Philia v. Eros: What (How Deep) is Your Love?

Posted on November 5, 2011

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For all women, there is at least one person she is meant to love with all her heart and not to desire sexually. For all men, there is at least one person he is meant to love with all his heart and not to desire sexually. Depending on a person’s sexuality, it will either be his or her mother or father or, perhaps, both.

From this, it makes sense that a child learns to distinguish between the person or persons s/he loves and the person or persons s/he sexually desires. Because a parent is such an important figure in a child’s life, it also makes sense that s/he learns to hold the person or persons s/he loves in higher esteem than those s/he desires sexually.

To further complicate matters, historically, sexual desire is often characterized in a negative light and love — familial or romantic — in a positive light.

As a result, many men and women often distinguish between the persons they love, the persons they love romantically, and the persons they desire sexually. They also tend to hold in higher esteem the person or persons they love. Moreover, when a person both loves and sexually desires another person, typically, the love is thought to be more important than the sexual desire.

By the time I hit puberty, I had decided there were two kinds of girls: girls I could include in my sexual fantasies and girls that I shouldn’t include in my sexual fantasies because I loved them. I had sexual desires for the girls I loved but, for some reason, I thought it inappropriate to entertain those desires even in my imagination. I suppose I had internalized the meme that sexual desire corrupts love or, at the very least, that love should trump sexual desire.

At some later point in life, presumably after some relationships that were both loving and sexy, I realized — or I should say, I hypothesized — that romantic love is sexual desire that has been rebranded by the choices and commitments we make with the person we desire and who desires us in return. We start with the k-i-s-s-i-n-g and only get to love, marriage, and the baby carriage if we use that desire as a motivation to create a lasting attachment. Ideally, we will also be compatible with the person or persons we love but often that is not the case.

So what do you think? Is romantic love and sexual desire distinct or are they more or less the same experience?