When we say “I love you” to our significant other, we don’t mean the same thing as saying “I love you” to the buddy who brought chips and dip to the Super Bowl party, or “I love vanilla ice cream”, or certainly not “I love my Great Aunt Dorothy”. So what’s so different about the love that married couples share, or ought to share? For the answer (or at least part of the answer; I’m not sure anyone honestly knows everything about this crazy little thing called love), we turn to the ancient Greeks.
In the Greek language, there is not one word for “love”, but three. All three are concerned with different aspects of what “True Love” really is. The first word is “φιλία (philia)”. This love is the love of friendship. “Philia” is the kind of love that you feel towards basketball, or painting your nails, or your friends with whom you engage in such activities. You love someone in this way because you enjoy their company on a day-to day basis, but don’t necessarily have any romantic feelings towards them.
The second is “ἔρως (eros)”. This is sensual love, from which we get the word “erotic”. It is sometimes translated as “desire”. It is what we feel when we see that “certain someone” walk across the room. This desire is not necessarily sexual, it can be a deep desire to pursue a certain study, but it is usually manifested in sexual desire. The best way I can really describe what people usually feel when they feel “eros” is the “butterflies in your stomach”. A more academic term for “eros” is “infatuation”. Unfortunately, from what I’ve observed, the majority of relationships are built upon this kind of love (ie. “love at first sight”). However, the majority of those relationships crash and burn. Do the statements, “I loved him then but I’m not so sure now,” or “I just don’t have feelings for her anymore,” sound familiar to anyone? That’s because the word “love” in those sentences is actually “eros”. Can the other two types of love grow from “eros”? Sure, but if eros love is the ultimate bedrock of a serious relationship, I can guarantee it won’t last.
Lastly, we come to “ἀγάπη (agape)”. This is essentially “unconditional love”, or love for the sake of another. It is the love a mother has for her child: a deep love usually entails sacrifice for another person for their sake. The word is used in the Bible as Christ’s love towards humanity and, especially in 1 Corinthians 13, is oftentimes translated as “charity”. This is a much deeper love than the previous two, and a lot more mysterious. How does one know if they love someone in the “agape” meaning of the word? Bruno Mars might have written a song describing how much he would sacrifice for a girl, but would he really catch a grenade for her? Agape love is not defined by what someone would do for someone else, but what someone does do for someone else. The best example I can give of agape love is from John 3:16, “For God so loved (agape) the world, He gave his only begotten son that whosoever should believe in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.”
In our quest to find out “True Love”, we have come across three different definitions for “love”. However, each of these definitions seems to be lacking the others when it comes to the greater term of “True Love”. Even two of these aspects could not constitute “True Love”. If one has “phila” and “eros”, which is what most modern relationships are made of, then one doesn’t have the commitment to go the distance and will fail. If one has “eros” and “agape”, then the relationship is probably obsessive and one-sided, like having a stalker. If one has “philia” and “agape”, then the relationship is platonic and devoid of any intimacy which is so important to being in say a marital relationship. No, the healthiest relationships have all three aspects of “love”. The two individuals are friends, loyal to each other and enjoy the other person as that person. They have a correctly directed intimacy, protecting their partner’s deepest secrets while trusting the partner with theirs’. And of course they have the deep, indescribable connection, willing do anything for their significant other, if only because their other is truly significant.