Lovers Kissing at Sunset

Love, Conditional and Unconditional

Lovers Kissing at Sunset
Lovers Kissing at Sunset by Unsplash

Dear Son,

One of the things I write and talk a lot about in my work is the idea of Loving others.  Love can be a complicated topic, and people prefer to have pretty stories and songs about love than realistic discussions about it.  I wind up bursting a lot of bubbles when it comes to love.  So I am going give it to you straight here and in real life.

First, know that love is the most overused and abused word in the English language.  It actually refers to several different feelings.

(I will use the ancient Greek words here, because they are more useful.)

Phillia: The love we have for friends, brothers in arms, and workmates.  This is a warm feeling we have and a desire to see that person happy and healthy.  It is also the love we share with our pets, and with ideas we want to see spread and succeed.

Ágape: A love of humanity.  This is the desire to see people live happy, peaceful, and productive lives.

Storge: The love a parent has for their child.

Éros: Sexual love and desire.  This is the kind of love that people have for their spouses and lovers, especially in the early parts of a relationship.

Of these kinds of love only Storge should be unconditional.  Only the love a parent can have for their children can be blind and passionate enough that nothing can dull it.  I talked about this at length last week in my article on the difference between a father’s love and his approval.  A healthy and who parent can never stop loving their child, even if it saddens them when their child does thins that they cannot approve of.  Our canon of literature is full of great poems and stories of the pain of a person who loves their child, but cannot live their child’s deeds.  One story in particular that carries such tales is Beowulf, which I will share to you when you are very young, if I can.

Download: Beowulf (Heaney Trans.)

All other kinds of love, however are conditional.  You earn them through your actions, and give it to others because of their actions.  To believe that love can – or should – be unconditional is dangerous.  Dangerous because it means that you can give love to people when they do not deserve it, and open yourself to terrible harm, and dangerous because it means that you can form a loving trusting relationship with another person, and then lose it because you did not work to keep being worthy of that love.

Ágape is Won through a Positive Mindset

Of all of the other forms of love Ágape is the least complicated.  When a person loves the rest of humanity, they work hard to care for and include others.  It is the drive that creates trade, science, and art.  It is the random acts of kindness and the intentional acts of service that make life better for everyone. Anyone with a good and healthy mindset and a little empathy finds Ágape comes to them easily.

We lose it when we are hurt, betrayed or bullied too often, and fall into misanthropy – anger and dislike of people… or when we fall into the Victim Mindset.  Victims don’t love humanity, however much they talk about taking care of the poor, downtrodden, or oppressed; they are really about punishing happy and productive people because they feel hurt.  You’ll see it for yourself the first time someone tells you to “check your privilege.”

Our society is as prosperous as it is because we are are free to express Ágape through our science, our free markets, and our political system.  You will always benefit from the Ágape of others so long as you don’t lose it yourself and become so hateful and bitter that others are afraid of you.

Phillia is won Through Virtue

It can be easy to earn the goodness that comes from people through their love of humanity, but to earn the love of other people as friends is a lot harder.  To have good and healthy friends means building a strong character and keen emotional intelligence.  You need to be kind, trustworthy, thoughtful, and care about others to earn their friendship.  But more than that, you also have to add value to other people’s lives.  You have to share your time, your energy, your knowledge, or your creativity so that they see that you are a person who will make their lives better by being your friend.

When a Man proves mean, petty, untrustworthy, or cold, he loses the friends he has… well at least the real friends.  There is a world full of fair-weather friends, exploiters, and toxic people who are happy “not to judge” and stick by a man of poor character.  After all, a man of poor character can be pressured or manipulated into doing all kinds of bad things on the behalf of other bad people.

So cultivate character!  The better your character, the surer you can be that the people who love you, do so for your virtues.  And also be a good judge of it: when you make friends, do so because you admire the kind of person your would-be friend is, and make friends with him because he makes your life better for him being in it.

Éros is won by By Hard Work on Yourself

The love and desire you share with a girlfriend (or boyfriend) is nothing like a mere friendship.  It is a different thing altogether.  It can be a high like a drug, and make you do and say foolish things.  At its best, it is a challenging game where you are constantly flirting, seducing, and playing a dance of power with each other.

Éros is fleeting, though.  You remain drunken on sexual love only for about eighteen months; then the hormones start to wear off.  Many relationships die at the eighteen month mark, because one day a pair of lovers wake up and find that being with each other is no longer a wild thrill ride.

When your relationships last, they will do so for two reasons:

First, because you have become more than just lovers, you have become friends.  There is Phillia as well as Éros between you.  But that is not enough!  People who are happy letting a marriage or sexual relationship turn into friends with occasional benefits quickly find that they become either bored or bitter with one another.

Second, you must revive Éros over and over again.  You have to keep seducing your spouse or long-term lover every chance you get.  You have to work hard to stay well-dressed, healthy, good-looking, and fun to be around.  You have to keep playing the elaborate games of power and seduction that make a sexual relationship fun and a little dangerous feeling.  You have to keep trying to be the man that she (or he) was attracted to in the first place – cocksure, ambitious, intelligent, healthy, and driven.

If you fail at continuous to keep your lover engaged, the relationship will die.

There is no unconditional love between spouses and lovers.  That love is hard work.  Don’t buy any story that tells you otherwise because it is a recipe for failure.  The idea of unconditional love is seductive.  We all want to be loved “just for being who we are.”  But it invites ruin.  The only way we get to be loved for who we are is when we work hard to be worth loving, son.  That is hard work, but I promise you, I will make sure you are more than up to the task.



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