Do I Deserve Love?

This is a question that has been aired quite a bit, and I don’t intend to tread any more of its well-worn ground than I have to.  Nevertheless, there’s an aspect of it that seems to almost always get left out of any such discussion, so I’m posting my insights here.  I hope this adds something substantial to the topic for those who read it.
“Do I Deserve Love?”

This topic is plagued with what I’ll call, “definition failure.” There’s more than one type of love, and some types require effort on our part to be worthy of reciprocation.  It’s therefore inappropriate to answer the question at all without first describing what kind of “love” we’re discussing.  Since herein I’m discussing all the various types (that I know about), I’ll use the definitions as both descriptions and theses.

For reference:

“Agape love” (“uh-GAHP-ay”) is unconditional love. Many consider this the philosophically highest, purest form, but it’s unique and fills its own “niche” in human existence, and as such, can’t be reasonably thought of as “the” kind of love in question. This is the kind of love that Christ advocated in the New Testament when he asked, “Lovest thou me?” and continued with the admonition, “Feed my sheep.”  We all deserve this no matter what we do or fail to do to deserve it. Mahatma Ghandi and Adolf Hitler both “deserve” this kind of love.  If we, individually, seek to embrace “agape love,” we must (try to) show unconditional love for all people (and perhaps all creatures) equally, regardless of what they do or fail to do by way of “deserving” it.  This kind of love cannot properly co-exist with moral/ethical judgment.  (Please note that this is quite apart from the rule of law and similar concerns, where social/criminal justice must be enacted to keep order and protect people.  This is a very complicated topic that I won’t be discussing further at this time.)  “Agape love” doesn’t fill the role of any other kind of love, as described below.

“Eros love” is romantic love or passion (which are, themselves, different things that I’m grouping under a single heading for the sake of the present discussion; culturally, I think we’ve largely forgotten the distinction and should try to remember it). We must earn this by the various (and somewhat enigmatic) means whereby we get into and support romantic relationships. Ultimately, I think we all deserve to have this kind of love, but in order to have it in any particular instance (i.e. with any particular person), we must take steps to give it appropriately.  There’s no guarantee or requirement for the other person to reciprocate it, and it’s not our place to demand such reciprocation outside of some kind of “(semi-)committed” relationship (another complicated topic, in itself).

“Philia love” is love/loyalty for/to friends, community, family, etc. It’s not exactly familial love, but instead has to do with friendship and loyalty. This is definitely “earned” in most contexts, but I gather that a family relationship automatically starts with some amount of it. It might more aptly be described as a desire to be with, or be associated with someone or something (like a country or friend) because you enjoy being so associated.  If you don’t like someone or find their company problematic, you don’t have “philia love” for that person.  (“Philia” seems to be the root of the “-phile” suffix in english, as applies to everything from the understandable “audiophile” [love of music/sound] to the much more distasteful “pedophile” [you already know what that means].)

“Storge love” (“STOR-jay”) is natural affection–the automatic kind that appears the moment a child is born (i.e. love between parents and children). It’s another kind of unconditional love that has less to do with good-heartedness (such as “agape love”), and more to do with long-suffering affection. Even if your brother/sister/child/parent is a complete jerk to you, you still love him/her. This has also been used to describe the relationship between ruler and subject, in terms of the subject having long-suffering affection/loyalty for the ruler even if he’s a schmuck or incompetent. (Notably, this is more apt in a monarchy than a democracy, but still applies to both.  This is another thing I think Americans, specifically have forgotten–if for arguably-good reasons.)  This kind of love isn’t “deserved;” it’s automatic.

So, in summary (and to more succinctly answer the question at-hand), we only “deserve” some kinds of love whereas others we have to earn. We seem to automatically “deserve” “agape” and “storge” love (though the herein-active definition of “deserve” is somewhat different from the usual one), while “eros” and “philia” are varieties that we only “deserve” based on what we do or fail to do–but as human beings, we can be reasonably thought to “deserve” these in the abstract, “everyone-deserves-to-experience-them” context. Also, there’s no guarantee that “eros” or “philia” will be reciprocated, no matter how much we (think we) deserve that reciprocation. Finally, it bears noting that there might be other varieties of love that neither I nor the ancient Greeks thought of.

