2 ways to love in Turkey

Love Life Istanbul 3I 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.

“Aşk.”

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

Love.

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.

Love life Istanbul 1

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:

Love Life Istanbul 2

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!

5 reasons why Istanbul is like a lover

Oh BradMany people I meet, who live in distant lands, say to me, “You’re so lucky to live in Istanbul! I wish I could live in Istanbul.”

I’ve comforted visitors who shed tears as the call to prayer plays over the city, because Istanbul has touched their heart like no other city has. I’ve also noticed my fellow expats freely personify the city like their lover: “Istanbul and I have a love hate relationship, but Istanbul is the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Many love stories about Istanbul made me realise – Istanbul really is like a lover! Here’s five reasons why -written in the Oh Brad! style for those who have fallen for this dramatic city.

  1. Oh Istanbul, when we first met you wined and dined me and showered me with compliments – it was love at first sight.
  2. Oh Istanbul, you keep your secrets close to your heart. You’re so mysterious. It keeps me intrigued and when you share your secrets with me I just love you so much more!
  3. Oh Istanbul, you leave me without a car or cash, and I wonder if I am meant to be with someone else but, I’m glad we met – I’ll never be the same.
  4. Oh Istanbul, when you treat me well it is like heaven on earth, but when I start dissing you behind your back, you retaliate and treat me mean.
  5. Oh Istanbul, I know when we part ways, my heart will be broken and I’ll have urges to run back your arms, because I will crave your spontaneity and easy going nature.

Recently, Istanbul and I have had a tough relationship.  Now the sun is out and the days are longer I am appreciating Istanbul more. We have fallen in love again and our future is bright.

A tower, two mosques and a love story

Galata Tower

On the 21 March, I climbed the Galata Tower to see if a 470 year old Istanbul love story was true.

The 16th Century story involves Ottoman Architect, Mimar Sinan and Mihrimah Sultan – the daughter of the famous, Sultan Suleiman and Hurrem Sultana.

When Mihrimah was 17 two men wished to marry her: Sinan and the governor of Diyarbakır, Rustem Pasa. The Sultan chose the younger Rustem Pasha, but Sinan’s love for Miramah did not die on her wedding day in 1539. Sinan’s love for Mihrimah is said to be reflected in two of Istanbul’s finest mosques.

Sinan was commissioned to design the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque near the Bosphorus in Uskadar in 1548. Take a look at the design and it mimics the silhouette of a woman in a skirt. Later, after Rustem Pasa died, Sinan designed a new mosque without palace approval. He built the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque on the highest hill of Istanbul in Edirnekapi (1565), near the old city walls in the West.

‘Mihrimah’ in Persian means the ‘sun and moon’ and so the love story says that Sinan designed the Uskadar mosque with less windows to symbolise the moon. The Edirnekapi mosque has many windows to symbolise the sun. The Edirnekapi mosque also has one minaret to symbolize Sinan’s loneliness and longing for one woman.

The love story suggests that on 21 March (Spring Equinox and Mihrimah’s birthday), the sun will set over the single minaret in Edirnekapi and the moon will rise over the mosque in Uskadar.

Is this story real or just an urban legend? You can see both mosques from the Galata Tower. For hopeless romantics, the story is just a great excuse to climb the medieval tower during a springtime sunset.