How many words do you have for love?
“Sanskrit has ninety-six words for love; ancient Persian has eighty, Greek three, and English only one. This is indicative of the poverty of awareness or emphasis that we give to that tremendously important realm of feeling. Eskimos have thirty words for snow, because it is a life-and-death matter to them to have exact information about the element they live with so intimately. If we had a vocabulary of thirty words for love … we would immediately be richer and more intelligent in this human element so close to our heart. An Eskimo probably would die of clumsiness if he had only one word for snow; we are close to dying of loneliness because we have only one word for love. Of all the Western languages, English may be the most lacking when it comes to feeling.”
– Robert Johnson, The Fisher King and the Handless Maiden, p. 6
There are so many ways to experience love.
The “I love you” I say to my older son, like sweet summer light, is different than the “I love you” that I whisper into my husband’s ear, like a steady river, and different still from the “I love you” I tell my younger son, a redwood grove. The “I love you” that I’ve said to my various cat-friends that have graced my life over the years is different than the “I love you” that I say to my best friends. The “I love you” I say to my brother is different than the “I love you” I say to my mother. This might sound obvious, but it’s important to note that we generally accept and normalize these different shades of love.
Yet when it comes to our intimate partners, we expect to feel one kind of love in one measurement: namely, “madly in love” without a a hint of doubt or uncertainty clouding the pure, ecstatic experience. We exert immense and unrealistic levels of pressure on ourselves – especially during the early stages and during an engagement – to feel an exact amount and sentiment of love for our intimate partners. We believe that we can measure love, that there’s a right way to love or an adequate quantity of love that signals that you’ve met the “right” partner and now you’re legitimized to marry.
Just as our culture propagates one image of physical beauty and one measure of success, so do we absorb one definition of romantic love: namely, a heart-fluttering, ecstatic feeling accompanied by 100% certainty that we’ve found “the one.”
Sadly, and all too often, we hear that an engagement or marriage ends because one person “fell out of love.” What does this mean? I can only assume it means that the butterflies escaped and the “in love” feeling dimmed, causing the one who “fell out of love” to arrive at the conclusion that the relationship must be fundamentally flawed and inevitably over. It’s a false conclusion that too many people jump to and causes them to walk away from a healthy, loving relationship that may need a little fine-tuning – or, most likely, an adjustment in the way they’re thinking about love.