So, perhaps the next time someone asks the question, “Do I deserve love?” or some variation thereof (“Does he/she deserve love?”), you’ll be better equipped to gather exactly what this query is asking, and how to respond helpfully/knowledgeably–including when you’re the one asking it.  Well, that’s assuming I’ve been helpful/knowledgeable in this post…

2 thoughts on “Do I Deserve Love?

  1. Distinguishing types of love is interesting, but doesn’t shed much light on your question: “Do I Deserve Love?”
    The question can be reframed: “Do I have a right to love?” If the answer is “Yes” – using any definition of love – then we must answer the reciprocal question: “Who is obligated to love me and why?”
    Simply saying (in your summary second to the last paragraph) that someone “automatically” is obligated to love you in certain ways but not in other ways, dodges the fundamental question of the why of rights and obligations related to love.
    (My thinking is that all rights and obligations – including those related to love, however defined – exist for the sake of equality. For example, disabled people have a right enter buildings pretty much the same way (equally) as non-disabled persons do. So, the owners of many buildings have the obligation to ensure their equality by constructing handicapped accesses. These rights and obligations (work due and work done for the sake of equality) are created by culture (as opposed to a divine plan or even natural law) because it is generally believed that equal opportunity in basic things stabilizes a culture and improves life for all who share the culture. But, then this is your blog, so I’ll stop here.)

    • [Edit: I mis-typed something; fixed.]

      Al, you have some insightful thoughts on this.

      I do, however, disagree with the assertion that “do I deserve love?” is quite the reciprocal as “who is obligated to love me (and why)?” Above, I glossed over the distinction between deserving to love others, deserving to receive love, and others being obligated to love us (though I did allude to it). So, to clarify, this is my current thinking on these:

      All people deserve love of all forms, but only two forms are impossible to become un-deserving of, based on personal behavior (which I suspect is somewhat rare).

      Love of eros and philia is deserved by all who do not make particular effort to harm anyone who loves them. Examples of this might be those who abuse spouses and other loved ones and have no interest in rehabilitating this unfortunate tendency. (I don’t intend to address just how society or individuals should determine undeservingness; I simply state that it almost certainly exists.)

      This is separate from deserving or (also separate) obligating love from any particular person. For example, if you have romantic feelings for a person and show those feelings by doing nice things for that person, then one might reasonably say that you deserve such affection in return; but this is quite different from the other person being OBLIGATED to reciprocate them–since they might not feel romantic love for you, and such love can’t (reasonably) be obligated. (I’ll put aside discussion of how various cultures handle arranged marriage and such.)

      Therefore, if I’m being more precise, the following holds true for all non-abusive people:

      1) All people deserve to give and receive all kinds of love. People can surely decide that they don’t want to receive love of a certain kind (unhealthy, but possible); and people may decide that they’re not interested in giving love of a certain kind (likewise). Nevertheless, deservingness exists.

      2) Agape love, by definition, is an obligatory love for all beings. If it exists at all, it must apply to all beings. Therefore, all beings both deserve to receive it, and all givers of true agape love must give it to all others–though imperfection of a person’s ability to give agape love certainly impairs this; nevertheless, it is obligatory to give it to all beings, by definition. Additionally, all persons deserve to give and receive agape love (if they choose to do so).

      3) While it’s possible for individuals to become “cold-hearted” and cease to love their family relations (and other “loyalty-driven” relations) with storge love, those who have it at all are obligated to love the targets thereof unconditionally. This doesn’t mean that they have to want anything to do with such relations, as that’s the definition of philia love. Rather, if people have storge, it’s unconditional–obligatory. Additionally, all persons deserve to give and receive storge love (if they choose to do so).

      4) Philia and eros love are strictly voluntary: while people all deserve to receive and give it, there’s no obligation to do so based on the definitions of what philia and eros are. If you don’t alike a person (via philia or eros, respectively), you are not obligated to love them thus–even if they love you in these ways. So, deservingness is in the abstract, “we all deserve it” way, whereas obligation does not exist.

      How is that? I suspect that I was simply unclear previously, but if you still find exception with my assertions, please feel free to post it. (I’ll reply if/when I have energy for it, as usual.)

      Have a nice day.

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