The Nature of Love
The Ancient Greek philosopher Plato, in his work “The Symposium,” set forth a mythology that humans originally had four arms, four legs, and a head with two faces. Afraid of rivalry, Zeus split them apart with lightning. But these two separate bodies still shared but one soul.
Plato’s student Aristotle expressed the idea succinctly:
Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.
We are all forever in search of our soulmate – the other half of our original body who will complete us.
The Greeks thought of different forms of love and had different words for them. C.S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia books and a professor at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities, wrote about these distinctions in his book “The Four Loves.”
Lewis wrote about storge (affection), philia (friendship), eros (romantic love) and agape (charitable love). Regardless of the form of love, it involves risk. As C.S. Lewis said:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
Oscar Wilde, the celebrated playwright and author, wrote about the necessity of love despite the risks. We should learn to love:
Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead.
The founder of Taoism, the great Chinese philosopher and poet Laozi, wrote about about the transformative power of love:
Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.
Psychiatric pioneer Carl Jung took a more scientific approach to the same idea that a relationship transform both of those people in it:
The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.
Gustave Flaubert, the author of Madame Bovary, acknowledged the difficulties in maintaining a relationship with another person, due to communication difficulties:
It’s hard to communicate anything exactly and that’s why perfect relationships between people are difficult to find.
And even the Dalai Lama himself, the Tibetan Buddhist religious leader, has wise words on a healthy relationship:
Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.
Finally, popular author Nick Hornby, who has meditated on modern love in books like “High Fidelity,” had this humorous observation on the future of any relationship:
It’s no good pretending that any relationship has a future if your record collections disagree violently or if your favorite films wouldn’t even speak to each other if they met at a party.
When a Relationship Ends
Not every relationship lasts.
Different writers have written eloquently over the years on the pain of loss and heartbreak, and how to cope when a relationship ends.
“Gone with the Wind” author Margaret Mitchell – unlike her heroine Scarlett O’Hara and her determination to win Rhett again – was able to say goodbye to a lost love:
I was never one to patiently pick up broken fragments and glue them together again and tell myself that the mended whole was as good as new. What is broken is broken, and I’d rather remember it as it was at its best than mend it and see the broken pieces as long as I lived.
The famously cynical and witty Dorothy Parker knew to handle relationships gently:
Love is like quicksilver in the hand. Leave the fingers open and it stays. Clutch it and it darts away.
Spiritual author Deepak Chopra has insight, however, in how to accept break-ups and new beginnings:
Whatever relationships you have attracted in your life at this moment, are precisely the ones you need in your life at this moment. There is a hidden meaning behind all events, and this hidden meaning is serving your own evolution.
Looking for Love
Not everyone is in a relationship – plenty of us are looking for someone to share our lives with and share love with. Late Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs had this to say about the search:
If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on.
Author Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who wrote for children and adults, reflects on the changing nature of life and love. The only constant is change:
Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now. Relationships must be like islands, one must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits – islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, and continually visited and abandoned by the tides.
Some of our most important and lasting relationships are ones that we have with friends. The Ancient Greeks called this philia, and understood the special nature of the friendship bond. These relationships can last a lifetime and carry us through good and bad times.
George Eliot, the pen name of Mary Anne Evans, wrote classics of literature such as “Middlemarch.” She wrote on friendship:
A friend is one to whom one may pour out the contents of one’s heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that gentle hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.
The famed deaf-blind activist Helen Keller valued friendship, too:
Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.
And President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who guided the United States through the Depression and World War II, understood the need for people to come together for world peace:
If civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships – the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together, in the same world at peace.
Loving yourself is another sort of relationship. Self love takes just as much work as loving another, and is more fundamental to happiness in life.
Oscar Wilde joked about the topic – but as with any joke, there is a core of truth to it:
To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.
Comedienne Lucille Ball took a more serious approach to the idea:
Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.
Helen Keller, who survived a childhood of darkness and silence to become a great advocate for others, spoke about self love:
Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.
And indeed, even Buddha himself, knew the value of forgiving, knowing, and loving yourself:
You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.