Fridays on the oLo is a newsletter written by Alex Olshonsky dedicated to studying, celebrating, and elevating the human experience. Thanks for being here. If you were forwarded this email, get your own:
Welcome readers new and old to The Love Series, an email exploration of the universe’s most mysterious, life-giving, bear-hugging, and tear-jerking force.
We have seen lots of new arrivals lately, so here you can find my past writings on love to dig into. This Friday, let’s take in a breath of fresh air from your typical political, sports, or business news and exhale, together, into this journey in love.
Ready? Let’s begin.
There Must Be Higher Love
“Think about it, there must be higher love” – Whitney Houston (by way of Steve Winwood’s 1986 “Higher Love”)
In ancient Greece, they knew a thing or two about love. The Greeks had not one, but eight words to describe different types of love. To name a few: Eros is romantic and sexual love. Philia is the love of friends. Storge is the love for parents. And Agape is unconditional, universal love for strangers, nature, or God.
The Greeks didn’t just stop there—they got freaky, too. Heiros gamos—or heirogamy—referred to a sacred marriage between a god and a goddess, consummated by men and women in a spicy sex ritual. (Popularly reenacted in Eyes Wide Shut and The Da Vinci Code) Not to mention, the Greeks’ view of sexuality was fluid. Adult men would take pubescent lovers in the notorious act of pederasty, which despite making us cringe today, was an honorable rite of passage then.
Safe to say, the Greeks had a sophisticated palate for love.
Fast forward to today, and our understanding of love feels a bit more… basic. In school, we learn calculus and Latin, but we don’t study anything about love, the thing that literally defines our lives. Sure, you can say our understanding of sex is getting more progressive. But at the same time, America has (until January…) a Vice President who doesn’t feel comfortable being alone with women other than his wife!
We all want love. Love is our birthright. Yet, we aimlessly strive for it, browsing Instagram for sex appeal, and delicately crafting dating app profiles to attract long-term potential with the proper dose of I’m chill. With porn, The Bachelor, and Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson as guideposts for the kids today, sometimes it feels as if we’ve lost the plot, living millennia away from where we started in our understanding.
If the Greeks could be so sophisticated in their comprehension of love, why can’t we? I’m not saying that we need ten descriptions for it. Baby steps! Maybe it starts by simply listening to our favorite songs. By calling on the core theme Whitney Houston, Bob Marley, and many other timeless artists sang about:
Now, what could this higher love be? It must be bigger than Agape. Perhaps we don’t have adequate words to capture it. But we don’t need them! Love is a language within itself—and I don’t mean what your “love language” is, and whether you prefer gifts or kisses. I’m talking about the unspoken language that lies beyond thought, the invisible force that brings two humans together, Philia, Storge, and the seed of creation.
Throughout this exploration of love, I keep coming back to this:
There is no feeling—despair, grief, sadness, rage, contentment, mind-blowing ecstasy—that is not contained within the same evolutionary thrust that birthed our universe.
In their own way, the Greeks knew this. Love is the thrust, and the birth of all language: a Big-fucking-Bang. Love is the vessel that contains every letter in the alphabet of emotions. The gravity that keeps planets and galaxies orbiting around each other, an ancient language only the stars and moons can speak.
Everything and everyone came into existence from this poetry. Even if you were conceived in some dusty motel off Interstate 70 in an Eros one-night stand, you are evidence of your parents’ love. You are evidence of your mother’s struggle to bring you into this world. Her breathing and panting and pushing are also words in this language.
One of my closest friends just lost the mother of his children, leaving behind two twin baby girls in an utterly shocking tragedy. I don’t have words that can pay tribute to his loss, but I keep remembering that this type of grief and rage and horror is only possible within a container of love. Love is the Grandmother, Abuelita y Oma, of every other emotion. Grief is only possible because of love. It’s certainly the hardest letter to pronounce, but it is still an expression of the language. And on the wild edge of that grief, just over the side, Grandma awaits with open arms.
When I feel into this spectrum of emotion, trying my best to understand it, words evade me. But the song I hear playing inside my heart comforts me. Like I’m overhearing a conversation at a café in Italy. I don’t know Italian, but I like the sound of the words, their accents, the cadence of their crisp voices, the gentle guitar playing in the background.
So if there is a higher love, it must be this, no? It must be the language itself from which all eight subcategories of Greek love emerged. And like Greek or Latin or Sanskrit, love is the root of every human experience. A language that exists in the birdsongs, cricket symphonies, ocean waves, mama bear protecting a boy, or Crow bringing gifts to a young girl. Yet, we are the only animal, as far as I know, that can speak and write about love.
Which means we must practice it. It matters not that we are starlight dressed up as matter. That we are being of luminous light. That the state gives us a certificate saying we’ve made love official. Higher love is not some magical prize that you win someday. It’s not the signaling of open-minded virtues, praising your polyamorous heart, only to then flip-flop and say you’re all about a Heiros Gamos sacred union.
What matters is that we are animals having a human experience for a handful of decades. And so, we practice learning this higher language. We strive to become it, enrolled in a never-ending Rosetta Stone of Life.
Higher love is listening to your partner scold you for doing the thing you said you weren’t going to do. Staring at a blank reply on Bumble, having to remind yourself, yet again, that you are worthy of love. It’s the bathtub holding Whitney, cold and blue, overdosed in the water. It’s the melanoma that spread from under the nail of his toe that killed Bob Marley.
It’s losing the mother of your children, a fate so cruel, all that remains is teaching this language of love to the little ones, even when it feels like we are still learning the damn thing ourselves, and are far from fluent. Yet, there’s still something to teach. So that they can practice too. So that maybe they can, someday, learn to speak the language a bit better than we do.
So, yes. The Greeks knew it then as we do now.
There must be higher love.
“Think about it, there must be higher love
Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above
Without it, life is wasted time
Look inside your heart, I'll look inside mine”
Links + Brain Candy
🕺 Kygo & Whitney Houston - Higher Love, the official music video
🧠 Personal Growth That Doesn’t Suck, a podcast with Mark Manson, one of my favorite writers.
🎧 Happy You Are Here Podcast, with yours truly. Inspired by my post on Tonic Masculinity, Craig Inzana and had a great convo about writing, mimetic theory, and the role of masculinity in the modern world. Check it out Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
That’ll do it this week, my friend.
If you’re enjoying Fridays on the oLo, please forward this to someone you love. I try and make this email a breath of fresh air amidst a world of noise, so I hope you might enjoy.
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