I recently caught up with an ex-boyfriend. A Turkish guy I had an on-again / off-again relationship with over four years. Whilst we couldn’t make it work as lovers, he remains one of my closest friends and confidants. We have a mutual respect and support one another in times of need. He’s my go–to guy to help interpret the Turkish world around me. He’s been excellent at this role. That was, up until now.
You see, our last meeting at his house slid into a conversation about our former relationship, which broke up over a year ago. We questioned what went wrong and what went right. He eventually asked me, “Do you think we would have made a good couple?”
“Do you?” I replied encouraging him to dive in to the topic first.
“Well,” he paused, “I guess, I really, really liked you. I didn’t love you.”
My Western-made heart dropped. A heart that understood love as everything we had experienced in our relationship. It plunged into a pool of anger deep in my gut that could have splashed him with a wave of expletives.
Love to me was this: 10 lessons about love. That’s what we had.
Nonetheless, I snapped, “What do you mean you didn’t love me?”
“I really liked you.” He responded.
“No, that’s not possible. What do you mean exactly?” I snapped again, never satisfied with his brief answers whilst my heart was furious. I started to roll off the names our mutual male friends from my spiteful tongue. “I like Serkan. I like Erhan. But, I don’t love them like I loved you.” We both paused, with him looking as though he realised our difference of opinion. I added, “So are you telling me that for four years I was I just a friend?”
He cut in trying to save himself. “No, no, no. That’s not what I mean. You don’t understand. Like is better than love. Love is really romantic. Love is where you don’t see each other’s errors. Where you’re passionate all the time. You’re not confused.” He even closed his eyes mimicking the words, “Love is when you’re blind to each other’s errors.” He then added, “We saw each other’s errors. We weren’t romantic all the time.” Now sensing my growing resentment, he cut himself off and concluded. “Trust me like is just better than love in a relationship.”
“I still don’t understand. Isn’t romance and passion, part of being in love? To me, we were in love because we did see each other errors and we worked to overcome them. That is love to me.”
I sat in silence, sulking, for a long time trying to think of the words to bring this topic to an end. I was facing a reality that after all this time – he just “liked” me! The feeling stirred in me for a while, but I noticed his body language was trying to reach out to me – probably in an effort to break my silence. His forwardness and eventual assertion to invite me to stay to watch a movie confused me. I was now curious about these mixed messages. As he started the film and I contemplated leaving, a thought dawned on me. Was our conversation lost in translation?
I asked, with new-found hope, “Ok, so let’s just clarify. What is the Turkish word for like …for you?”
“Sevmek.” He replied.
“And what, is love?” I continued – although I knew the answer.
I decided to leave it at that. Knowing that later, as an avid researcher, I would seek out the difference. After all, I had seen loving words and phrases with sev and aşk used interchangeably in relationships, and to be honest, I never questioned their difference.
Seni seviyorum = I love you
Sevgilim = my love
Aşkım = my love
Didn’t they all refer to, “love”? Now I was curious about the difference.
Later, when I got home, I did what any normal person would do lost in the language of a foreign world. I consulted Google translate.
I typed: Sevmek
Like appeared on the screen.
Then I typed: Aşk
Dam! He was right. In defiance I concluded that Google Translate for Turkish and English was rarely accurate. I had to delve deeper. I Googled the corresponding nouns.
Scanning through the results, I read things about sevgi being an affectionate love between friends or between parents and children, whilst aşk was a romantic love. My heart didn’t lift. So, I kept surfing in my quest to define love in Turkey.
Finally, TurkishClass.com had a forum where someone was equally confused:
My point exactly. “What?” I was struggling with Turkish, let alone Greek! So now, I’m more curious. I Google: “eros and agape” and I have a little breakthrough with this page:
Four Kinds of Love; Eros, Agape, Phileo & Storge on the blog, Eros to Agape: Moving more deeply into loving relationships.
On this page, eros (aşk) was defined as:
“A love felt particularly within the body (trembling excitement, elation, joy), coloured and underpinned by deep and beautiful procreative urges.”
“….Eros is a state of the heart and while it is intimately related to sex, sex can exist, and often does exist, without Eros enlivening it. It leads to children, family, joy and laughter. It is good and right, but it is usually not enough to sustain a relationship long term.”
Well that started off sounding nice but ended badly. So I read agape (sevgi):
“Agape – Is more of a parental, mature, sacrificial kind of love. The Thayer Lexicon describes agape beautifully when it says “to take pleasure in the thing, prize it above all other things, be unwilling to abandon it or do without it.” In a way it is as idealistic as Eros, in that it is a crazy love that will not let go. Agape loves, usually at cost to the bearer. Agape puts the beloved first and sacrifices pride, self-interest and possessions for the sake of that beloved.”
Oh! The penny drops. Agape does sound more like the relationship my ex and I had, and probably still have in that apparently we can’t do without each other. Our love was mature. It wasn’t fleeting. It wasn’t unfulfilling as the Eros to Agape blog defined eros. I knew that eros doesn’t last and that’s what made him different to other relationships I had.
I kept searching to validate this research, and saw sevgi referred to a love between lovers. Then these quotes sealed my new-found understanding:
“Sevgi last forever even if aşk ends.”
And, my favourite:
“A man who says aşkım may be talking about his love for a pretty blonde, but not the blonde herself.”
Now, I get it. In Turkish, like (sevgi) is better than love (aşk). Aşk is more about lust. It’s an erotic love that ends – like a fleeting romance. Sevgi is a higher love. It’s unconditional and lasting. Whilst English doesn’t seem to have two words to differentiate between the types of love we experience, Turkish does.
My ex and I were lost in translation. Whilst he failed beautifully in his attempt to label our relationship using English words, the words in Turkish made complete sense – and were actually quite sweet. I completely saw his point.
With my research closed, I rang my ex. He re-confirmed the difference and how he felt. I joked, “Google Translate has a lot of explaining to do!” I apologised for my anger and, instead, thanked him for his honesty and kind “words”.
Hanging up the phone, I joked to myself:
Remind me never to aşk about love again!