As I’ve said before, and as almost every unmarried person knows, the most difficult time of year to be single is during the holidays. But I’d like to bring up the idea that love is much more deep, vast and full; and the holidays are the perfect time to explore that idea.
Judging from the media, one would think that no other type of love exists, or matters, besides romantic love. We are inundated with the idea that not having a loved one at holiday time is a fate worse than, well, anything else.
The way the media pushes this idea is reprehensible. Think about it: would you ever see “10 Ways to Make Your Grandma Smile” on the cover of Cosmo or Maxim? The possibility of it is so absurd that one would think the magazine editors had lost their minds.
It’s disheartening for the unmarried, to say the least. It’s inescapable. And quite frankly, it’s unfair, myopic, narrow minded and just plain cruel. What kind of culture values romantic love over all others? The truth is, it’s such a small part of our lives, there’s no need to elevate its importance. It’s absurd.
In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis describes the four types of love: storge, philia, agape, and eros.
Storge is a love for those who are familiar to us. We may love our family, neighbors, friends and co-workers simply because we are around them so much. This type, according to Lewis, is the most natural to us. We are predisposed to it because it is given without coercion or reciprocation. This is the kind of love that can sustain us in our daily life, particularly if we are unattached romantically.
Philia it is perhaps the least complicated because it is freely chosen and given. Those we call our friends are deeply loved and cherished, and without philia our lives would indeed be very empty.
Agape is the love of humanity “regardless of circumstance.” Not only does it encapsulate the love God has for us, but the love that Christians have towards others. It is at the heart of charity, generosity, thoughtfulness and also sacrifice. Sacrificial love is what defines us as Christians, and as such. Lewis finds this type the most vital. Sacrificial love leads to the greatest achievements that we as a people have created. Agape gave us Mother Teresa and freed Nelson Mandela, founded Caritas Internationalis, built hospitals, museums and schools, and of course, the Catholic Church.
The final type is eros which is romantic love. We all know what it’s all about, if only from the relentless assault praising it from the media. But in the face of Lewis’ love types, how can we possibly say this type exceeds a love for humanity, or our friends? Why would having someone to go out with be more important than sacrificial love, particularly as described in the Life of Christ? Is a hospital or school really irrelevant in the face of date night?
It may seem odd that I am speaking about the wrongful emphasis our culture puts on eros. This is a dating site, after all. But my point here is that if you are not dating this holiday season, perhaps it would be comforting to know that you can always engage in the other three types of love. And isn’t that what makes you a Catholic?
C.S. Lewis explains the four loves together as the Christian ideal. Most significantly, he says, “the highest cannot stand without the lowest.” Not only is he saying one type is never more important than the other, but note that he never says what the “highest” and “lowest” types are. This is especially important. As Christians, we understand that these four types are what make us who we are. We also know that they are equal; and that we should dedicate our lives to all of them.
My challenge to you is this: call all your friends and tell them you love them. Make amends with any family member you’d been arguing with. Help out at a soup kitchen, or contact Caritas International to find charities in your area. Give cards to all your co-workers, even the ones who drive you crazy.
I promise the holidays will be much more festive. I can’t imagine that sitting around waiting for a date is better than working to help others.
My best wishes for a wonderful holiday filled with agape, philia and storge. For now, put aside eros … at least ’til after the New Year, and then browse profiles to your heart’s content!