Falling in love–and getting back up

      My name is Jimmy Watkins. I am seven years old. My uncle’s computer is fun to play with. I am going to help him write his book.

      What is love?

      Love makes you have puppies. Mom wouldn’t let my dog out this week. She said, "Buffy
      is in love. We don’t want any more puppies." I let her out when Mom wasn’t looking. It made Buffy happy.

      But love doesn’t make people happy. That is what Billy Smith said. Billy Smith is in sixth grade and he knows everything. Billy Smith says, "Love make you feel warm all over your body. It makes you feel light-headed. It makes your stomach go flip flop."

      I was in love last week. Mom took me to the doctor. I got a shot where I sit down and I did not even get a lollipop.

      The man on the TV says that love is giving. I gave Betty Green the chicken pops. I gave Junior Jackson a black eye. But I think love is just giving good things.

      The man on TV says that love is in the afternoon. And love is made out of chocolate pudding.
      That is what the commercial says. "Thanks for the love in my lunch box." Do you know what is in the lunch box? A can of chocolate pudding! Love also tickles your nose and makes you belch. The lady sings "Canada Dry tastes like love." Ginger ale tickles my nose and makes me belch.

      And the man and the lady on the TV said that love can be put together. Last night I got
      out my Lego building blocks. I asked real nice and said please, "Can you help me make some love?" Daddy’s head turned red and the veins on his neck stuck out. And he said, "Never say that again!"

      So, I asked Billy Smith. Billy Smith is in sixth grade and he knows everything. He said that love is four-letter word. You will have to eat soap if you say words with four letters!

      My Dad says I watch too much TV. He said "Love is not in the afternoon. Love is not chocolate pudding. Love is liking somebody just the way they are."

      I like Betty Green. She is in first grade. She is beautiful and she has a neat chipped front tooth. I ride my bicycle past her house without my hands. Today I even stood on my seat. She just yelled that I am mentally retired.

      Mom and Dad love me just the way I am. Even when I got sick on the brand new carpet. They
      loved me after I Buffy a haircut with the weed whacker. Buffy still loves me.

      I know I am loved. That makes me feel good. Like when I come in from outside when it is three
      hundred degrees below zero. My nose is dripping down to the knees of my snow pants. My Mom gives me a big cup of hot chocolate. It makes my insides
      eel warm. That is what love is.

      I hope you love me, Uncle Jim. Buffy just peed on your notes.

I have got to keep my office door locked! But in his seven-year-old way, Jimmy does point
out some problems with this slippery word "love."

Part of the problem is that we have one little word for emotions that are as complex as a strand of DNA!

I say, "I love deep-dish pizza." "I love my brother." "I love my best friend." "I love my wife." But obviously, I don’t love Lois the same way I love pepperoni pizza. (Well, there was this one exciting evening that involved spaghetti sauce, but that’s another story!) And I don’t love my kids the same way I love my wife.

Four kinds of love

The Greeks were smart enough to give the world Philosophy 101, gyro sandwiches, the Olympic
games, and four—count ’em, four—separate words for love.

Eros, a word that came from the Latin god of hormones, was used to refer to sensual
or sexual love. I eros deep dish pizza because it makes my taste buds feel good. In the same way, I eros the sensation of sea breeze in my face, my ragged Indiana Wesleyan sweat shirt, hot tubs, and sexual pleasure.

Phileo and storge describe friendship love and love for
one’s family. I storge my Mom and Dad. I storge my kid brother. I phileo my old college roommate. I phileo all the people of the world. I phileo anybody who buys this book!

Agape love is a willful, deliberate, I-choose-to-love-you love. (The Latin word is
"caritas" from which we get "charity.") This love is not based on warm mushy feelings or even on a relationship. It is unconditional—just like the love Cubs fans have for their team even during its usual losing season.

St. Paul provides us with a classic definition of agape.

      Love is patient,
      love is kind.
      It does not envy,
      it does not boast,
      it is not proud.
      It is not rude,
      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.
      Love never fails.

With four words for love, things were less confusing in ancient Greece. When Marcus reached over in the back seat of the chariot and whispered, "I love you," in Daphne’s ear, she knew exactly what he had on his mind.

