07/01/2008 04:45 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

No Classes of Love

Just before the California Supreme Court acknowledged the truth about love and allowed anyone in the state who so chooses to be legally married, Norway's Parliament did the right thing as well. There is a new universal marriage act which replaces a domestic partnership policy. People are now allowed to create families of their own choosing.

The chief commissioner of Oslo, Erling Lae, was quoted as saying, "No longer will there be different classes of love." The operative word here of course is classes, as in first class and second class. I wish Mr. Lae and his partner of 26 years many more years of wedded bliss.

Now that different classes of love have begun to disappear from our collective emotional landscape, I think it's time we seriously consider different types of love. One of the arguments made in Seminary for the study of ancient languages is the word love as expressed in Greek.

C. S. Lewis wrote a dear book called The Four Loves based on just this notion--the richness of love in all its disguises in languages other than English. Here are Lewis' four.

Storge, or affection

Philia, or friendship

Eros, or passion

Caritas/Agape, or spiritual love

Dear one, there are as many different expressions of love as there are beings. These four from the Greek have more variations than Goldberg.

What does affection look like or feel like to you? It differs for all of us. Affection for me, for example, never includes tousled hair. It just doesn't fly with me. My hair is tousled enough on its own. For my beloved, she loves nothing better than my fingers in her hair.

Friendship takes many forms in my life. Some friends are dear and eternal. I needn't speak to them for months, years even, and we can pick up right where we are and be together in a trice. Other friends are much more high maintenance. I have one who almost exclusively brings his anxiety to me, and that's all. Good enough. There are others to whom I may bring my own worries.

Passions ebb and flow in relationships of all kinds. Sometimes we can't get enough of someone. Other times, we have to back off. The path of being in love isn't static. We need to let it become what it will become.

I make a distinction between caritas, or charity, and agape. Charity is the love that is born of empathy and compassion for another being.

Agape is pure and simple love between the spirit of one being and another. The easiest place to identify agape on earth is between humans and their domesticated animals. Agape between humans is a rarer commodity.

What might go the farthest toward abolishing different classes of love on the planet is a series of classes on love at the elementary school level. Even the dearth of alternative words for love in English might be eased if children were given the opportunity to reflect upon love. We grown-ups could begin the curriculum ourselves. Try it at the dinner table, during the carpool, on a walk, on the porch, cooking.

Let's keep talking about love.