WORD VOMIT ON WORDS: REBRANDING LOVE
(Warning for language because I kind of cuss a lot.)
One of the things I enjoy most about the ace community is its determination to re-define and invent language to suit our perspective on the world. There’s something satisfyingly anarchic about this practice. I get a little sense of glee when people outside of the community complain about it, claiming that there are already enough words or something, and everything means the same thing to every single person, and aces are just ruining it all oh my god you guys stop it. (Insert terrible joke here about aces fucking things up without fucking things up.)
I love having tons of words to describe different kinds of relationship structures. I love the Dada-istic splendor that is the word “zucchini,” which broadly means one’s partner in a queerplantonic relationship (while through its own nonsense points out the failure of the English language in having words for these kinds of things).
Since discovering that asexuality is, you know, a thing and holy crap this is what I have needed for the past twenty-plus years of my life, my missteps with most of humanity make a lot more sense — particularly the way in which people talk about things. Part of this confusion was — and still is — the sense that people use words like “relationship” and “love,” which have a myriad of definitions and nuances, but everyone is assumed to hold the same definition of them (through the shared experience of having romantic/sexual attraction and defining relationships through that romantic/sexual attraction). Those words are extremely broad, but the generally accepted way of defining them is extremely narrow.
In the 1970s and 80s, a sociologist John Lee broke up “love” into six distinct, definable styles: eros, ludus, storge, pragma, mania, and agape (borrowed from ancient Greek words for love*). (And these are styles as opposed to structures, such as monogamy, polyamory, etc.) I came across this the other week through a series of serendipitous events: finding this quite lovely poem on my Tumblr dash, and having a conversation with a very close friend who described our relationship as “storgic.” Oh, and it was the week of Valentine’s Day, so I was very RAAAARRGGG at monogamous amatonormativity in general.
I get the feeling that when 99% of people talk about “love,” they mean the “eros” definition. And even if said relationship doesn’t start out like that, it will inevitably evolve like a Pokemon into its ultimate form of “eros,” thus gaining legitimacy and tax breaks. I popped over to Wikipedia to read up on these love styles, and realized that if you take away the assumption of a sexual and/or romantic component, they can be remarkably useful in defining asexual and/or aromantic relationships, and actually prove how broad relationships and love are — and how individualized those relationships can be.
Even “eros” can fit into a asexual and/or aromantic structure, I think. It’s more about how the people involved approach said relationship and the affect it has on them, what they put into it. And while the general definition states that smushing genitals together is a big part of it, I don’t think that smushing genitals together has to be involved in order for it to have the same affect or importance.
(Oh, and applying these love styles to asexual and/or aromantic relationships doesn’t automatically negate any of the negative qualities of those styles — take the “ludic” or “manic” styles, for example. The sources of strife in relationships are not only romantic or sexual in nature.)
Storgic pinged me immediately. I actually had the same reaction to learning that word as when I learned about asexuality: FUCK YEAH THAT’S IT. It’s still very new and fresh in my mind, and I’m excited to be able to think about it more and figure out how it fits into my life and what I want out of connecting with people.
So, there are all these wonderful and useful words that have existed for decades, but no one ever seems to use them. I’d like to see the ace and aromantic communities adopt them and, like everything we touch, twist them around to suit our needs. Like when a soda brand or a car needs an image update, we, too, can help rebrand love and relationships to be broader and more inclusive. Or maybe there are even more new words we can come up with!
What do you think?
*The idea that in times long past there were more and varied terms for love and relationships, and that somehow got thrown to the wayside (at least in the English language) in proceeding centuries is definitely another topic to write about at some point.