I first read The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis after a friend gave it to me at the end of our Senior year. In the inscription she wrote, “Learning to love is simply learning to live”.
How true. The Four Loves shows there is so much more to “love” than the romanticized version Hollywood is trying to sell. Love is what happens after the film credits roll. It is charity for our fellow-men, forgiveness for those who have wronged us, kindness to the awkward and uncomfortable. It is “learning to live” in a world filled with animosity, competition, and revenge.
Valentine’s Day isn’t just for the romantic partners. It’s a day to recognize and celebrate all the love that exists in our world: Affection, Friendship, Charity, and yes, Eros.
There are FOUR Loves?
It shouldn’t be hard to believe that there are four different types of love, when you stop and think of all the times you might say the word, “love”, to whom you say it, what you say it in reference to, and the different ways it makes you feel.
We might say “I love you” when we hang up the phone with our mother, when we tuck in our children at night, or after we say, “I do” at the wedding altar. But, does our love at these moments feel the same? Then how could they possibly be derivatives of the same love?
We may have love for our country, love for our peers, love for the less fortunate, even love of self, and most paramount, love of God. These “loves” do not feel the same or illicit the same devotion, so it would only make sense to categorize them differently, as C.S. Lewis does.
Love #1: Affection
Affection is the most simple, common form of love. Affection can exist between strangers for a moment, or old friends that haven’t spoken in years. It is non-biased, non-judgmental, and knows no barriers.
“It can exist between a clever young man from the university and an old nurse, though their minds inhabit different worlds”.C.S. Lewis
Affection is humble and modest: we appreciate and admire intelligence, humor, talent and beauty in others with absolutely no selfish benefit to ourselves.
People who find themselves surrounded with acquaintances, people who seem to be able to talk to anyone, give affection easily. They are happy to try and provide a little lift to someone else’s day, or to even give love to those whom others might deem “unlovable”.
A Moment with Affection
I got trapped in the positively worst checkout line at the grocery store yesterday. I moved my cart into a line with only one woman in it, only to discover that she hadn’t put any of her groceries on the conveyor belt, because she wanted each of her items rung up separately, to ensure the correct price was scanned.
After I revived from my stupor, I looked for a graceful exit from the lane, only to see I had been blocked in by a little, old lady.
After the woman behind me and I both unloaded our groceries onto the belt, we found ourselves stupidly staring off into nothingness.
“I’m in mourning for my dog”, the older woman told me. Not the most common way to start a conversation, but it was effective—my heart immediately went out to her. She went on to tell me that she had just lost her dog of 14 years. That she had never spent a night without him. That he had been such a comfort to her while her husband pulled away from her into the shroud of Alzheimer’s. And she imploringly asked me, “it’s got to stop hurting eventually, right?”.
In the 5 minutes of our conversation, I loved this little woman. I wanted to wrap her up and take care of her. She had instantly stirred affection in my heart, though we probably didn’t have a thing in common.
Unfortunately, I chose to go on my way, and she went on hers, and we’ll probably never see each other again. But so it is with affection: even though it is fleeting with its momentary happiness, it’s the building block of all other types of love, and keeps society moving gracefully.
The ancient poet Ovid said, “If you would be loved, be lovable”. This is how I see affection. It’s brief, so give it away freely. Give it with no thought of reward. We all know everyone is fighting invisible battles. Affection provides comfort and support to others to keep fighting—what could be more loving than that?
Love #2: Friendship
C.S. Lewis makes a really interesting point about Friendship. He claims it is the “least natural” of all the loves, then offers for support to his claim this thought:
“Without Eros none of us would have been begotten and without Affection none of us would have been reared; but we can live and breed without Friendship”.
Friendship is a completely chosen love. Not only do we choose who to befriend, but we choose every day to nurture that relationship, forgive offenses, support and care for each other’s needs. Friendship is a love where two people sit side-by-side looking out to the future.
“Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly every about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest.”C.S. Lewis
Built on Common Ground
Friends come together through shared interests. But one of the things that makes this love so unique and special is that it has room to expand. It has room to include others.
Like the child who asks his mother, “which of your children do you love most?”, not understanding that her heart’s capacity to love grows with each child, so does Friendship similarly expand. It spreads out to welcome others with common interests and encapsulate them into their “circle”.
True Friendship is rare. Affection can be shared among strangers, Eros is reserved for your intimate partner, but in the middle of the two lies this very special love. True, lasting friendships, built through commonality, defended by loyalty, and selflessly nurtured should be cherished. If you are fortunate enough to have such a friendship, consider yourself very, very blessed.
Love #3: Eros
Eros is the state Lewis defines as being “in love” with one person, the “Beloved”. It is appropriately named after Eros—or Cupid, his Roman counterpart—who stands dangerously poised with his quiver of arrows, ready to make us all fall under his spell.
This is the one of the Four Loves we typically celebrate on Valentine’s day—the Love that reduces a man to “a general, unspecified pre-occupation with [a woman] in her totality”.
The problem with Eros, is that people become infatuated with the Love itself. Eros is powerful, for both the good and the bad; it elicits dizzying, obsessive emotions within us that we can become addicted to, like any other powerful force.
Eros shatters reason and doesn’t itself lead to happiness. To the contrary, even when two people can logically see that they won’t be happy together in the future, when friends and family attempt to persuade them that they are not a good match for each other, this Love tells them, “Better to be miserable with her than happy without her”.
For Eros to be healthy and attached only to our one Beloved, we have to develop the other Loves: Affection, Friendship, and Charity to sustain it. Otherwise, we will abandon the one we are “so in love with” in search of Eros itself.
Be Mindful of Eros
Remember who this Love is appropriately named after. Eros is a trouble-maker, and his power can be all-consuming. Don’t chase after the tantalizing feeling of being “in love” itself, but counterweight that euphoric feeling with enriching Affection and unifying Friendship.
Love #4: Charity
The last, the greatest of all Loves, is Charity—the love of God. Charity is not just our love for God, but the Love that God Himself has for man. Possessing this Love brings us as close to the Divine as we can in this life.
Heartache, on the other hand, Lewis says, comes from
“…giving one’s heart to anything but God…Do not let your happiness depend on something you may lose”.C.S. Lewis
That is not to say that we should disregard the other 3 Loves: Affection, Friendship, and Eros. Lewis says, we should not “throw away our silver to make room for the gold”. But, these three Loves are the building blocks—the primers that we can practice with, to help us understand Charity.
Eros and Charity
Eros and our corresponding love for one individual is not a corruption of Charity. It’s true, while Eros can cause heartache and sorrow, while there is never any with Charity, Eros is the shadow of what our Love can really be.
Charity completes Eros. It is some minor resemblance to God and His infinite Love that draws us to our Beloved in the first place. It is a hint, or: “manifestation of His beauty, loving kindness, wisdom or goodness [that] any earthly Beloved excited our love”.
Charity, the Love of God, lies at the Apex—the topmost point—of the triangle. We sit at one point below, while our Beloved sits at the point across. Only in rising up, closer to God, can we truly become closer to the one we love.
Nothing will bring us greater happiness in life than Charity, the pure love of Christ. But, like anything worth pursuing, it takes practice.
“And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”Book of Mormon, Moroni 7:45
It takes practice to be able to employ a virtue that itself possesses such a wonderful list of virtues.
Have a Happy Valentine’s Day
This Valentine’s Day, instead of just celebrating Eros, and its exclusive Nature, think of the other Loves: Affection, Friendship, and Charity. Think of those with whom you share these Loves and what you can do for them!
Practice Charity. Find someone whose spirits need a lift. Love the “unlovable”, befriend the lonely. Be mindful of those in particular who make you feel loved and share your gratitude with them. That will make for an uplifting and very happy Valentine’s Day!