Everybody needs to feel loved, so why is love so hard to find?
Love is big business these days. From minor items like chocolates or flowers, to pricier purchases like diamonds and designer outfits, someone, somewhere, is buying something for someone they love right now.
It’s also the foundation of an entire section of the entertainment industry. Love stories have always been the most popular kind of tale throughout history, from the epic verse of Homer, through the romance novels that make up the most successful genre in the market, to the assembly line of romcoms that keep Hollywood in business.
We are in love with the idea of love, and we are constantly told that ‘the one’ is out there, waiting for us. Over the past few years we have seen a rise in reality TV that exploits this need we feel. Shows like The Bachelor, or Married at First Sight, are based on the idea that love is just waiting for us to lock eyes with the right person and that it’s like flicking a switch.
We live in a time where technology means we can get to know people anywhere in the world. We aren’t limited to a particular place, and many of the social barriers of class and race are breaking down, which should mean that there are more chances to find love than ever before.
So, why then, instead of it being easier than ever, does it seem that so many people are still struggling to find love and looking in all the wrong places? Why does it seem that as a society we are getting lonelier?
Part of the problem may lie in the narrow focus of the entertainment industry on a particular type of love at the expense of all others. The love we generally see in romantic movies or TV shows is a love of highs and passion, love at first sight, a love that burns brightly and with a fierce intensity.
As much as this makes for exciting television and gripping storytelling, it also creates a belief that this is the only type of love that matters, and is what we should be seeking. When we don’t find it, or when our loves don’t match up with what we have seen on the screen—because they aren’t as glamourous, or because they have downs as well as ups—we can start to believe that the problem is with us.
In his book, The Four Loves, Christian author and apologist C.S. Lewis explores the different types of love that have been defined in both Christian and philosophical thought over history, and divides them into four categories.
The first, storge, he sees as the love that is born of familiarity—the most natural and common type of love. He gives the example of the love for family members, or those that we find ourselves bonded with by being part of a group. However, because it is so natural, it is easy to take for granted, and to expect it regardless of behaviour or actions.
The second form of love he lists is philia, the love between friends, the strong bond created when you find those you choose to be with because of common values, interests and activities. It’s a love built on mutual affection, on being there for one another.
This is followed by eros, what we might call passion or romantic love. This is the love we see in movies, a love based on how someone makes you feel, on the desire for someone. It’s about excitement and pleasure.
The final love Lewis addresses is perhaps the rarest, yet the one he sees as the greatest. What is sometimes called agape is unconditional love, love that doesn’t change depending on circumstance. It’s the love that doesn’t depend on what someone can do for you, or how they make you feel; it’s about giving with no expectation of anything in return.
When our loves don’t match up with what we have seen on the screen...we can start to believe that the problem is with us.
It can be easy to look down our noses at societies of the past, and assume that we are better off when it comes to love because people are freer to be with whoever they want and many of the obstacles that might have been placed in their way no longer exist. But, as wonderful as that is, as a society we are falling into a different trap—it seems like we have forgotten that there is a need for all these different types of love in our lives.
There is a reason that movies focus on eros. It’s easy to love when someone makes us feel good, when it is exciting and fun. It’s natural for us to want the ups, to be looking for the fairytale ending. But, if that’s all there is to love, what happens when you go through the downs, or when it isn’t easy?
We need more than that Hollywood kind of love. We need philia because we live in a world where there are lots of people who have hundreds of friends on Facebook, but have no-one who actually picks up the phone to see how they are doing, or is there when they need someone to lean on.
We need the love that is storge, where we care about those around us and who we come into contact with every day, whether it is family or the people we work with or our neighbours or those in our local community. It’s about being there for one another and making life better.
Most of all, we need agape, the love that is becoming rarer every day. That’s the unconditional love that asks nothing in return, that gives with no expectation of reward. It’s the love that inspires us to be there for people who may not be easy to love, or don’t fit society’s ideal of being worthy of our love.
That’s the love that is at the heart of the Gospel, and the love that motivates the work of Salvos. We believe that God loves us for who we are, not for what we can do for him—even when we fall short. Because we have experienced that love, we are called to show that love to others, even those who society might have given up on.
Everyone needs to be loved, and everyone deserves to be loved. There will be times when it will be hard to find, especially if we are only looking in the places that Hollywood tells us we will find love, or seeking the type of love it tells us is important.
The truth is that love is out there for us all, just waiting for us to reach out and accept it. It may not be the love presented by Hollywood, but it is something better—the love Paul spoke about it 1 Corinthians when he said:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
That kind of love may be hard to show on the screen, but it’s a love worth showing in our lives.