I used to love a lot of things. But then came this conversation:
Me: I love chocolate.
Playground wise-ass: Then why don’t you marry it? (hur hur hur)
Not to give too much credit to a catchphrase from the Pee-Wee Herman Show, isn’t it weird that we don’t have a more nuanced vocabulary for an emotion that has so many nuances? I love my parents and my dogs and the guy I married, but not all in the same way.
Pulling up the thesaurus gives us some options: affection, adoration, lust, infatuation. So, okay, maybe I didn’t really LOVE John Roberts in the seventh grade, given that I never actually exchanged more than math papers with him. But it sort of belittles what I felt for my first college boyfriend if I call it lust or infatuation just because the relationship only lasted six months. For those six months, I loved him, and even now I think about him with... well, affection.
I think the fact that I love writing (ha!) about a lot of different types of love relationships is one reason I’m drawn to YA books. Young adults are in the middle of figuring out all those nuances of relationships and though reviews and book jackets tend to focus on the love story (which, not going to lie, is my favorite part to write AND to read), the other relationships are just as important.
C.S. Lewis wrote a whole book defining four types of love, and Plato and Aristotle both devoted brain power to the distinctions between unconditional love, romantic love, the love between friends and family. Funny (or maybe not) that, like, 99% of our media (TV shows, books, movies, country and western songs) are about romantic love, when the big thinkers kind of agree that philia, the love between friends, is one of the most virtuous, because there’s no selfish reason to be friends with someone.
Think about it. You’ve got a sort of built in love for your parents, because they take care of you when you’re helpless, and (hopefully) love you no matter what. If you’re infatuated with someone, it FEELS good, and you’re kind of in love with love as much as you are with the person. And if you have kids, you love them, and would likely defend them with your life--but you could argue that you’re also insuring the continuance of your DNA. Same with sexual love, if it comes down to it.
I don’t really believe those last two things, mostly because I don’t think the different kinds of love can be so neatly divided. I think they overlap, and you can more than one sort in one relationship. But one thing I do agree with: the best relationships, whether they’re romantic, platonic, family or friends, have a core of friendship-love. Why? Because friendship-love is built on respect.
Take my brother, for instance. When we were teens, we fought like weasels in a sack. But I loved him, and I’d beat up anyone who said anything bad about him. (Even if I’d said the same thing myself.) But on both sides of those years, when we were kids, and now, as adults, I respect and admire him, and I would be his friend, even if we weren’t related.
That came into play in Texas Gothic. My main character, Amy, comes from a family who drives her crazy. At the beginning, she loves them unconditionally, especially her sister Phin, who’s idiosyncrasies are particularly annoying and intrusive. But friendship-love? That’s a stretch. A big stretch in the beginning of the book, and a little stretch by the end.
It was kind of fun to write a sibling relationship like that--Amy Goodnight is the first of my heroines to have a sibling--and fun to have a character grow to LIKE someone she already loved.
And speaking of love... I love a love story as much as anyone else. But unlike the hopeless crushes of my teen years, one of my goals in my books is to show relationships that have more than just romantic love going for it. The girl and the guy should respect each other; it can be a balancing act when you’re showing the rocky road to romance. They can fight and claw and piss each other off--but they have to have some reason to respect each other, even if it takes awhile for them to see it in each other.
In the end it comes down to one of my favorite examples of a relationship: Ripley and Hicks in Aliens. Friend or boy-friend or comrade in arms, when the gut-busting, acid-dripping aliens come at you, you want someone who you can trust to fight back to back, and who trusts you to do the same.