There are many different types of love. In other languages, there are separate words to describe which kind of love a person is referring to. I’m sure that cuts down on a lot of confusion (and unnecessary awkwardness).
Aristotle explained the philosophy of love in depth, and gave us terms to differentiate between the types:
1. Eros: passion for someone or something. Often thought of as sexual desire.
2. Agape: the all-encompassing love of humanity. For those who worship a deity, this would be the love between god and man. For those who have a deep connection with nature, this would be the love between man and the earth. It is often referred to as “brotherly” love.
3. Philia: the love between friends and family. This also covers the love of a child.
If you’ll notice, none of these categories have any qualifiers. Nowhere does it say, “this is the love of _______ only if ______”.
Eros can be tricky sometimes. Passion can die if you let it. Once eros evolves into philia, is there a point in trying to continue a romantic relationship? Personally, I don’t think so. That’s why I don’t want my relationship to change in that direction. I have had people tell me that my man needs to accept who I am, even if I change, and deal with it. I don’t believe that. I feel that it is my responsibility to take care myself and continue to be just as attractive as I was when we first met (to the best of my ability). He does the same for me. (Actually, he does more, and is better at keeping in shape, what can I say…)
Agape is pretty hard, too. I tend to be judgmental a lot more than I should. As much as I’d like to help others, I feel the need to have evidence that they are helping themselves, first. Here in California there are a lot of panhandlers. I can’t bring myself to just drop money into any random cup. Of course, if there is a street performer who entertains me, I have no problem giving money. I feel s/he earned that money through a good performance. I’ve also been known to buy several homemade cds off of the street. I feel that somebody went through a lot of trouble to make those cds, so I can spare a couple of bucks to buy one. Overall, I do tend to have a somewhat cynical view of humanity, so as much as I’d like to say that I’m brimming with brotherly love, I’m not. Humanity needs to start thinking for itself and caring about itself and actually standing up to authority once in a while (or a bit more often than that). Once that happens, perhaps my faith in man’s ability will be restored and I can start brimming with brotherly love again. Maybe someday I can work toward an unconditional status with mankind.
In my opinion, philias should be the easiest type of love to give freely and unconditionally, yet everywhere I look people put conditions on their personal relationships. I see siblings who get angry at each other for the other’s choice of spouse. Families are constantly fighting and picking sides. I’ve seen parents tell their children that they could never do anything to disrupt the parents’ love…then the child says s/he is gay, or gets caught with drugs at school, or is found having sex in his/her parents’ bed. The next thing the child knows, s/he is being shipped off to boarding school, or a psych ward, or a distant relatives house. Or worse, the parents do nothing. They refuse to talk or interact with the child at all. The child is left feeling abandoned no matter which road the parents take. The idea that the parents will always love them has been shattered, along with any trust that might have been there.
So how can a parent express dissatisfaction with a child’s behavior without compromising that unconditional love status? Easy. Talk to the child. The first question should always be, “How does this make you feel?” Never be discouraged by the answer, “I don’t know.” That is an honest answer from the child. Most of the time they have no idea why they did something or what they’re feeling afterward. When a parent starts the conversation with an accusatory question like, “What were you thinking?” the child will most likely shut down or become defensive and further communication will be futile. Often, focusing on something other than the incident at hand will help the child open up. Find something the child has done well recently and focus on that for a while. Once the child has relaxed and opened up about his/her achievements, revisit the behavioral issue and talk about the underlying reasons for doing it in the first place. Children (just like adults) don’t do things for no reason (contrary to popular belief). Even if the reason is “just to see if I could,” it’s still a reason. IMHO, I believe that more parents should be more open to this reason. If a child felt more comfortable coming to their parents to ask, “is it ok if I experiment with some bottle rockets in the back yard.” The parents could get some more details about the experiment, and even monitor it, instead of having to punish the child when one of the rockets takes off part of the shed’s roof.
I think I’ve rambled on enough for right now. In the end, I know it can be hard and tricky to love unconditionally, but when it comes to children and family, I find it much more rewarding to spend time loving and communicating than restricting access to each other. When you tell your family, “It’s my way or the highway,” you’re the one who loses the most.