The Athlete's Way

Sweat and the biology of bliss

The Language of Love

Most of us don't have language that captures the spectrum of loves we feel.

Original handwritten index card describing 10 types and phases of love
“I love you.” What did you mean the last time you said these three words to someone? Who was the person? Where were you? What words would you use to describe the type of “love” you feel for this person? These can be tough questions to answer because most of us don't have language that captures the spectrum of love we feel for the different people in our lives. 

I found myself struggling a few months ago to answer these questions when I texted “I LOVE YOU” to someone I consider a soul brother, colleague and best friend who was going through a hard time. Saying "I love you" turned out to be a bombshell and created a minefield of misunderstanding. His response made me realize that I had hit a raw nerve and opened a Pandora’s box. I didn’t have language to articulate the “type” of love I was describing and found myself tongue tied in trying to explain myself. Every intimate connection between two people becomes a complex and everchanging tapestry with lots and lots of threads. I am on a mission to come up with a vernacular to describe or deconstruct the dynamics of “love” and words to describe what we mean when we say: "I love you." 

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

Luckily, a couple days later I was channel surfing and stumbled on a re-run of Bill Moyers interviewing Joseph Campbell about The Power of Myth on PBS. In the interview, Campbell hones in on three words he had identified to describe archetypes and phases of love. The Power of Myth is one of my all time favorite books, and I had forgotten that in Chapter 7 that Campbell explores the terms: eros, amor and agape to describe different types of love. My layman’s interpretation of these three words is that: Eros is any sexualized expression of ‘love’ without any emotional or spiritual component necessarily; Amor is a once-in-a-lifetime feeling of physical, emotional and spiritual connectedness with a sexual component; and Agape is a universal love or a meeting of the souls where two people create a sacred, spiritual third entity they bow to.

When I was running the next day, I started ruminating about more words that might expand on Joseph Campbell’s three. I always jog with fluorescent index cards to jot down ideas. The pink notecard used as the teaser image here is what I came up with while having coffee after that jog and the page below  is what I expanded it into for a workshop I did last week. 

This list is a work in progress at it's earliest stages of incubation. I am not a scholar or a linguist but I have a penchant (or bad habit) of taking my 7th grade Latin knowledge to invent new words or to add a random accent to an English word to give it a certain je ne sais quoi and infuse some humor.  Please take the actual etymology of these words with a grain of salt. I made many of them up so that I can attach a new definition and connotation to them to create a fresh vernacular to describe love.

To say “I love you” to another person where there is potential for a sexual relationship -- whether it be heterosexual or homosexual -- is a tricky minefield to navigate. Tim McCarthy (my Camp Lightbulb colleague and gay video historian) uses the term “homophile” as opposed to “homosexual” to describe himself. As a gay man, I like this term a lot. Straight guys who are best buddies can get away with saying "I love you, man" but for gay men who are best buddies it's difficult because there can be varying degrees of sexual attraction, just like in a heterosexual intimate friendship between a man and a woman.  I like the concept of being a 'homophile'  because it takes the ‘sex’ out of all the vernacular and allows for bonding between people of the same gender who have a mutual love that is not sexualized. 

You may wonder why I am writing about the language of love in a blog about sports and competition. I believe that as human beings we are all seeking a sense of connection to other humans and to feel worthy of love and belonging. To maximize your human potential and to truly succeed you need to create and maintain close-knit human bonds which requires an understanding of complex emotions surrounding intimacy. Having words to describe intricate interpersonal dynamics is helpful for understanding and fortifying these bonds. 

Brian McNaught and I sat down for a 30-minute Stonewall Portraits interview a few weeks ago. We talked a lot about the link between spirituality, athletics and the importance of feeling safe, valued and worthy of love and belonging. All of which are key to finding happiness and tapping into your full potential in sport and in life. If you have time to watch the interview you can check it out here

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that; Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” I think the more words we have to describe ‘love’ the stronger we become as individuals and as a collective and the more we will drive out hate and darkness. Hopefully, this blog will get a conversation started and we can continue to expand concepts of ‘love’ and strengthen our feelings of connectedness and commonality. 

© Christopher Bergland 2012. All rights reserved.

The Athlete’s Way ® is a registered trademark of Christopher Bergland.

Christopher Bergland is a world-class endurance athlete, coach, author, and political activist.

more...

Subscribe to The Athlete's Way

Current Issue

Just Say It

When and how should we open up to loved ones?