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A Truth About Love They Insist We Ignore
“Love is love” is one of those wonderful-sounding slogans that people ought to be able to dismiss as a serious idea almost immediately upon hearing it. It’s a good t-shirt, but ridiculous analysis and foolish policy.
Do you love your spouse as you love your friends? Do you love your child as you love your parents? For that matter, do you love your mother as you love your father? Some forms of love can be weighed against others, as comparing your children against your friends, and others can’t, or shouldn’t be, as comparing one child against another or your mother against your father. But love is not simply love.
That is why Greek philosophers drew love into multiple categories very early in the formation of our culture. Playful love, or ludus, must be distinct from pragma, or the mature, life-long love that develops over decades of marriage. Loving one’s self, philautia, cannot be the same as agape, which is a selfless love for all. (Indeed, the former is not a unitary whole, inasmuch as it involves both narcissism and the much-healthier self-compassion.) And abiding love for a friend, philia, is distinct from passion for a lover, eros.
Arguably, this taxonomy is not complete. Where, for example, does love in the form of obligation (as for our parents) become distinct from love in the form of responsibility (as for our children)? What about the difference between love of our home and love of our homeland?
What the slogan, “Love is love,” means to insist is that the sort of love that characterizes marriage does not depend on the sexes of those involved. In the lifecycle of marriage, a man can experience ludus turning into eros, which then develops into philia and pragma with a woman, ideally with healthy development of philautia as the reward for feeling loved and needed. If instead that man follows the same process with another man, then the slogan proclaims them to be the same sort of love.
That is too limited, though, when it comes to what marriage is. Traditional marriage also fosters agape, and we must at least entertain the possibility of difference when the relationship does not mix the two sexes of our species; being bound in love with a person of the other sex surely assists sympathy with that half of humanity.
Practical distinctions also exist between men and women, most especially that they jointly can have children. Thus, marital eros places one face to face with agape as intimacy generates children and places the couple in the continuum of humanity.
To be sure, same-sex couples can adopt or come to raise children by some other means, but that is a separable decision from their coupling. At the heart of the matter is whether our society should — indeed, should be permitted to — acknowledge a distinction of a type of intimacy and of love that creates children by its very nature.
But isn’t all of this just an over-intellectualized rehashing of a debate that’s already been lost in the public square? Maybe, but it’s important for us to remind ourselves regularly so, as the consequences emerge, society won’t be puzzled as to the reason.
Consequences, there will be. For example, a recent analysis of research found that fathers’ involvement with their children tends to increase their desire to be involved, and then this trend builds on itself from one generation to the next. Other studies repeatedly confirm the importance of fathers, which can be distinguished from the importance of mothers, especially biological fathers.
In messy life, such families are not universally possible, and compassion requires us to mitigate the harm to everybody involved (rather than amplify it through stigma). Still, how could it not have consequences when a society refuses even to recognize the ideal circumstance as something unique? If procreation is not intrinsic to marriage, then fathers have less encouragement to develop healthy families for their children when having them was not a deliberate choice.
The fundamental error of “Love is love” — indeed, the fundamental error of the juvenile ideology that would erase all distinctions — is the insistence that unless all items in a broad category are the same, then some are devalued. This error harms all of us, not only by taking away the tools by which we encourage each other toward better decisions, but even by depriving us of the ability to be enriched by differences.
If all love is simply love, then ideas like friendship and parenthood are either corrupted by lingering questions about eros or they cannot involve “love.” As much as our unconscious social heritage may make such statements seem bizarre to us now, a generation or two of “Love is love” could make them seem unremarkable and even desirable. When such shifts produce their inevitable harm, we’ll need a record of dissent that can help future generations rediscover the new old truths that were nearly lost in the social revolution.