The English language is woefully deficient for the purposes of communicating emotions. It is particularly stilted in expressing love. Love comes in so many forms and fashions and ways of being, that a single word could never adequately express the nuance of this emotion.
I mean, I love cheese. I really love cheese.
I also love my dog. While I would run into a burning building to rescue my dog, I would not be willing to run into a burning building to grab a chunk of cheese out of the fridge. I can always buy more cheese. There is only one Liliputian.
I do not love Liliputian more than cheese because she's irreplaceable. I love Liliputian because she's Liliputian. And I would be willing to risk life and limb to save her because I love her.
That's just the way it works.
I love panties. They're my favorite accessory. I don't wear jewelry or make-up. I don't do much with my hair. But I have got a collection of panties that rivals the stock at the local Victoria's Secret. I'm willing to invest a ridiculous amount of money that could better serve the world elsewhere because I love panties. Though they could certainly be replaced, dependent on the degree of conflagration, I might be willing to run into a burning building to save my panties.
I love my best friend. My best friend is amazing. An extraordinary human being who has been by my side through some of the worst shit a person can endure. I love my best friend more than cheese. I love my best friend more than my panty collection. I do not love my best friend more than my dog, if a choice had to be made, I'd drag my best friend from a burning building first and then go back for my dog.
All of these are prioritized differently: cheese, my panty collection, my dog, my best friend.... Yet, I use the same word, love, to express my feelings about them.
This is where the English language falls short.
Greek does a better job.
There are four words in Greek which are translated into English as "love."
Eros - the root word from which we get "erotic" refers to sensual love. Often times, when people discuss the Greek term "eros" they liken it to "lust," but this isn't the case. Eros is about far more than strong sexual desire. It's the creative force of life.
Storge - familial love. Oh, family! How we love our parents, our siblings., our aunts, our uncles, our cousins, our children if we have them. In some ways, it might be the (dare I write it?) obligatory of shared genetic material. It's a natural affection born of familiarity.
Philia - friendship! Brotherly love! It is the root of our words for many fetishes or sexual obsessions, though this is a misuse of the term, in my opinion. This is a love typically based on common interests or shared intentions. This type of love is most often symmetrical - reciprocal levels enagement and investment on the parts of all parties involved.
Agape - the divine love. This is a love for which no definition could ever suffice. To understand agape, you have to have experienced agape. It's simply the way it is.
Even with these four do not encompass all ways of loving and experiencing love.
The whole of my adult life, I've been reasonably closed off from others. I do not share myself. I am not vulnerable. I do not engage emotionally outside of very carefully constructed and demonstrably safe relationships. And this is not good.
So, about three months ago, I decide to start exercising my vulnerability muscles. Whoo! Terrifying.
To be emotionally open with myself and others; something I've never done before because being open means being vulnerable and being vulnerable means (gasp) I might get hurt.
I never expected to be someone who could understand different types of love (apart from the rigidly defined and carefully constructed relationships and love explained above). Nor did I ever expect to be someone who could be okay with less structured loves; to feel safe in learning new ways of loving even and especially if everything isn't even-steven.
Yet, in practicing openness and vulnerability, in exploring greater intimacy, I have found that rather than being scary and hard and painful, opening myself has been freeing and expansive and good.
And I've found another type of love that does not fit the aforementioned types.
I call it "Supernova" love.
Supernovae happen when stars explode, are reborn as a new stellar expression of light. The energy they emit is so intense it briefly outshines every other source of light in an entire galaxy. Supernovae are intense.
Supernova love is intense as well. Incredibly shortlived. Full of passion and energy and spark. It's that moment when you meet someone and everything falls into place and the energy is right and you fall in love for an instant. But that kind of energy is not sustainable longterm.
When the moment is over, there are remnants in our soul. If circumstances do not permit that love to grow into another (philia or agape) one might be tempted to pull in upon themselves and shrink away from further vulnerability. Because once you've experienced that power and it's no longer present, what do you do with the space left behind?
Rather than a loss to be mourned, however, when that love has passed, if we permit, it can carry us forward and remind us that for a moment, we touched and were touched by the most powerful force in the universe and we survived. It will have shaped us and changed us and lighted the way for the next encounter.
And the next encounter is sure to come if we open ourselves to that experience and hold it lightly while it's ours.