How Bad Must We Be to See the Good in Others?

Love is a underlying theme in much of my writing. Erâth, the fictional world of my novels, is a world long-bereft of love, and so it is all the more potent when our main characters feel it for the first time—having never known of its existence. Love is, I think, an underrated quality in our lives today; something too freely and carelessly thrown about, without regard for the deeper meanings behind it. We fail to recognize true love, we confuse it with lust, we think it will solve all our problems … when I believe the truth of love is deeper and more powerful than all of that.

Many Kinds of Love

It wasn’t always this way, of course. As some of you may know, the ancient Greeks had several words that, today, would translate as ‘love’. I think it’s a shame we’ve lost these words, because they might have helped me define my life much earlier, and without the pain that I, and others, have suffered. There is, of course, what we often consider love today, or at least, being ‘in love’: éros. Éros is passion, sexual desire, a hunger for the physical. Some might think of it as lust. It’s what we feel when we see someone attractive, when we’re in the early stages of a relationship and can’t keep our hands off each other, when we’re madly, head-over-heels in love with someone. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of love, but, I think, for most people it’s unsustainable. Nobody can live in passion all their lives, though some thrive on the thrill.

Then there is philia. This is something different altogether—the love between brothers, forged in deep and caring friendships. It is what we feel for someone who has always been there for us, who lifted us and carried us when we were weak, and for whom we would unquestioningly do the same.

There are others, of course—I particularly like the idea of storge, or unconditional love, such as that felt by a parent for their child. Such love is instinctive and unbreakable. But I think we as modern humans often confuse the first two, or at the very least, their value.

The Value of Love

We place great value in finding that ‘someone special’ in our society, yet we rarely consider what ‘special’ actually means to us in that context. We dream of the ‘one’, the person to spend the rest of our lives with. And we assume, of course, that this ‘one’ is someone we must fall in love with—someone for whom we must feel éros.

Yet I would challenge that. My best friend in the whole wide world, aside from my wife, is Ben. I met Ben at work seven or eight years ago now, and though several thousand miles now separate us, he is someone I can’t imagine not being in my life. Over the years Ben has listened to me, and talked to me. He’s supported me, and shared with me. When I recently had a lapse of faith in my marriage, he was the one I reached out to. If we consider that special someone as the person who will always be there for us, then for me, that person would be Ben.

Our closest friends stay with us for life, through girlfriends and boyfriends, marriages and divorces, ups and downs and all over the place. They’re the ones who don’t abandon us when we’re bad, because they know the goodness of our hearts. And for me, this is philiaThis is the truest, longest-lasting and most powerful love. And the best part is that not only is it not sexual in nature, it doesn’t have to be. That someone special? You probably already know them.

This isn’t to say the world would be better off without éros; most of us need passion in our lives, at least some of the time. But passion, like any strong emotion, waxes and wanes with time. No more can I expect to remain angry at someone for my entire life than can I expect to be madly, lustfully in love with my wife every single day. Does that mean I don’t love her? Of course not. I feel philia for my wife, as much as éros or any other kind of love. But I’d be a fool not to recognize that as one kind of love grows, so might another fade.

The Fantasy is Better than the Reality

Long ago, before I met my wife, I had a long-distance relationship with someone who, to this day, I have never met. For her, I felt éros, most powerfully. And I thought I felt philia, too; I shared things with her that I couldn’t have told anyone else. She reciprocated—told me the terrible secrets of her own past, because she trusted me, and, though it pains me to admit it, because we didn’t know each other in real life. I could never reveal those secrets to anyone.

I felt these loves more strongly than I’ve ever felt anything in my life. I waited anxiously every day to hear from her; her every word lifted me above the clouds or cut me to the bone. There was no reasoning, no thought at all, other than I loved this girl madly and deeply, and I knew in my heart that we were destined to be together.

