Love and friendship: twin summits of an emotional life.

If you are fortunate enough to live a balanced, considered and emotional life then there are great rewards and great times to be had. Even in situations and environments where nothing resembling friendship looks even remotely possible, its glimmer is usually present, even as a memory or expectation. Solitude is sometimes chosen in preference to social relationships, and is sometimes imposed, but remains, for the most part, undesirable.

My youngster currently has over 1200 friends listed on his facebook page: relatively a minuscule number I’m told. I have a lot less. Under forty and about five or six I actually relate too. I am not sure about the status of social media friendships, for I am sure they are possible. I just have little experience of them. I am not sure this kind of communication is a way to build trust and friendship but I may be mistaken. I would like to know what others think.

Regardless, getting back on track, this article is about love and friendship. As my fellow blogger, MyOtherVoice, has pointed out there are several descriptors for different types of love: agape, eros, pragma etc. Many of these distinctions arose within Greek culture. Romantic love, or eros, was a short term, mania filled kind of love. To be filled with it was to be intoxicated. It was said the love was sent by the goddess Aphrodite, sometimes as a curse. The actions caused by it were often calamity-filled ones. In the modern era it needs to be considered if Romantic love is more of a social construction and cultural expectation than it is a genuine form of compassion or endearment. The argument that it is a genetic impulse, encouraging physicality and thus reproduction, needs to be considered in the light of raising children, which concerns far more than a night of pleasure. Such pleasures are not to be dismissed lightly though, as many moralising of a certain type does, because they can be the physical manifestation of something which goes much deeper. Or not. (Episodic romance can satisfy short term desire.) They can certainly be a learning experience, culminating in the sober reflection that falling romantically in love is not the best way of getting to know someone.

Pragma is the type of love which lasts a life time. Usually between two people it represents that understanding which lets them live together and raise a family. Living with someone is not an easy thing to do for often the romantic love which attracted one in the first place, burns out. At this stage many consider the relationship over, but if you are lucky then pragma steps in and its companion is friendship. Too often people think that the passing of eros is the passing of love. They are mistaken. Pragma too includes its share of passion, just not of mania. It is a more considered, wiser and a less destructive kind of love. Just ask Percy Sledge.

Ludus was the kind of love reflective of ‘kiss chase’ in the playground: Shy innocent love between children or casual lovers, far removed from physicality. I’m not sure this kind of love is with us today. Agape was altruistic love, or charitable love, akin to that of the nineteenth century philanthropists. All the loves of the Greeks, apart from eros, contributed to the emotional satisfactions of people, their affections and affirmations, and their desire for self-worth. In modern speak these were deep loves, not shallow ones. And life was all about discovering this. By old age one knew the worth of friendship and was released from what Sophocles called the ‘Tyranny of sexual desire.’

By far the most valuable of the loves is storge, that is friendship. For Aristotle this is fundamental to his philosophy. All leads from it. It is not something shared in modernity. We have one word for love. And for many it is a powerful, scorchingly vivid aspiration. From birth we are bombarded with images of eros and we believe it to be all there is to love. Society endeavours to manage, commercialise, prohibit, deny, re-route and manipulate sexual love. Whether due to a period of romanticism in the nineteenth century, invented by the troubadours, or reflective of a modern tendency to put everything in boxes, the love of the West is neither a romantic nor a compassionate thing. It is instead a caricature, aspired to but never achieved. One measure of the failure of modern love is the high number of relationships which seem to fail. Divorce in the west runs at over 40%. Away from the officialdoms of marriage anecdotal tales reflect mostly episodic love. Tragic tales about the cessation of love seem to have their roots in social and cultural expectations. The packaged love of the West is simply not real but is the practical economic model, inspired by the dead hand of Christian monogamy. Love, and its contemporary problems, are the result of it being represented as a comprehensive, achievable and ultimately commercial product. But love, if ever to be defined, will not be defined as sexy perfume or diamonds. Other elements are far more worthy and have longevity.

My own experience tells me contented marriage is a rare and valuable thing. If you have it, treasure it.

One thought on “Love and friendship: twin summits of an emotional life.

  1. This is an excellent evaluation of what “capitalism” has done to Love. Anything and everything that can be commercialised and sold will be. And everything converted to a “product” in this way soon becomes meaningless beyond its retail value.

    I would take issue with only one statement. Some of us do not find solitude undesirable, even for the most part, though I would concede we are in the minority.

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