Ludus is another form of love that develops early on in our families.[i] It means ‘game’ in Latin, and its hallmarks are that of being playful and fun-loving. It isn’t a deep or connected love, and is by nature non-committal; even to the point of finding commitment “scary”.
Sociologist John A. Lee (1973) in his book, “Styles of Loving” defined ludus as “a carefree and casual love that is considered fun and games. Physical appearance is less important than self-sufficiency and a non-demanding partner.
Young children and teenagers most freely exhibit this kind of love, usually in combination with philia, or brotherly love, within their families. The characteristics of ludus can continue with us into adulthood in a healthy way if we incorporate a Christlike love along with it. We can also become stunted in our growth and ability to be in a relationship if we choose to follow its full secular definition of ludus in adulthood.
Appropriate Forms of Ludus
If we’re using it well, ludus helps in situations where platonic friendships are more appropriate, such as among family members, friends and co-workers. We can relax and have fun with each other, without other styles of love developing that might interfere with or interrupt our committal relationships.
We can use ludus in our family to help build stronger family ties and memories. Some of our strongest relationships from our early years often involve elements of ludus. If ludus doesn’t exist in a family, the desire to want to stay near that family (either in life or in eternity) can be compromised.
Maintaining a degree of ludic love helps us avoid emotional fusion – which is the trap of taking your marriage too seriously, or giving away your agency to your spouse to make you happy.
The healthy side of ludus allows us to be light-hearted and optimistic even if others don’t ‘feel like it’ or are ‘not in the mood.’ A ludic lover can allow themselves to enjoy being physically intimate even if their lover can’t – for whatever reason – and receive the gift their spouse is giving them.
“Differentiation (which is helped by ludic love) changes monogamy by returning genital ownership to each [spouse]…Monogamy is a prison when it’s based on emotional fusion…[ii]
When Ludus Becomes Dysfunctional
When the surrounding culture encourages children to move on from ludus to other forms of love before they’re ready, problems can occur, including breaking of the law of chastity. The element of non-commitment needs to be honored when the child is too young for adult stages of love.[iii] The guidelines we receive in our church can help prevent this development phase from happening too soon.[iv]
However, practicing ludus exclusively beyond the point of childhood can also go too far, when the non-committal aspects of it prevent deeper connections from being made.[v]
John A. Lee described this in the following way:
“Ludic lovers try to control their feelings and may have several lovers at one time.They are not possessive or jealous, primarily because they don’t want lovers to be dependent on them.Ludic lovers have sex for fun, not emotional rapport. In their sexual encounters they are typically self-centered and may be exploitive because they don’t want commitment.”[vi]
This development is where the ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’ arises from. It can be seen in young adults or more mature adults who are content with ‘hanging out’ or worse, ‘hooking up’, and marriage is never considered, for whatever reason. At its most extreme dysfunction, ludus unrestrained can lead an adult into sexual addictions.[vii]
Marriage, to those who know the Lord’s restored gospel, is an essential element of the gospel plan. It is required for salvation in the highest degrees of the Lord’s kingdom.[viii]
So for each of us, even though it may be tempting to avoid the difficulties that sometimes come with marriage and sexuality, it is a goal that we’re encouraged to prepare for and work towards. Ludus, at some point and with someone, needs to have romantic love added upon it, so that families may be formed and essential ordinance work can be received.
Is Ludus Simply a ‘Childish Thing’[ix] To Put Away?
This is not to say that ludus should be abandoned entirely as an adult. It should not. In fact, those people who see ludus as something that belongs in childhood only are putting themselves in great danger of either having their spouse commit infidelity, or committing infidelity themselves.
It is still a very viable and appropriate form of love to show towards others who are not intimate with us on a romantic or sexual level. It is useful for building relationships in our extended families, and amongst our children and grandchildren. I’m referring to the part of ludic love that is not jealous, possessive, or requiring another to be dependent on you.
If we never have ludus in our marriage – if everything is always serious and never fun – what happens? We exercise ludus with our friends, which many times develop into feelings of romantic love for those we are not married to. If we keep ludus in our most intimate relationship, the temptation to develop romantic love elsewhere is much less strong.[x]
Children are always watching after our examples. Showing children healthy examples of ludus in our families will increase the likelihood of their appropriate emotional development. A married couple who include some ludus in their relationship will increase the likelihood that their children will view marriage as a positive state to be in, and something to look forward to.[xi]
Developing Ludus in Marriage
The very best way to keep a marriage in a state of healthy ludus is to continue to date after marriage.[xii]
Some couples only date before marriage, thinking that the entire purpose of dating is to ‘get someone’ to marry them. Other couples cite challenges such as finances or time restraints or children, or illness as excuses to stop dating.
However, if you’re in a marriage that was a love match in the first place, ludus is part of that love. Dating is fun and exciting before marriage. Continuing to date after marriage helps bring those feelings of love and excitement back to the relationship over and over again throughout your lives and into the eternities.[xiii]
If your marriage isn’t a marriage that was a love match, activities that encourage ludus can help build romantic love over time.
Continuing the courtship helps to maintain all levels of love in a marriage. Plan to continue to date after marriage, or resolve to begin again if you have stopped. The benefits over time are more than worth the effort.
Next week, we’ll discuss the form of love most people in society recognize as love - Eros.
[i] George Pullman in Persuasion: History, Theory, Practice refers to ludus as ‘puppy love’ that is youthful and childlike in nature (Chapter 3, pg. 124; https://books.google.com/books?id=8swIBAAAQBAJ&pg=PA124&lpg=PA124&dq=ludus+childlike+love&source=bl&ots=Pdlf7T_i4Q&sig=E5kWbtJZBref4oK8p1Qt2sfwJE0&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiYlYmmq-DOAhWI8CYKHQidAtEQ6AEINzAE#v=onepage&q=ludus%20childlike%20love&f=false
[ii] Schnarch, Dr. David. Passionate Marriage. Henry Holt and Company LLC. 1997. pg. 310-311
[iii] Taylor, Dr. Jim. The Disturbing Sexualization of Young Girls. Huffington Post. 9 Dec 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-jim-taylor/the-disturbing-sexualization_b_1948451.html
[iv] See the ‘For the Strength of Youth pamphlet’ regarding ‘Dating’: https://www.lds.org/youth/for-the-strength-of-youth?cid=YS-M-youthstrength&lang=eng
[v] Oaks, Dallin H. “Dating vs. Hanging Out’: https://www.lds.org/ensign/2006/06/dating-versus-hanging-out?lang=eng
[vi] Lee, John A., Benokraitis, Nijole V, Marriages and Families 5th ed. Pearson Prentice Hall (2005,150)
[viii] Doctrine & Covenants 131:1-2
[ix] 1 Corinthians 13:11
[x] Harley, Willard F., Jr. The Risk of Opposite-Sex Friendships in Marriage. Marriage Builders. 1995-2006. http://www.marriagebuilders.com/graphic/mbi8122_OSFriend.html
[xi] Brotherson, Laura. When Kids Grow Up They Want to Be…Happily Married. Strengthening Marriage. 17 Sep 2007: http://www.strengtheningmarriage.com/when-kids-grow-up-they-want-to-be-happily-married/
[xii] McKay, David O. See comments on continuing the courtship. Teachings: David O. McKay. Experiencing Happiness in Marriage: https://www.lds.org/manual/teachings-david-o-mckay/chapter-15?lang=eng#15-36492_000_019
[xiii] https://www.lds.org/liahona/2014/08/youth/why-marriage-is-awesome?lang=eng; see ‘From Ben: More Enjoyment’