Of course this didn’t happen. My world turned upside down (several times over), I met my wife, and here we are thirteen years later, still together and with a child we both adore. But I never stopped thinking about her. And, deep down, I never stopped loving her.

But recently I’ve come to realize—I didn’t love her. I didn’t love this person who lived thousands of miles away—I loved the fantasy I had built surrounding her. Because of the nature of the relationship, I was able to place her on so high a pedestal that no one could ever compare again. She was, of course, perfect. Everything I ever wanted, or could ever want. She had only shown me—could only show me—what she chose to, and I grew to idolize those things.

How Bad Must I Be?

I mentioned earlier that I had a recent lapse of faith in my marriage. I know I’m far from perfect; in fact, I may well be one of the most miserable, rotten human beings on the planet. There are times when I am a terrible husband, a neglectful father, and an unsupportive friend. I am weak, susceptible to flights of fancy, and always in love with the past.

Those of you who’ve been following my blog for a while know that last November, I came closer than I have ever been in my life to killing myself. And since then, I’ve been slowly crawling out of that pit of despair. I’ve started to become my own person, even when I’m not sure who that person is. I’m starting to learn who I am without depression. I’m starting, after fifteen years, to grow up.

And this has naturally changed the dynamic of the relationship between my wife and I. For the first time ever, she doesn’t need to take care of me. I can start to be her husband, and not her ward. But in that there are things she wants me to do that I’m not ready for yet. And things I want from her that she can’t provide. And as long as we’ve been together, and as much as we love each other, it’s created a rift.

And in the midst of this, I reached back out to her. To the perfect, fantasy girl. I wasn’t sure why at the time, but I think now I know. My therapist tells me that we seek in others what we aren’t getting from our own relationship. And my marriage wasn’t perfect. None are, I’m sure, but ours has weathered some rough storms, and been left battered for it. And I think, emotionally, I was looking for what I didn’t have at home.

All the old feelings came back; the anxiety, the desperateness to hear from her, the overwhelming sense of need; despite time and distance, I suddenly felt exactly as I had when we had last spoken. And for a solid week or two, I was madly in love with her all over again. Éros, to a fault.

But I am lucky. Lucky in friends, lucky in marriage, and lucky in fate. She isn’t interested. She’s with someone who completes her, someone who did for her what I could never do, and she’s happy. And for that, I’m glad. When I spoke with Ben, he gave me such sage advice that I immediately began to feel better within myself. Because I felt bad. Really bad.

What she wants is a friend. What I want is éros with my wife again. Philia … I am lucky enough to have two people in my life that fill this need—Ben and my wife. Could I be fortunate enough to keep a third?

The Drug

Ben said that keeping in touch with the ‘one that got away’ is like an alcoholic keeping a bottle in the house. My therapist says it’s like a drug, an addiction. Both intimate the dangers of keeping contact. But for me … if I cut her off again, I’d live the rest of my life running from my feelings, rather than dealing with them. I don’t know how to get over an ex … but I can learn.

Alcohols can’t have just one drink. Addicts can’t dabble here and there. Am I asking too much, of my wife and of myself? She’s in touch with her first boyfriend, though—and I trust her—strictly platonically. But can she trust me? More importantly, can I trust myself? I’m notably untrustworthy.

But as I get better—and for the first time in my life, I believe I truly am better—I know I can be stronger. And I’m starting to realize something that’s been a long, long time in coming: my wife loves me. Éros, philia … and storge: unconditional love. My wife has loved me through thick and thin for most of my adult life. She has been there for me. She has taught me. I’ve been a slow learner, and have a long way to go still, but no one on this earth has given to me what she has. Not even my fantasy girl.

I don’t deserve her; I truly don’t. I have been awful, just awful, for the greatest part of our relationship. And were I to be perfect for the next ten years, it could only begin to atone for what’s she’s put up with.

I’ve been lucky enough in my life to love twice, but I think there may only one person I could feel érosphilia and storge for: my wife.

To you, sweetie, I say: I love you.

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