I want to introduce the idea that there are at least three forms of love.
The first is the one with which we are indoctrinated in movies, romantic love. In this kind of love, we feel our heart leap upon meeting another person; they complete us! There is a sense that anything is possible, and often, a disbelief that we could have previously lived our life without knowing this person.
In the thrall of this kind of love, there is a rush to get to know everything about and do everything with the person, entailing adventure. We go on dates, we travel, we meet each other’s friends and families, we share stories about our own friends and families. And yes, we also cry, reveal our trauma, make love, and make hopes and promises.
Eventually, this kind of love reveals itself as karmic. What I mean by that is that it reveals itself to be a sort of illusion, a fantasy of completion based on incomplete understanding of ourselves. Or, a different way of viewing this phenomenon is that we have a soul contract with our partner through a shared past life. Either way, the connection peters itself out; we suddenly look upon the other, as just another person, and we are left bewildered as to what we once saw in them.
However, this does not necessarily mean that our bond is over.
The next type of love is companionate love, and companionate love can sometimes replace romantic love. This occurs if our relationship is built on sturdy compatibility and if we put in the necessary work of overcoming any resistance. In this case, our partner becomes like a family member or long-time friend: we love them unconditionally, and even if they make mistakes or there are disagreements between us, we view ourselves as a team working on shared goals and projects.
For this reason, companionate love can be found not only among friends and family, but also among coworkers, members of a shared political party, of the same religion, etc. It is a kind of love we are generally born into, but even in those circumstances where we choose it, companionate love transcends the kind of minor differences that would shatter the illusion of romantic love. In companionate love, we access feelings of belonging and safety, of becoming members of a tribe.
And yet even companionate love is not the most profound kind of love, for it is bounded by the limitations of the human heart. In companionate love, we will reach out for and try to protect those we love, like a mother intervening on behalf of a baby; additionally, it is under the guise of companionate love that we take up political causes, such as campaigning on behalf of equality or protecting the natural environment. Companionate love cares, but it is for this reason precisely that it can never be truly unconditional. In companionate love, we prefer a single state of being and want to prevent that state of being from changing.
The third kind of love, boundless or transcendent love, is found in that vehicle which transcends the human heart, which is spirit. As spirit, we know that even if our loved one dies, even if the planet dies, even if our family or tribe is shattered beyond recognition—that even then, things are okay. Spirit is the part of ourselves that knows there is nothing we need to be or do in order to perfect existence, for existence is already perfect as it is. Spirit is the eye of God, the kind of love that smiles upon all circumstances regardless of their nature. In opposition to companionate and romantic love, there is not deep fulfillment, nor is there giddy joy; instead there is a simple and unabiding calm, a sense of perfection and acceptance that cannot be broken. This is what we feel at back of us while deep in meditation, a feeling of eternal solemnity that goes by the names of spirit, light, energy, ego-death, and cosmic consciousness.
This third kind of love is not so much something which human beings can possess, as something in which human beings are held, regardless of however else they may feel about things. It is the very condition of existence, the so-called void of Buddhism or the infinite potentiality of quantum physics. In boundless or transcendent love, anything and everything can be born.
And so in a sense, each kind of love makes the others possible: boundless or transcendent love is the precondition of companionate love, for it is the backdrop of being itself; without boundless love, no one would be born. Similarly, companionate love is what prefigures romantic love, for it is through romantic love that we seek to find a life partner; the rush is what tells us someone else is viable, but it is the deeper, slowly burning kind of love that tells us they will last, allowing us to incorporate them as a member of our tribe.
What other kinds of love do you think there are? Have you ever experienced a love that differs from or transcends the kinds written about here?
Best wishes to you, and dare I say, love to all.
2 thoughts on “Romantic, companionate, and boundless love”
Have you read CS Lewis’ “The Four Loves”?
No, I have not! The title reminds me of David Whyte’s “The Three Marriages.”