Friendship and Love

For many years I have pondered over what friendship and love are. In English, love is such a multiuse word that can easily be misinterpreted as a listener chooses. Other languages, such as Greek, attempt to break down love into different areas, such as agape, philos and eros, with Socrates and Plato’s dialogs being a famous discussion of these differences. So, what is love, what is friendship, are the two topics somehow related or not related at all?

As with many things there can be a simple answer and there can be more complex layers applied to the questions. First, what is love? Does it relate only to a physical attraction, or an infatuation that we experience due to our very human reproductive drive? Is there another layer in addition to this physical attraction? What causes love to happen, what causes it to go away? For those who have read of love and have some experience with the world, I believe these experienced people would agree that there is more to love than just the physical attraction. This focus on the physical is related to how our body rewards us in the inevitable drive to reproduce.  The young are most prone to this feeling but older people are not immune to the effects. In using English to describe this, I call this the effect of lust rather than love. With lust, we physically desire something that will physically please us without necessarily regarding the consequences or outcome.  Most people are able to control this and there are lighter versions, such as crushes, but the common thread is the seeking of physical pleasure in order to satisfy oneself.

The seeking of physical pleasure is not  good or bad in itself, although the terms used to describe it have negative connotations in English.  However, in my opinion, this is only the start of a caring for another person. We all age and as we age our body changes. In some cases this physical change cause this physical love or lust to fade away. And what about cases where physical love cannot be expressed due to cultural limitations? In the USA culture of the 20th/21st century, homosexual love is not considered completely acceptable by a majority of the population and yet in ancient Greece male to male love was idealized and sought after. Again, in the USA monogamy is considered standard behavior and there are severe repercussions  if a male or female partner strays from a standard heterosexual relationship.  But in other times and places, such as the Middle East, India, Tibet, Norway and other countries it has been acceptable to have more than one spouse, male or female, in order to provide stability for passing on possessions and ensuring that children are taken care of. In each culture there is some type of physical love that is forbidden or frowned upon and where certain physical gestures become taboo. In these instances where physical love cannot be expressed due to male/female, male/male or female/female limitations, can an attraction be shaped into friendship? Does friendship involve love or does it stand separate? Or should the word love be limited only to physical expressions of love?

Practically speaking, in English, the word love is used to fill many roles and describe many relationships. This includes friendship, liking a person, object, or activity, along with the romantic and physical sense of love associated with marriage. Love is a very plastic word which is why I don’t like to use it very often. It is to easy for the listener to misinterpret the meaning due to their internal filters on what they want the word to mean. And with the commercialization of sex and the portrayal of the physical in mass media it can become even more challenging to use this simple word and not be misinterpreted as far as intent. So my intent is to express my own definition of love as used when seeking an ideal. The Greeks used the term agape to describe an ideal love which is a selfless love divorced from physical attraction.  This term is often used to describe love as described in the Bible by Jesus. It is considered the ideal to seek by Christians and the tone of the Paul and his letters reinforces this ideal. As he writes in 1 Corinthians 7, “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.  But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. ” This passage is used to justify monogamy as the ideal and the even higher ideal of priests and nuns who are only married to God. Physical lust is considered evil and something to be hidden and shamed whenever it is found.

Yet, God gave us these physical bodies with these wants and desires. Did God purposely create evil intent and associate that evil intent with the joy of a physical union between two people? Or did man create the evil by not keeping a balance between physical, mental and spiritual? As with so many things, if moderation is not exercised, than yes, physical lust can cause bad things to happen, break up families, cause jealousy, break hearts, and work against the common good.  A mental lust that is not controlled could also cause bad things to happen such as monopoly of a person’s time, talking excessively, and dominating another person. Similar things can be done with the spiritual in the forcing of a particular dogma, and choosing to force a spiritual belief on another in the mistaken idea that is an expression of a higher love to save that person’s soul. With all of these excesses I would argue that they are not true expressions of love but distortions that are trying to force a feeling, a way of being into something that supports the ego and beliefs of the lover. In stepping back, true love, the love we idealize, takes into account the others ideas, beliefs, mental state and physical interest and compromises to build something new and larger than before.

This is the love I seek, a love which can have many expressions depending on cultural rules and limitations. It is at this point that friendship enters the picture. Friendship is an aspect of love that recognizes and works within the cultural boundaries. Friendship incorporates love and would not exist without it in the relationship to some degree. And in looking at true love, or romantic love that is used to describe a relationship with a physical aspect I would say that the relationship should also include some aspect of friendship, a separation of the physical from the mental and spiritual. The expressions of love work towards balance for each person and a compromise that recognizes the strengths and weakness of each lover. In the end, love, friendship, lust, they are idealized when each lover is working for the good of the other lover in the relationship.  Each person is willing to accept the weaknesses, revel in the strengths and is prepared to sacrifice something they hold dear in order to better their lover’s life. While the other refuses to accept the sacrifice because they do not want to harm their lover. Love becomes the feeling of joy in the betterment of their other half.

If his can occur with the very young who do not know of physical lust, those in their prime who want nothing but physical lust and the older couple who remembers the physical and embraces the changes that may reduce this attraction. Love is caring about another’s welfare more than your own and being willing to sacrifice your well being to improve that welfare.  And so long as moderation is exercised by both, this love will grow and bring a joy to each life that would be lessened if not shared.