What is love?

Navigating the complex meaning of the four-letter word

As we approach Valentine’s Day for yet another year, multitudes of couples will flock to various retail outlets in an attempt to express their undying “love” for their partner. While romantic relationships continue to be the major thought that comes to mind when discussing love, there are plenty of other forms, which don’t involve roses, candles, or chocolate.

Look no further than the actual history of Valentine’s Day for other examples of love. In the third century CE, Emperor Claudius II banned marriage among young people, believing that if a soldier was unmarried, he would fight more effectively. Cue Valentine, and his role in what is now known as Valentine’s Day.

The priest began officiating marriages in secret, but was eventually caught, imprisoned, and killed. At the end of the fifth century, Pope Gelasius I made the decision to have Feb. 14 devoted to Saint Valentine, because he gave up his own life to perform the sacrament of marriage.

As you can see, Valentine’s Day was not always about romantic love. It began as unconditional love. Saint Valentine believed that there should be no barriers to marriage.

While Valentine performed marriages for couples, embracing the idea of romantic love, there are other forms of unconditional love.

For example, according to The Bible, God performed the greatest act of unconditional love when he sent his own son to die on the cross.

For those unfamiliar with the Christian faith, this act was critical, because it forgave the world’s sins and enabled every individual to essentially have a “clean slate.” In this act, God chose not to punish those who sinned and committed wrongdoings; instead he forgave them, and sacrificed his own son.

These are just two examples of love. It is easy to find other varieties. In his book Colours of Love for example, author J. A. Lee defines six different types of relationships that could be considered love.

Eros is the kind of love most people think of, especially in modern times. It is described as romantic and passionate love. There are, however, two other types of love which don’t base their description on the standard “norms.”

Storge is a slow-developing, friendship-based love. Most people have probably experienced storge love, by simply having a close friend who is there for them through their ups and downs, and as an ear to listen to.

Agape (my personal favourite) is a caring, brotherly love. Again, this can occur between friends, but also between siblings who share a familial bond.

Despite all of the positive examples listed above, love can also manifest in a negative way.

Ludus is a “game playing,” or uncommitted love, such as someone who may fake their feelings just to get into bed with an individual.

Pragma is a mutually beneficial type of love. This type of love doesn’t commonly involve emotional feelings, and often times results in one of the parties getting hurt in some way.

Mania, the final type, is a possessive love. Someone demonstrating this type of love may go out of their way to keep their significant other around. Unfortunately, this may be done in an extreme and inappropriate way.

There are many different ways to look at love, and it can be represented in both a positive and negative way.

The most important thing I can emphasize is that love cannot be easily defined. It means so much, in many different ways, to many different people. That’s the beautiful part about it, and also why it is, and will continue to be, a hotly debated topic.