Love. It’s a tiny word we utter to describe a bottomless range of situations. It can be thrown around in casual conversation but still has the power to make me squirm and sweat like a whore in church. We use it to describe how we feel about Youtube conspiracy videos, orangutans, and corn mazes while also describing the muses we want to spend the rest of our mortal lives with. Christians would always tell me about how the creator of the universe loves me. When I hang up with my mom, I remind her that I love her. I make love to my Outdoor Odyssey guide. I vapidly comment, “Luv you!” on sorority girls’ selfies as a social pleasantry. I scream it from the top of my lungs from car windows. I whisper it to my waffle right before I consume it. Love is intense yet trivial, bountiful yet scarce.
The conflicting attributes of love arise from the existence of only one word for it in English. It’s a delusion of eloquence. I should not use the same word in adoration for my sweet grandma as I do while straddling someone’s face until we both quiver with cum. Our language is strangling one of the most potent human experiences until it gasps for breath. It cannot be contained within one silly four-lettered sound.
Ancient Greek had eight words for love: eros (passionate love), philia (friendship love), agape (universal love), storge (family love), mania (obsessive love), ludus (playful love), pragma (committed love), and philautia (self love). Having an entire lexicon makes the mystery of love a bit more tangible. I can tell my mom that I feel storge for her when I hang up. I can profess my mania to the bespectacled TA I stalk on LinkedIn. I can tell my friends I need a night of philautia in which I envelop myself in the aroma of lavender candles and a hundred fleece blankets.
When an excess of Greek expressions becomes a singular umbrella term, we never know if our feelings are the rain or the umbrella. I want a word for the need to write someone a letter. I want a word for knowing all of someone’s best stories. I want a word for the infallible urge to eat someone’s ass.
Instead of generating words to express love’s diverse forms, we can only communicate how we feel on a scale: hating to disliking to neutrality to liking to loving. We explore this scale with every new person we meet, seeing if they could ever adventure up to the final boss of love, both platonic and romantic. Whenever I stand next to strangers on the TCAT, I feel comfort in my neutrality towards them. If they are wearing a Garfield sweater, perhaps they will venture up the scale into the territory of liking. If they compliment my pterodactyl earrings, take me out to the kava bar, can tie cherry stems with their tongue, love the way I smile at nothing, and always spill when they eat, maybe it will turn to love. However, there are no set criteria. There is no adequate definition. Every stupid Disney movie told me love is when you “just feel it,” but I feel it both all the time and none of the time. I don’t want to give it away to everyone I meet on the bus in a funky sweater. It is supposed to be the ultimate declaration of human emotion after all. Understanding love cannot come from a google search or a Merriam-Webster definition. For this reason, love has paradoxically become the most meaningful and meaningless word in my vocabulary. If someone tells me they love me, I’m left spinning on a carousel wondering what the hell does that even mean.
My best friend and I say, “I elska you,” to each other. “Elska” is the word we made up to describe our non-sexual relationship that is deeper than friendship. It is the kind of intimacy you have when you dream the same dreams at night and say you’ll get married even though you’re both attracted to a different gender. Relationships are more nuanced than the duality of platonic and romantic. I love so many people in so many ways that the word itself cannot contain it. English could be a language in which every human connection had its own word. There could be entire dictionaries to fit the definitions. Perhaps love is a universal umbrella, but that doesn’t mean we can’t name the planets that float within.
Anya Neeze is a student at Cornell University. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Boink! runs during alternate Sex on Thursdays this semester.