Happy Valentine’s Day. If, you know, that’s your thing. If you happen to be one of the people who not only is in a relationship, but is in the kind of relationship where you send each other flowers and mushy notes before your romantic evening out, then good on ya’. But if you happen to be one of the many, many people who doesn’t have a love interest, or broke up, or lost your long-term partner to death, or prefer to be single, or don’t feel that you can be out about your sexual orientation, or know that your partner will forget to buy you something special or have agreed with your partner that both of you couldn’t care less about Valentines, then where is holiday for you? Where does the love in your life, wherever you find it, get the honors?
The problem with Valentine’s Day is that it only addresses one particular kind of love – what the ancient Greeks called eros. Erotic love; passionate, pulse-racing, grabbing each other in dark corners love is a glorious thing, and there’s nothing wrong with celebrating it with some flowers and chocolate. But let’s not kid ourselves that eros is the only—or even the most important—kind of love. Of course, the Greeks acknowledged other kinds of love: the unconditional love of agape, the friendship of philia. But I think that there is room for celebrating quite a few other kinds of love as well. How about:
Canifelios: The love shared between people and their pets. Get real. How much time do you spend cuddling with a human partner compared with the physical affection you lavish on a cat or dog? The mutual love of a human and a pet includes loyalty and mutual care and wordless devotion. It includes the physical intimacy of stroking and snuggling. It gives you the rush of the hormone oxytocin that is also associated with the connection between mothers and infants and adults in the first flush of falling in love.
Compania: The love of long-time best friends, or couples who have stayed together across decades, or siblings or cousins who are there for each other every step of the way. Compania is founded in deep trust that the person will always be there for you, in inside jokes that you’ve shared for years, in the profound knowledge of one another’s quirks and failings as well as gifts and talents. Compania leads us to stick up for one another, to tell the truth in love and to choose a judicious white lie every now and then, to hold one another up when we think that maybe we can’t keep going.
Biophilia: Love for nature, for all living things. Biophilia leads us to find renewal in nature, to rest in the shade of giant redwoods or beside singing creeks. Biophilia is lived out in gardens where people become intimate with the soil of their particular location, at feeders where people celebrate and support the flashing beauty of birds, at summer camps where kids swim in lakes and get covered in dirt, on backpacking trips filled with the scent of pines and stars so bright that whole galaxies lean into this sphere of love.
Logoros: Love of learning, and of books. Logoros sucks up our time with articles on the internet on brain chemistry and economics, and keeps us up at night with books that we simply can put down. It leads us into new worlds, expands our hearts with compassion for people who don’t even exist, expands our minds with knowledge that we many never use, but which makes our understanding of the world that much richer and more complex. Logoros may seem abstract, but in reality it is an expression of our connection to this world in all of its details, the need to touch the particulars of our shared human life in the way you would explore a lover’s body with your fingertips.
Thelios: Love for the All, for the Connecting Principle, the Ground of Being, God. The love we return to the love that will not let us go. It could be love for a personal god who holds and comforts and carries us. It could be love for the wonder of the creative universe, an awe-struck connection to the sum of all the beauty that surrounds us. Big Love.
So if you want to celebrate Valentine’s Day with chocolate and flowers, by all means feel free. But feel just as free to celebrate the ways you love with a tug toy, a phone call, a walk in the woods, a new book, a prayer. There can’t be too many ways or too many days to honor love.