Marcus could have said, "I eros you," which roughly translated would have meant, "Baby, you look hot in that robe Why don’t you take it off!"

He could have said, "I phileo you," which meant, "Let’s be good friends." (Now there’s a phrase both guys and girls fear!) Or perhaps, "I storge you" ("I love you like a sister"), but that somehow wouldn’t have gone with the wine and the moonlight.

Finally, he could have chosen, "I agape you," which would have meant, "I’ve
thought this through and have decided that I am going to love you unconditionally no matter what comes our way."

So if someone whispers "I love you" in your ear, you may want to respond with "Hold it right there. Let’s define terms!"

Love triangles

During the dating period, many couples emphasize the eros side of the three-sided "love triangle." But Dr. Frederick Meeker of California State Polytechnic University believes the "half-life" of romantic love is about three months. (If, like me, you didn’t do that well in chemistry, that means if a romance has an intensity of "10," it will degenerate to a "5" in just ninety days. In six months, eros will have eroded
to a 2.5 on the romance Richter scale.)

That’s why most relationships last about six months. Without adequate amounts of phileo
and agape, the lop-sided triangle comes crashing down. Love that lasts
longer than dinner and a movie, then, is a healthy blend of eros (physical attraction), phileo (friendship), and agape (commitment).

Intersecting love triangles

And, from what side we enter the "love triangle," can also have an effect on the stability of the relationship. We can, as Hollywood would want us to believe, approach love with our hormones (eros). But as I’ve said, eros usually has a diminishing dimension. In the rush of estrogen and testosterone, we’re often blinded to the serious—and sometimes dangerous—flaws in our partner. (Eros love is not only blind, it’s deaf and "dumb".)

That’s why sometime around six months, when the hormonal haze begins to clear, that we start to wonder, "Why am I dating this person?! What was I thinking?!" Relationships entered in to from the eros entrance, very quickly see the "Exit" signs.

Another approach to the love triangle is with our hearts (phileo). Few people want
to hear their hopeful partner say, "Let’s just be friends," but this entrance does offer hope for a lasting relationship. Remember those human interest news stories of couples who have been married for seventy-five years? The one’s who look like they’ve just been unearthed by an archaeologist in Egypt? The reporter asks the standard question, "What’s the secret
to a long marriage?" Inevitably, they mumble through toothless gums, "Because we’re each other’s best friend."

Being "just friends" takes the pressure—and the masks—off a relationship. You
see the person clearly, rationally with all their strengths, weaknesses, good and bad hair days, emotional ups and downs, endearing and annoying habits, positive and negative interactions with other people in a variety of settings, the whole cafeteria line of life. And if you decide, this
is a person you’d like to spend a lot more time with, eros has a chance to develop along with the commitment of agape.

I approached Lois—like most hormone-driven males—from the eros side. (She was
gorgeous!) She, however, had just broken up with a guy and only wanted to be friends. We dated a few times, but nothing erotic seemed to be happening, so I decided, "Well, if I can’t have her as a girlfriend, I can at least enjoy having her as a friend."

And so for months, we were just that. I thoroughly enjoyed heavy discussions with her over
lunch in the college cafeteria about the Vietnam War, the oil embargo, whether the Beatles would get back together, life after death, whether the Brady Bunch‘s Jan needed professional help, religion, and what type of people were marriage possibilities. She was smart, funny, loved
to be with all kinds of people, and enjoyed most of the same things I enjoyed.

I’m really not sure what happened that fateful night in November of 1972. We were driving
back from a concert with four other friends, and somewhere on I-294 west of Chicago eros happened! I think it shocked both of us. But by February 1973 we were engaged and thoroughly in phileo, eros, and agape.

The final way to approach a relationship is with one’s head (agape) which would
work fine for Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame or in countries where arranged marriages are still contracted. I’m not recommending this approach unless, of course, you’re a Vulcan. But one arranged couple made a good point. "You Westerners bring the pot to a boil, get married, and then take it off the stove. In Eastern cultures, we get married and put the pot on to boil. It starts slow, but we keep it on the stove." I know, I know. It sounds like a fortune cookie!

But here’s my point. Relationships entered into from the eros side face many more
challenges for survival than those approached from the phileo front. But without the commitment of agape love, any relationship is in the express lane to Heartbreak City. (So, if you want agape from your partner, and they’re only interested in other forms of love, take the exit ramp!)

