The English language has a problem. We have only one word for “love.” You could say “I love my son. I love pizza. I love my Country. I love my wife. I love God. God loves me.” Each of these sentences are grammatically valid uses of the word “love” and yet they convey entirely different concepts.
This confusion of language can become a confusion of thought for English speakers.
C.S. Lewis, when teaching on “love”, forsook the English language entirely in his book The Four Loves where he compares the Four Ancient Greek words for love.
Those lost words are:
- Storge (Affection or Parental Love)
- Eros (Romantic Love)
- Philia (Brotherly or Friendship Love)
- Agape (Charity or Unconditional Love)
The Four Loves is one of the books I am reading as I do research for Courtship in Crisis. If you haven’t read the book, you can get a free version on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, and you can also find a decent summary on Wikipedia.
The Paradox of Intentionality
Courtship advocates often recommend the following advice for romantic relationships:
- “Be friends first.”
- “Be intentional.”
The problem with this advice is that friendship and intentionality can be mutually exclusive.
According to Lewis, the nature of Philia (Brotherly) Love is that it is a non-intentional love. It just happens as an outgrowth of companionship and common interest. Friends rarely ask, “where is this friendship headed?” It is entirely possible never to realize how much you love your friend until he dies.
The lack of intentionality makes Philia a remarkably resilient love. Philia friends who have been apart for years can pick up the relationship right where it left off. In some ways, it is a love that transcends time and space. It is two people side by side, focused on their mutual interests and not thinking about the relationship itself.
Eros, on the other hand, is a highly intentional love where one pursues and the other responds. Eros is two people facing each other. Eros is passionately focused on the other. It is not at all uncommon for lovers to ask “where is this relationship headed?” It is impossible to put a romance on hold for years and then pick it up right where it left off years later.
Philia friends don’t think about each other very much while Eros lovers can’t stop thinking about each other.
Bromances and The Philia Friendship Crisis
C.S. Lewis, writing in a time of radio and newspapers, mourned the loss of true friendships in modern society. He argued that moderns failed to value deep friendships, and that many had never experienced true Philia love.
Which makes me wonder, if C.S. Lewis thought we were alienated from each other then, what would he have thought of Facebook? We live in an age where all it takes to become “friends” is a few taps of the finger. Has Facebook caused us to forget what it means to be real friends? Here are 7 tests to tell your true friends from your Facebook friends.
The ancients saw Philia love as greater than both Eros and Storge.
The most famous example of this kind of love in the Bible is David and Jonathan. Upon the death of Jonathan, David said, “I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.” (2 Samuel 1:26)
Lewis estimated that as many as 90% of people never experience true Philia Friendship in their lifetime. Our “friends” are often only Storge Friends, and our relationships lack the David & Jonathan level of Philia Love.
We as humans have a deep longing for the kind of love that David says is more wonderful than romantic love. Romantic Eros Love is great, but it meets a different emotional need. Despite a passionate romance, without a true Philia Friend, we are still somehow unsatisfied.
There are some ways that only women “get” other women. The differences between the sexes are too much. As a man, I can say we don’t understand women nearly as well as we pretend. And we don’t pretend to know that much.
In one sense, Eros is a celebration of differences while Philia is a celebration of similarities.
I think that trying to find someone who can be both your Eros Lover and your Philia Friend has made finding a suitable mate much harder. While some may be able to find such a match, these couples are the exception rather than the rule. It is nearly impossible to find a single human who can meet so many emotional needs. The hopeless hunt for such a perfect person may help explain why the marriage rate is dropping each year.
The Storge Confusion
A lot of people confuse Philia and Storge. Especially homeschoolers, whose closest friends are often also family members. According to Lewis, Storge Affection is responsible for most of the happiness in the world. It transcends not just the sexes but also the species. It is the love between dog and man and even between dog and cat. Americans often call “Storge” “friendship.” That is true in the sense that a dog is a man’s best “friend”.
This kind of Storge Friendship is not what Lewis is talking about when he talks about Philia Friendship. A Philia Friend could be translated into “Soul Mate”, but then we have moved that into our language for Eros. I think it is telling of our culture that we lack even a vocabulary to talk about this kind of friendship.
C.S. Lewis gives us several tests to differentiate between Storge and Philia. The simplest is that you can’t pinpoint when the Storge love began. Eros and Philia typically have a memorable instigation. To notice Storge is to realize that it has already been growing for a while. To find out about the other tests, I encourage you to read The Four Loves. It is an amazing book.
