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Monday, May 27, 2024

The Sterling Compass

We live in an era of one-night stands and transitory relationships. Many of you have probably never had a meaningful relationship, while most of you likely have had a one-night stand or maintained afriend with benefits relationship. In the fashion of our generation, you embraced your physical impulses while fearing and avoiding emotional ones.

Granted, we are physical beings, motivated by an insatiable longing for human contact. But we are also emotional beings, with the need to love and be loved by others. In essence, our thoughts and actions are determined by an ongoing conflict between lust and love; and lust is winning. Only when our physical and emotional impulses find balance can we experience true intimacy and lead more satisfying lives.

The Ancient Greeks defined three types of love; eros (sensual love), philia (friendly love), and agap? (unconditional love); however, when combined, eros and agap? define the ideal of romantic love we know today.

The god Eros delivered theia mania, the passionate feeling of love, via speciallove-tipped arrows. Eros was sexual in nature and had two parts; the initial attraction for a person and the gradual appreciation of the beauty within that person. Although eros was often physical in nature, physical attraction was unnecessary for love. Eros was more than pure lust; it was a deep and spiritual connection between two individuals that allowed them to transcend the physical and attain a deeper understanding of our humanity.

The Greeks recognized agap? as an unconditional, thoughtful and self-sacrificing love. This kind of love could be felt for a family member, an activity, and most importantly, for a partner or spouse. When one felt agap? for someone, they placed the others welfare before their own. Although the Greek concept of romantic love differs from our own, their inquiries into the human heart give us the framework to understand how we can find balance between lust and love.

Sigmund Freud believed lust was part of human nature and could be explained by the libido. The libido is the individuals instinctual energy force residing within their subconscious that often takes the form of sexual desire.

In the past, societal norms of abstinence kept the lustful urges of the libido somewhat in check; however, today there is no such impediment. By giving into our primordial desires, we often exercise self-destructive and emotionally irresponsible behavior and deprive ourselves the ability to know true intimacy.

The desire to embrace the physical is a rational outgrowth of our urge to maximize our short-term happiness. Although it would be foolish to condemn anyone for being the victims of their own humanity, giving into these lustful urges often leaves a bitter residue within the heart.

As most of us have many days left to live, is it wise to lead such shallow, short-sighted lives? If we allow ourselves to remain obsessed with the physical, then we will never develop the deeper appreciation for beauty that transcends the physical. We will become a society of embittered elders, incessantly driven by the physical urges we can no longer enjoy.

But what if we embrace the emotional, find balance and realize true intimacy? What if we renewed our faith in love, invested in hope rather than fear, and realized a more meaningful existence?

In time, we might find ourselves waking up in the middle of the night embracing the one we care about more than anything else in this world. We might discover an enduring connection with another running so deeply that when we grew old and lost our youthful gifts, our love would remain the same.

If you are one of the many who have never known love, or lost faith in it due to heartbreak, then know this; although to pursue true intimacy is not the easiest path, it is the only path that does not ultimately lead to a dead end.

You may not find what you are looking for today or tomorrow. It will take time, but will arrive when you least expect it. And when it does, do not fear it or reject it, but embrace it, cherish it, and protect it.


MIKE HOWER hopes everyone finds someone special and experiences true intimacy. Contact him at mahower@ucdavis.edu.


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