The topic of love in regards to Lifestyle relationships is usually a pretty hot topic. Everyone has an opinion, thought, rule, or feeling about it. After hearing so much about love, the newcomer may end up a bit confused. After all, in the vanilla world, especially in Western culture, love is a really big deal. In regards to the Lifestyle suddenly love is either displaced or becomes a sort of unfounded impetus. Usually it’s displaced because a person has been taught that love has no place inside of any type of hierarchical relationship. Conversely, there are many subs/slaves that come with the expectation of having a highly romantic relationship; this tends to be what makes love the impetus of serving or being owned. These are both extremes and really don’t do justice to our relationships or love.

The English language falls short in helping us understand love and how it manifests, so most of us tend to go by what we think love looks like, which is really what we’ve been taught by movies, television, childhood fantasies, and/or some level of dysfunction. Love ends up being this vague idea – yet so many are looking to experience it. Learning about love and the four primary areas of how love is expressed was like winning the lottery! Finally, there was clarity – much needed clarity! Sharing that clarity is the aim of this post so anyone can see that love has a place in the Lifestyle community as well as in our relationships and it doesn’t have to be shunned.

The Greek language gives us four words to describe the four primary areas of love:

Agape: unconditional love; love that cannot be earned or lostPhilia: love/affection between friends denoted by the virtue of loyaltyStorge: familial loveEros: intimate love; sexual passion

As we become active in the community, and if we’re consistent, eventually we begin to create connections. From those connections we form friendships and familial bonds. Developing genuine friendships within the community is priceless and most definitely a worthwhile investment. In regards to philia, these friendships form our social circles and immediate community. These are the people that we see regularly, break bread with, enjoy the company of, and support through difficulties. These are the people we grow and learn with. Through an investment of time, energy, and being consistent, affection is cultivated between peers; from here the rest of our Lifestyle relationships are developed.

On FetLife, someone may have a relationship status of “in a family with”. This status denotes a familial tie – storge. Lifestyle families offer a level of rootedness and covering. This is probably important for many of us because often times our biological families either aren’t aware or accepting of our lifestyle/personal choices. Over the years, I’ve heard more stories of loveless/dysfunctional childhoods and family experiences than stories of joyous love-filled childhoods. Lifestyle families are chosen and for some, they are replacement families. The community is filled with people who’ve become daddies, mommies, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters. This isn’t to say that everyone in a family is lacking familial love from their biological family; some of the people who form or are a part of families do so because there was such an abundance of affection experienced from their biological family, they don’t know any other way to be.

Hierarchy and love is the area that many people are most concerned about. The love and affection of philia and storge is accepted more easily and are welcomed without fuss. However, when it comes down to hierarchical relationship, things are different. After coming to the community, I would hear people on both sides of the slash speaking on how love wasn’t a part of their hierarchical relationships; there would be a separate, usually vanilla, relationship that addressed love/sexual needs. After looking at philia, storge, and eros what occurred to me was that the first two develop over time and are formed with boundaries which isn’t usually how people approach eros; also they are much easier to understand and apply practically. Yet when it comes to romantic love (and romance), many lose their everlasting minds and many tend to buy into the myths of we can’t choose who we love or ‘fall in love’ with; that love has to be Khalo/Rivera-esque – tumultuous with unbridled uncontrollable passion; that love makes a person weak (particularly the Master) and so on.

There was a Master who said of his slave, she had asked him if he still loved her because they hadn’t played in a while – and it was a serious concern for her. At the time, I was new to the Lifestyle, and it would be many years before I could understand (or empathize with) her question or recognize how love functioned or looked within their M/s dynamic. For his slave, S&M was an expression of not only his sexual desire for her, but for his declared love for her; it was one way of being romantic with his property – romance M/s style! To be honest, if my Master were to shower me with gifts of trinkets, cards, and flowers, it wouldn’t trip my romance trigger much if any at all. However, being given tasks, orders, a lecture, a slap to the face, molding and guiding me – well, all of that makes me melt and maybe even swoon. Romance, for me like many other slaves, is M/s focused, for lack of a better way of putting it, and there’s nothing more intimate (for me) than nurturing the M/s dynamic. As a slave, I don’t serve because of love or being in love; I serve because at my core I’m a slave and this informs how I look at and express love. While love can be expressed through my service and obedience, it’s not the cause of either.

In both M/s and Leather communities and relationships there’s plenty of love – just not the standard appearance of what society normally views as love. Expressions of the love we feel often look quite practical, and not over the top melodramatic. The formation of families, communities, and relationships focuses more on addressing needs and compatibility rather than fantasy or attempting to create a specific emotional experience. Over the years, I’ve witnessed and experienced local communities pulling together to support a fallen sister or brother; Leather or M/s families caring for an infirmed member; the gifting of leather; affirmation of peers; and Masters and slaves sharing a level of intimacy many only hope to experience – all of which is based on love that has matured with time and consistency. Love isn’t a hole that we don’t see and just happen to fall into; nor is it an impulsive whim to be indulged in haphazardly. By choosing our Lifestyle friends, family, Master and so on we are actually choosing who we’ll love and how love will be expressed – and we do so with care. So you see the Lifestyle isn’t devoid of love, quite the contrary. There’s love in great abundance in our lifestyle.