates it as friendship. Literally it means love for a brother. In my life I've noticed that people--myself included--use "friend" to mean two completely different things. On the one hand, we use it for our companions (Lewis makes this disctinction as well)--the people whom we happen to associate with in some common pursuit. I will call somebody my friend after I've eaten breakfast with them a few times. Yet if I never see them after college there won't be a hole in my life. There are a few friends, though--half a dozen from high school and so far about three or four from college--who would leave a hole in my life if I never saw them again. Those people are not merely associates. They are a part of me. Our companionship is something that transcends the incidentals of time and space. It's like what I said in the last paragraph--I've always known them.

These friends are the ones who are eventually promoted to the status of unofficially adopted siblings. I currently have at least 2 sisters besides the one I was born with (possibly as many as 7, there are some people who I think of as sisters but I haven't asked them if they care to be adopted), and recently I've started getting a brother--which is very nice if kind of strange, I've never had a brother before in my life whereas I've always had a sister and know how that sort of thing is supposed to work. (Then there are my household sisters and brothers, but that's a bit different, I'm not sure how they factor into this equation yet.) It expresses the timelessness of the relationship. When somebody's your sibling, they've either always been there or have been there as long as you can remember. The exception would be a sibling several years younger, but even then I imagine there's a sort of timelessness to it--they are bone of your bones and flesh of your flesh, and the first encounter is less like meeting than recognition. It's the kind of friends who are like that--where I do not so much meet a new person as recognize someone I've always known--who eventually turn into my sisters and brothers.

The third kind of love is eros. Like Lewis, I don't use eros to mean mere sexual desire. I have never said "I love you" to someone as a way of saying "I find you physically attractive," and I hope I never do. There's a point in philia where I begin saying "I love you" to my friends, as a succinct way of saying, "If you ever weren't around I would miss you, not just miss having someone to talk to but miss you for the unique and irreplaceable person that you are. Yet for all that I need you I want you to be happy and more importantly to do what God is calling you to do so if you had to leave I would cheer you on the whole way and trust that friends always meet again, even if it's not in this world." Rather long, isn't it? "I love you" is much shorter and works if your friend understands what you mean by it (and friends of that sort always understand), rather than thinking that you are trying to say you are physically attracted to them which would be awkward no matter what. If one of my sister-friends thought that it would be awkward for the simple reason that I don't like girls that way, with my brother-friend it would be even more awkward because I do like guys that way.

But I digress. So far I've only used "I love you" to express the first two kinds of love, or some combination of them. For instance, a relative who is also a kindred spirit would get a mixture of storge and philia, the first because they've just always been there and I've gotten rather fond of them, the second because, as Lewis puts it, they see the same truth. One of these days, though, I sincerely hope that I meet somebody to whom I can say "I love you" as a way of expressing eros. Again, I do not mean by eros mere desire. I'm a normal woman insofar as I can see a physically attractive man and think, "He looks good", but things like that are no more than a blip on my radar. Good-looking man walking by, now he's gone, okay back to what I was doing. I'm in absolutely no danger of falling in love with him. When the time comes I'm more likely to fall in love with one of my brother-friends, regardless of whether he cuts a dashing figure. Even if he does, eventually people get old and when he's 40 and bald and soft around the middle I hope I love him for something other than his looks. For that matter, I hope whoever falls in love with me does it for something other than my looks because one day I'm going to be 40 and gray and fat.

So what is falling in love, then? It's not merely finding someone who you can connect with--otherwise there could be no brother-friends, philia between men and women would simply be a step to eros, and I do think there are times when it's not. Neither is eros finding someone who you find physically attractive. Physical attraction is nice and certainly helps with the begetting of children bit, but in addition to what I've already said there's one more thing to take into consideration: When you fall in love, you fall in love with a person. To put it philosophically, the object of love is a substance and not an accident. If the person you love gains weight or loses his hair, he might look different but he's still substantially the same person.

The way I like to think of it is in terms of Aristophanes' speech in the Symposium. He tells a story about how people used to be twice what they are now--4 arms, 4 legs, etc. One day the gods decided that these people had become too powerful, so they split them in half. Now we poor little half-people spend our whole lives looking for our other half, and when we find that person we want nothing more than to be with them. If a god came along and offered to fuse us back into one, we would jump at the chance.

Friendship is finding someone who can complete some part of me that is lacking. I love to write, and until I met my writer-friends there was a part of me that was lacking. If I were to lose my writer-friends and be once more a solitary scribbler, there would be a hole in my life.

Love, I think, is finding someone who can complete a lack in your whole self. Because we are fallen humans we are incomplete, and to a certain extent we will be incomplete until we are united with Christ (or we will be forever apart from Him and thereby forever incomplete) but I think it is possible here on earth to find a symbol of that completeness--a friend is to find someone who can share a love with you (of stories or stamp collecting or whatever else), to find a lover is to find someone who can share a life with you.

One difference between a friend and a lover is that friends can come and go in your life without destroying the friendship. Two friends are any two that see the same truth, and as long as the other person is seeing the same truth they can be 5,000 miles away. To share a life, though, there is a certain level of physical proximity necessary. There is an emotional proximity necessary too--in friendship, you focus more on the object of your quest than your fellow questors. You will get to know them after they have been your companions long enough, but that is simply a happy side-effect of the quest. With lovers, on the other hand, the quest is precisely becoming one with the other, and to do that your main focus must be on the other.

The other difference, of course, is that philia is inclusive--anyone who shares this part of your life can be your friend. Only one person, though, can share in the whole of your life. It’s hard to express exactly what I mean here, but the fundamental lack that makes us search for our other half is such that it must be satisfied by one person or cannot be satisfied at all. We cannot have more than one person each taking a turn at being our other half. We want to be fused together like the people in Aristophanes' story; how can you be fused to many people in turn?

I'll finish my bit on eros with the disclaimer that I have no real right to talk about the subject; I do it anyway because bloggers like to talk about things they aren't experts in. I've given and received affection, I've been a friend, but I've never been in love. When I do fall good and properly in love we'll see what happens to my pretty theories. For now, though, theories are what I've got and I'd like to think that if I'm not an expert at least I'm a well-informed amateur.

The last one is agape, charity, and I feel even less qualified to talk on that than I do on eros. I'll just say, briefly, that without agape there could be no other love. Affection would turn into pettiness, friendship into snobbery, desire into lust. More importantly, without God having loved us with utterly self-donative love, we would not even exist; would not have the faintest conception of any kind of love.

3 comments:

Christian said...

I can scarce believe that I, with such a short attention span, actually read this entire post! It's huge! And yes there is a sort of timelessness to siblings. There's a twelve year gap between myself and my youngest sibling, yet to describe him as anything other than having always been there would feel weird.

The Sojourner said...

My literary brilliance can entrance even the most ADD of readers.

Seriously, though, monster posts are to be expected when the blogger is an aspiring novelist. I used to write emails to my friends that had 1000-plus words (I'm sure my friends are happy that I now pour out my torrent of verbosity on the blog).

Shakespeare's Cobbler said...

I remember when I used to write huge emails. I never bothered checking the word count so I don't know how they compare. I need to get back in touch with some of my friends who actually enjoyed reading them. 8^)

I've continued pondering this and still have learned nothing that can be put into words, though much that is worth its wordlessness.