What many people share with most of their friends is not Philia love at all. It is Storge.
3 Pitfalls of Friendship Before Romance
Trying to be best friends before romance may not be all the roses and butterflies the courtship advocates promised you.
1. Pursuing a Romantic Relationship Puts the Friendship at Risk
As a friendship grows, it grows into something separate from the individual friends. The more of a friendship you build, the more precious it is and the less you want to put it at risk.
There is no turning back from the moment when you discuss whether or not to change the Philia love you share as friends into to an Eros Romantic Love you share as lovers. This loss of the friendship makes the rejection of the Romance all the worse.
Ladies, if you are wondering why the men in your life are not pursuing you, it may be because they don’t want to risk losing your friendship.
2. Friendship Love is Not Monogamous
It is normal for a close friendship to include more than two people. While C.S. Lewis was Philia Friends with J.R.R. Tolkien, he was also close friends with the other members of the Inklings.
In fact, Philia Love can be so intertwined with the group of friends that it can be hard to parse out your specific feelings for a specific friend within the group. This is not a problem since Philia is rarely self-reflecting.
That is, unless one friend is thinking about changing his Philia friendship with one of his circle of friends into an Eros Romance. Then suddenly he has a problem on his hands. He has just changed not only his relationship with the one woman, but he has also altered the dynamics of the group. The romance introduces a foreign element into the community that has the potential to break it apart.
This path of “groups of friends” then “friends together” then “lovers together” is difficult and in some ways unnatural. The natural change for a love is that, with the influence of the Holy Spirit, it matures into Agape love, not morphing into a different lesser love. Is it any wonder that so many people are failing to make these transitions and are stuck in singleness?
3. The Friendzone Can Become a Relational Cul-De-Sac
Let’s imagine that a guy, “Gus” and a girl, “Sally”, are friends. They are part of a group of friends who regularly meet in real life to “hang out” and to participate in group activities. As they become closer friends, Gus sees them as just friends while Sally has secretly started trying out wedding dresses in her mind.
Since friendship is rarely self-reflecting, Gus has no idea that Sally is starting to think of the relationship as something more. Gus, who rarely thinks about the relationship, thinks it is cruising along nicely on the highway of friendship. But for Sally, the relationship is a cul-de-sac of broken dreams. The faster things move for her the more likely everything is to topple over.
This is such a common occurrence, my generation now has a word for it. We would say that Sally is stuck in the “friendzone.” She is hoping for an Eros Romance and all she has is a friendship.
Don’t Marry Your Enemy
Before you start leaving angry comments, let me clarify what I am not saying. I am not saying that you should marry your enemy. Despite what Hollywood may say, falling in love with an enemy will rarely lead to happily ever after. There is a reason romantic comedies don’t have sequels.
What I am saying is that you should look for your Philia Best Friend with a fellow guy or girl. As a guy, you need fellow guy friends who journey with you on the road of life.
Your spouse can’t be everything to you. Every David needs his Jonathan.
I think that once we stop looking for our Philia Friendship needs to be fulfilled through our spouses, both friendship and romance will get both easier and healthier. In fact, cultivating a close Philia friendship with a fellow guy or girl could revitalize your marriage, as you are more satisfied and have more to give.
So if you find yourself falling in love with your best friend, you need to make a conscious effort to cultivate other close same gender friendships. This will make both you and your romance more healthy.
Don’t Marry A Stranger
I am not saying you should marry a stranger. It is important to get to know the other person and to share mutual interests. While some people may fall into Eros Love at first sight, most people need time to get to know the other person. This time to get to know the other person is what Traditional Dating provides.
C.S. Lewis says that Eros Love makes a nest of itself in Storge Affection. As he says “Not all kisses between lovers are lovers kisses.” An embryonic romance can feel a lot like friendship, and in some ways it is. The difference is that you don’t often think about your friends, while you think about your lover a lot.
If you can’t stop thinking about someone, they are probably not a Philia Friend.
A Healthier Way
I think the traditional wedding ceremony is a great model for what a healthy marital relationship should look like. The groom does not just have his Eros Bride. He also has his Philia Best Man. Watching from the pews are his Storge Parents and his Storge Friends. Standing between the couple is the minister who represents the Agape Love of our Creator.
To be healthy we need all four loves in our lives:
- Eros with our lover
- Storge with our family
- Philia with our friends
- Agape with everyone
What do you think?