I am familiar with some of the ancient greek words for love, like eros, from which we got the lovely word erotic; agape, which means spiritual selfless love; and philia, deep non-romantic love, like the root of my hometown Philadelphia: the city of brotherly love. A couple weeks ago I learned of amae, a Japanese concept of love. Upon learning about amae I knew it would inspire an issue of Hag Stone Journal.
My husband told me about amae when we were walking together in the neighborhood one evening. He described it as a mutual act of love where one partner makes a very indulgent request of the other partner, who complies with the indulgent request even if it is a hardship. For example, one partner is hurriedly getting ready for work for which they might be late and the other partner asks them, from the comfort of bed, to make them an elaborate breakfast with eggs, pancakes, bacon, and fresh squeezed juice. The first partner, who will now surely be late for work, fulfills this request, not with anger or resentment, but with the love a mother feels for a sick child (even though their partner is neither sick nor their child), and the partner who made the request feels loved the way a sick child feels loved by their mother. This act, which requires one person to make the unreasonable ask and another to fulfill it, bonds the couple together, and, perhaps, creates more trust and intimacy than couples who don’t ask or give indulgently.
I first thought amae sounded weird, but also kind of nice. As I spent more time studying amae, I realized that couples in the United States do enact amae-like asks, we just don’t have a word for it. I saw how many traditional romantic acts could fall within the amae frame, from making special dinners, to gifting flowers or precious stones, going to see movies or sporting events you don’t care for because your partner does, or spending vacations with your in-laws instead of an adults-only resort in the Caribbean. Indulging your partner– because you love them dearly– is a ubiquitous aspect of love.
Amae is not always elicited through a verbal ask. Often the partner who is in the position to give the indulgence will initiate amae by paying special attention to their partner, trying to pick up on nonverbal cues as to what they might want. An example of this I read about, in a mother/child relationship, would be a mother taking her child through a toy store, noticing which toy the child seemed interested in, and then buying it for the child without the child asking for it. This is the type of love that, stereotypically, many women want to experience on Valentine’s Day or their birthdays. They want their desires and wishes to be noticed and indulged, without having to ask.
I see the appeal of amae. Sometimes we all want that loving care that makes us feel special and precious, and we all want to feel needed and capable of caring for and loving another. If both partners had an understanding of amae and an agreement that they want to enact amae in their relationship, there would, perhaps, be more loving generosity from both partners. My husband and I are both interested in experimenting with amae. Maybe now that we know this new-to-us word for love, we will find it happening more in our lives.