Love and Your Neighbor, Part I

Studies have been done on brains all along the primate order, and they indicate that there are neural metrics that can tell you, basically, how many friends that monkey, or that ape, or that human had, a figure known as Dunbar’s Number.  Of course, you can only tell that after the monkey, ape, or human has passed away and ceded their brain to scientific observation, so I’m not sure what good the information does. It does indicate, though, to those of us still alive, that there is a limit to the number of individuals any one person can personally care about. And that probably has some pretty far-reaching consequences.

For example, if you were raised in a Christian faith, as I was, you have it impressed on you from a young age that you should care about all humans everywhere. Not only that, but that you should try to love them with the encompassing, selfless love of an eternal, infinite being. That’s a lot of pressure, especially on a Sunday morning when you’re having a lot of difficulty loving your little brother because he keeps kicking you right in the shin bone and this church dress has a *really* tight neckline and you don’t even want to be here because church isn’t air conditioned and it’s the LONGEST HOUR OF THE WEEK.

In the era before “quiet rooms,” parents physically separated their children during services, often with duct tape and staples.

Church defies temporal physics, and that’s probably part of the great mystery of faith.

But that spiritual guidance, when met with the reality of our physical limitations, often produces within us complex feelings of guilt and inadequacy. I’m sure that theologians wrestle with this reality, but the average church goer is seeking relief in the arms of their parish, not a big ol’ pile of homework to do on the conflicting capacities of the human mind and the eternal soul. A lot of them are just there for lemonade.

It just tastes better after an hour in Jesus’ sweatbox

My mainstream Episcopalian church had a fairly large congregation, one that employed a robust pictorial directory for contact information. Such a large number that it would be impossible, given the aforementioned limitations, to actively care about all of them. So, even within the church population, I found there were people that I wasn’t even aware of, let alone cared about. That exercise in guilt was eventually mitigated somewhat by the understanding that just because I hadn’t directly cared about any of them, I didn’t *not* care about them, either.

There are quite a few articles and essays that have explored the X number of words that Ancient Greeks had for “love.” (between 5 and 8 from what I’ve gathered, so I’ll accept an average of 6.5) Some of the words commonly attributed to this list are actually inferred from research texts such as Colors of Love (Lee, 1973), or the works of Hendrick and Hendrick, and theirs are words more rooted in modern parlance and scientific discourse, so it is to their definitions that I’ll largely defer.

·Eros: The romantic emotion that seeks beauty, or an ideal type of partner.

·Ludus: The flirtatious, physical, playful emotion, that seeks non-committal intimacy and sensuality.

·Storge: The emotion one feels in a slow growing, long term partnership. A deep emotional bond typified by sharing space and activities by choice rather than necessity.

·Pragma: The emotion one feels toward a partner in a relationship of pragmatic intent, perhaps professional or otherwise rooted in one’s livelihood, or other facets of practical life. If there are romantic or sexual elements, they exist out of necessity rather than desire (such as procreating to produce an heir to the throne).

·Mania: An obsessive, possessive emotion toward an individual, one often associated with jealousy and insecurity, one earmarked by a desire to catalogue another’s existence.

·Agape: The selfless emotion that brings about sacrifice, such as organ donation. The primary model of Christ-like behavior.

Philia (brotherly accord), Philautia (affection for the self), and Xenia (feelings of hospitality and noblesse oblige) make their way into the mix, but those can generally be considered among the primary six categories.

It’s like those 90’s cups! Remember? No? Never mind.

I think it is more important to note that, by and large, these words indicate different perceptions and emotional states, and often exist independent of one another. They are grouped together so frequently because English speaking society has lumped them all under the umbrella term, “Love.” Which ultimately says more about how we tend to view Love than the Ancient Greeks.

This shall serve as the subject of my next installment. Brevity, after all, is the soul of the fragile creature known as Wit.


“Dunbar’s Number.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Apr. 2020,

Russell A. Dewey, PhD. “Six Types of Love: in Chapter 16: Sex, Friendship, and Love.” Six Types of Love | in Chapter 16: Sex, Friendship, and Love, 2018,

Wong, David. “What Is the Monkeysphere?”,, 30 Sept. 2007,

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