I remember with vivid clarity a single moment of my wedding day. In this moment, I am walking down the aisle and am aware that all eyes are on me. My left arm is uncomfortably positioned around my step-father's elbow as he escorts me, and the dress I am wearing slightly pinches my back. An organ is playing somewhere, but it sounds far away, and I have no recollection of what song announced my approach to the altar. I don't remember my bouquet or what the church looked like, or even who made up the members of the wedding party or where they stood that day. I don't recall my husband's tuxedo or if he seemed nervous when he took my hand. What I do remember, quite clearly, are his eyes. They are deep blue and earnest, and in that moment I saw that he loved me in the purest, most extraordinary way. I hoped my eyes reflected that same love, which is the kind of love I meant when I chose the quote that went on our wedding invitations.
“The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return” - Henri Toulouse-Lautrec
In my golden-haired youth, I saw this profound love in the eyes of the man I was about to marry and felt certain. I didn't know that my wedding day was the last time love would be so easy, or that over the next eight years I would have to learn the great lesson of what love is. In my naivete, I assumed he knew I loved him because I said I did, and because he must have seen it in my eyes the way I saw it in his. No one told me I would have to work so hard to keep our relationship alive. Love and marriage became so complicated, and I understood less and less about it as the years unfolded. The only thing I could be certain of, was that I was definitely doing it all wrong.
It’s All Greek To Me – The Many Forms of Love
The ancient Greeks described four different kinds of love. I know them by heart because my ex-husband used to explain them to me often when telling me how I didn't love him the way he wanted me to, or believed I should. There is storge, or family love, and philia, which is the love one has for a friend. Then there is agape, which is the purest kind of unconditional love, and finally eros, a romantic, passionate love. He insisted eros was what I lacked, and it was all very black and white. But when I read the history of these definitions myself, I found that the ancient Greeks didn't quite have it sorted out into neat categories either. The different words for love often overlapped, were used interchangeably, and their meanings evolved over time. Any combination of the types of love could exist together, so one might have eros for someone while lacking philia, or agape love without eros. I still don't understand them all, but then it's all just Greek to me. I have had to come up with my own definition of love.
Defining Love On Your Own Terms
In my life, I have sacrificed myself for love of family, wallowed in the misery of unrequited teenage angst-ridden love, and given myself up to passionate desire. There is truth in all of them, and lessons learned. I would be lying if I didn't admit that one of my greatest pleasures was the arch of a certain woman's back in early morning, whose exquisite form made me feel something like love. Still, I don't think I loved her. I don't think I even knew what love actually is, and maybe I still don't know what love is to you, or to my ex-husband. I don't know if it's all that important to define. What is important is that my love did not translate to the person I married. He used to say that I was possibly incapable of love. And if I was, I was speaking it to him in a foreign language, so he would never be able to understand it. I often wonder how many ways all of our awkward and even bizarre human capabilities to communicate love are lost on each other. Does it have to be so complicated?
Just To Love
Recently, a close friend of mine asked me why I was making such an effort to choose the right gift for my ex's birthday. After all, he had forgotten mine several times when we were married. Why did I care so much if he went to the dentist, and why did I want to help him all the time? These were legitimate questions. Was I doing these things out of guilt? Out of a desire to feel powerful? To make him want me back? I considered these queries very carefully. What I realized is that after all these years, after all the hurt, all the ill spent hours lamenting our broken marriage and all the ways we were so wrong, I now had something right. I wasn't buying him his favorite Cognac out of guilt, or bad conscience. I didn't spend hours finding a doctor he could go to when he was sick because it would make me feel superior. And I wasn't poised with checkbook in hand to bail him out of a financial crisis because I wanted something in return. When I experience something wonderful or funny or strange, I still want him to be the first to share it with me, but I don’t need a reason. It's true that I do these things. I suppose you could come up with many Greek words to explain them. Is it unfulfilled eros? Is it misplaced philia, or is that agape at the door? Well, the truth is, there is a much simpler explanation. It is just called love, actually.
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