Love is a complicated, multifaceted emotion that takes on many different guises. Physical love, frequently associated with passion and intimacy, has long been considered essential in romantic relationships or marriages. But it’s crucial to recognize the various viewpoints authors, thinkers, and philosophers put forth throughout history when analyzing the connection between sensual love and more ideal or spiritual love.
In Plato’s “Symposium,” Pausanias offers an intriguing viewpoint on the connection between actual or material love and ideal or spiritual love. He makes the case that there are two different kinds of love: heavenly love, which is based on a connection of souls and transcends the physical, and common love, which is focused on the physical aspects of attraction. Pausanias places a higher value on heavenly love because he believes it to be a higher kind of love that transcends merely material desires (Yap, C. R. (2021).
Pausanias asserts that a person’s physical characteristics, such as beauty or attractiveness, are the focus of common love. It can be brief and frequently motivated by sensual desires. On the other hand, Heavenly love is a more intense and profound type of love based on the union of souls. It is not restricted to outward appearances but aims to comprehend and value a person’s inner virtues and qualities. In contrast to common love, which can be superficial and fleeting, Pausanias contends that heavenly love is more robust and meaningful.
In contrast to Pausanias, Aristophanes, a character in Aristophanes’ play “Symposium,” offers a different viewpoint on love. Actstophanes strongly emphasizes the physical union of bodies as the pinnacle of love, using it to bring two halves that the gods had split apart back together. In a romantic relationship, this viewpoint emphasizes the value of physical intimacy to achieve emotional and spiritual fulfillment (Adams, D. 2021).
Actstophanes believed humans were initially created with two heads, four arms, and four legs. The gods, however, felt threatened by their strength and decided to split them in half, producing two distinct beings. Since then, people have yearned to meet their soulmate or another half in order to feel whole once more. Actstophanes contends that since physical intimacy is the most profound manifestation of love and fulfillment, reuniting with one’s other half represents love’s ultimate goal.
In Plato’s “Symposium,” Socrates describes a hierarchy of love in which one moves from loving material things to loving ideas, which he believes to be the highest form of love. According to Socrates, a relationship based on physical love can be a prelude to a more ideal or spiritual love based on philosophical and intellectual compatibility. This implies that a more profound connection on a mental and emotional level should be present to balance out the importance of physical love in romantic relationships (Papaleontiou-Louca, E., Esmailnia, S., & Thoma, N. (2023).
Beethoven, through his musical works, and St. Paul, in his letters found in the New Testament, both stress the value of ideal love and human brotherhood. They support an ideal of selfless, unconditional love founded on empathy, compassion, and understanding and transcends material desires. This implies that physical love should be secondary to a more ideal or spiritual love, which should be the basis of any romantic relationship.
While it’s important to acknowledge that physical attraction can be a big part of romantic relationships, it shouldn’t be the only factor in a relationship’s success. Physical intimacy can express emotional closeness and love, but other types of love that go beyond physical intimacy should be used to balance it out. A healthy and happy romantic relationship must have the following qualities: emotional closeness, intellectual compatibility, shared values, and mutual respect.
Furthermore, a loving relationship between partners or spouses should be more fulfilling if physical love is present due to an injury or illness. Love can be expressed in various ways, including emotional support, companionship, and understanding, and it can transcend physical boundaries. Lack of physical intimacy can be made up for by a strong emotional and spiritual connection, which can still lead to a meaningful and fulfilling relationship (Bonifacio, R., Hair, L., & Wohn, D. Y. 2021).
Even when the physical attraction is present, one of these deeper connections can result in a relationship that lacks substance and fulfillment. It is crucial to understand that physical love alone may not support a long-lasting, meaningful relationship.
Age, health, and outside circumstances are just a few variables affecting physical attraction and intimacy, which can also naturally change over time. A relationship built solely on physical attraction risks needing more emotional and intellectual depth for a robust and long-lasting bond. Prioritizing physical love over other types of love can also result in relationships that are superficial and lack the emotional intimacy, understanding, and empathy necessary to forge a solid bond with a partner (Remme, R ., et al., 2021)
On the other hand, a stronger spiritual and emotional bond within a relationship can promote closeness, trust, and understanding. It entails giving of oneself, empathetic behavior, and a desire to truly comprehend and support one another on both an intellectual and emotional level. According to Pausanias in Plato’s “Symposium,” this kind of love is based on a genuine connection of souls and transcends the physical realm. It entails a greater appreciation and understanding of one another’s values, beliefs, emotions, and desires, which can result in a more satisfying and meaningful relationship.
In conclusion, there are many dimensions and a complex relationship between ideal or spiritual love and physical love in romantic relationships or marriages. Although physical love is essential, it can also be transient and might not lay the groundwork for a long-lasting and meaningful relationship. A deeper and more satisfying relationship may result from adding an emotional, intellectual, and spiritual connection to physical love. Building a solid and fulfilling relationship with a partner requires prioritizing a holistic view of love that includes all aspects of connection, including the physical, emotional, and spiritual.
Adams, D. (2021). Aristophanes’s Hiccups and Erotic Impotence. Philosophy and Literature, 45(1), 17-33.
Yap, C. R. (2021). Honesty and Love in Plato’s Symposium.
Papaleontiou-Louca, E., Esmailnia, S., & Thoma, N. (2023). Spirituality of the developing person, according to Maslow. New Ideas in Psychology, 69, 100994.
Bonifacio, R., Hair, L., & Wohn, D. Y. (2021). Beyond fans: The relational labor and communication practices of creators on Patreon. New Media & Society, 14614448211027961.
Remme, R. P., Frumkin, H., Guerry, A. D., King, A. C., Mandle, L., Sarabu, C., … & Daily, G. C. (2021). An ecosystem service perspective on urban nature, physical activity, and health. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(22), e2018472118.