Scalene love triangles

That nice equilateral triangle of love (and our bodies) begins to change shape with time. After
observing thousands of couples, Dr. John Money believes romantic love begins to fade after two to three years." An old movie about marriage break-ups is more optimistic with the title "Seven Year Itch." Actually marriages which end in divorce have a median length (same number longer and shorter) of 6.8 years, but that doesn’t make quite as catchy a title. And so, those who buy into the Hollywood illusion that love is strictly eros, despair and divorce.

Marriages, however, that are built on phileo and agape love, can continue to mature and develop—even if slightly out of shape—geometrically and physically.

While Lois and I don’t have the same level of physical passion for one another’s bodies that we once did, there is an even more passionate commitment to one another’s emotional and spiritual well-being. Lois has graciously encouraged a "silly city boy" to pursue his dream of writing and speaking for a living. And I’ve supported Lois as she worked on her graduate degree. We’ve been there for each other when we’ve had to purchase pain pills and anti-depressants
in the economical fifty-five-gallon drum. And believe it or not, that’s even more attractive than young love.

      My name is James Watkins, senior, but people call me “Pops.” I am ninety-seven years old. My grandson has one of those new-fangled computer things, and I noticed he hadn’t finished this chapter of his book, so maybe I can help.

      Millie and me have been married for seventy-five years and I love that woman more today than I did when we got married after I returned from the war. Her handsome sergeant looks more like Colonel Sander now, but I think she loves me even more now, too.

      That’s the problem with this Hollywood kind of love today. Me and Millie may not look like Brad and Angelina—and Lord knows nobody would want to see us naked, well ‘cept each other—but after seventy-five years of practice. we could teach those young things something about love and love-makin.’

      ‘course you’re not gonna get good at lovin—or horse shoes or shuffle board—in just a few months. And so when a relationship doesn’t still have the same kick after six months, they break up and try to find someone else to give some good lovin’.

      Amateurs! I can tell ya that after seventy-five years, it just gets better and better. It’s not perfect. Poor Millie never did figure out how a thermostat worked. She figured it would get to 70 degrees faster if you turned up to 90! And she still thought I ought to be one of those soap opera men with pecs like a weight-lifter and the personality of a hair dresser. But we just toughed it out.

      It’s not perfect, but it gets better. ‘specially when your kids move out and the whole house becomes “clothing optional.”

      I blame TV and the movies for giving folks the idea that love blossoms in just two hours—ninety minutes if you don’t count commercial. What do they think romance is—one of them microwave ovens! And it sure don’t come in a perfume bottle or them little blue pills like on the commercials.

      And how ’bout today’s music ideas about love. Can you believe somebody singing about how they can’t live without someone or that they’ll never breathe again? That’s—what do they call that now a days—co-dependency, yah, co-dependency. That’s not love! That’s deep-seated psychosis.

      Instead of writing songs about lust, they oughta write some songs about real love. Like Millie staying pure and faithful when I was gone to Germany. And changin’ diapers at 3 a.m. And working late to pay the mortgage so Millie could stay home with the kids. Sittin’ through your kids junior high band concerts. (I heard buzz bombs in Germany that sounded better than the brass section!) And going to the store to get your wife some of them feminine hygiene products. Mercy, I didn’t know they came in so many sizes and shapes, and with or without “wings.” That’s what real love is about.

      See, here’s how I figure it. Love’s like kerosene. You can put it in a can and toss in a match and generate some real heat and excitement. Sure! But it’s over in one big flash. Or, you can put that kerosene in one of those heaters, and you can enjoy the warmth for a good long time. That’s what marriage does to love. It gives it the protection and boundaries it needs to keep burnin’ ’til death do you part. I tell ya, I’m feeling a little warm just talkin’ about it.

      That is what love is. Thank you.

Thanks, Pops. I couldn’t have written a better ending!

Copyright © 1987 James N. Watkins. All rights reserved.

Related articles:
Lookin’ for love in all the right places
Children who marry their parents: the psychology of courtship
Top ten secrets to staying married 30 years
Top ten reasons I’m not divorcing my wife

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