There is a problem with English. We don’t have enough words. Really. There are only about 170,000-ish entries in the OED and it’s nowhere near enough. There are about another 47,000 obsolete words. You’d think that among those 211,000 or so words and another 9,500 derivatives there would be sufficient words for love.
Maybe it’s hyperbole but I find myself loving a lot of things and many, many people. I love running – of course – except when I don’t. I’m not especially enamoured of it just right now. My mojo has become nojo and rather than fret about it I’m just letting it go. I’ll run or I’ll not run and hope that the love comes back in time for me to get some Thunder Run training in. Because I’m not bricking it about that at all. No. Not me.
I love cheese and sausages and bacon. Sorry, vegans; I do. I have been experimenting a little with not eating meat and cutting back on dairy and to be frank, it hasn’t worked at all. I’ve tried soy “milk” and almond “milk” and thought I might as well have had Milk of Magnesia. My knee-jerk breakfast when I haven’t had time for my porridge in the morning is a bacon roll. I forget about the pig who died to sate my hunger until I see an animal transporter and then the guilt hits me like a bolt gun. Tonight’s beef with peppers and paprika was spectacular. I thought this afternoon about dinner and that’s what popped into my head and I was out of Tesco’s with 400g of cattle flesh before I’d even remembered.
Love and guilt, mixed together as if I were having an affair with meat.
Which brings me to people and relationships. I love my friends, I really do. I can’t think of a better word to describe the general feeling of esteem, bonhomie or intimacy I have for all of them but at the same time love is a completely inadequate word to describe every relationship.
I remain besotted with my wife more than 10 years after we met. I need her like I need my next breath. Then there is the whole naked thing and I’m really not going to go into that here. I think everyone is going to be so very pleased about that. She is my closest friend and dearest companion. I like her even more than I like bacon and I love bacon and there we have an example of the inadequacy of the English language.
Nor is it particularly nuanced. There are no graduations in love for varying degrees of intimacy, friendship or esteem. It goes without saying that I don’t have any real desire to get sweaty and breathless with any of my friends except when we’re racing, yet I love them. I don’t want to share intimacies of the same kind as I do with Anne even with my dearest friends but I don’t have any word to describe the emotion I have for them other than love.
I love a cup of coffee in the morning but I don’t derive the same amount or kind of pleasure from it as I do from seeing my wife’s face.
Then there are the cats, chickens, nephews and nieces, parents, brothers and sisters and everyone else I love. It’s such a small word, such a huge range of emotions. Ancient Greek does better. There is eros, that naked, sweating, boobs and bits love. Philia covers my feelings for cheese and bacon quite well. Family stuff is mostly storge unless you’re in parts of the Appalachians then there is agape. Agape is the selfless love of one for another. It gets mentioned most often in relation to theology nowadays and that’s quite sad. There should be more agape in the world. It would mean fewer misunderstandings when telling a friend that you love them.