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Reflections on Definitions of Love

With Valentine’s Day less than a week away, you may feel bombarded with images of hearts and cupids everywhere you look. Does love fill the air this time of year, or do people simply focus more on it? Is it a worldwide marketing ploy to sell insane amounts of chocolate? Or, is there really something to the love buzz that goes viral each February?

While reflecting on love, we began researching exactly how people define the word. Meriam Webster’s top definition for the English word ‘love’ is “a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person.” But did you know many languages contain several words to capture all the possible definitions of love? The Spanish language, for instance, reserves various words as alternatives for the many English uses of the word “love.” If you wanted to say you love your wife, you would choose the verb “amar,” which means to love romantically in a lasting fashion. However, if you wanted to say you love, adore and are totally into historic stained glass windows, you would choose the verb “encantar” which means to like intensely.

The concept of love’s many faces is not a new one; ancient Greeks used many words to express the definitions of love as their language developed thousands of years ago. These varying linguistic options can be broken down into four main categories of love:

Eros- a passionate and intense love that arouses romantic feelings

This is the definition of love we most closely associate with Valentine’s Day. Eros refers to romantic love in a relationship.

Storge- committed, sacrificial which makes you feel secure, comfortable and safe

Love you feel for a child or your best friend, which inspires you to give of yourself and protect at all costs is the kind of emotion the Greek word “storge” represents.

Phileo- an affectionate, warm and tender platonic love

This refers to a chosen fondness towards colleagues or friends, and is often based on a positive and reciprocating relationship between people. In 1681, William Penn, chose “Philadelphia” for his colony’s capitol in what would become the modern-day state of Pennsylvania. He derived this name from the Greek root words “phileo” and “adelphos,” which mean “to love” and “brother.” Phileo is defined as the kind of love which makes you feel loyal to and desire friendship with someone. Because of this, the city has become known as “the city of brotherly love.”

Agape - love demonstrated by your behavior towards another person; a committed and chosen love

Agape is often referred to as the purest of the Greek definitions of love. It means loving unconditionally, without expecting anything in return. This kind of love includes self-sacrifice, service and kindness, without expecting recognition or repayment. It exemplifies the concept included in our glass figurine pictured above: loving through actions, not only with words. 

As we reflect on the many definitions of love, we hope you are uplifted by the concepts of friendship, appreciation and affection expressed by our research into the root of this special holiday. Whether through eros, storge, phileo, agape or all of the above, we hope you will brighten someone’s Valentine’s week with an act of kindness.