For a while now, I’ve been wanting to explore the love between Booth and Brennan, and this week seems a good time to do so, don’t you think? Before I get started though, I want to acknowledge the debt I have to seels and thevaliumsofa, who both contributed enormously to this.
I expect if we could ask Hart Hanson what one question he’s been asked more than any other, it would be, ‘Are Booth and Brennan going to get together?’ or possibly, now that he’s started answering that one explicitly and positively, ‘When will they get together?’
David Boreanaz’s answer to the first question, much to the frustration of many fans, is that they already are together.
I understand both the question and the frustration. I want that for them. They belong together and we want to see that on our screens. But I think I understand David’s answer, too, which is something I want to touch on in the second half of this post.
Before getting to that, though, I have another question. I wonder … is it possible to be too focused on that goal of seeing them ‘together’? So focused that we lose sight of what they already have?
In English, we pretty much have one all-purpose word for love, by which we mean we love our pets, our siblings, chocolate, and, if we have one, our significant other.
But other languages have more than one term for love, allowing for nuances – and perhaps a better understanding of what’s between two people – than what English allows for. Greek, for example, has several words for love (why, yes, I have studied ancient Greek along with psychology – why do you ask?) Although the meanings overlap at times, it recently occurred to me that thinking about Booth and Brennan through the lens of those words might give us some insight into what’s going on.
Before I start, though, there are a couple of things I want to touch on. The first is that the words overlap at times in meaning and nuance; they have also changed in meaning over the centuries.
The second is that while the words were generally used to describe a specific relationship, (i.e., a deep friendship as opposed to the love of parents for children) I believe they can also be used to describe facets of a single relationship. And if they can’t, and I’m wrong, and the Greeks would be horrified by this post…well, I’ll apologize later, okay?
The first term I’m going to look at is philia, which is sometimes actually translated as friendship. There are degrees of it, including those we wouldn’t consider love at all. In this sense, it can include casual business acquaintances as well as people with whom we have a common interest such as golf buddies. But it’s also used for much deeper relationships as it can also refer to two people who’ve formed an intimate bond that yet isn’t better described by one of the other love types, including some marriages.
There’s an element of equality in the relationship, in that both people take away something from it, whether it’s the support they receive from their mutual bond, or something else. Selfish? No, not necessarily. We may throw ourselves into a relationship with our whole heart, and be generous and loving…but most of the relationships in our life give us something back, even if it’s just the good feeling we get when we do things for the other person. So both Booth and Brennan each benefit from their relationship.
Philia is the dominant type of love for much of S1 for them. They’re getting to know each other, their common ground initially their desire to find justice for victims. That knowledge of one another – that they can trust each other to want to find that justice – leads to deeper knowledge and trust in other areas.
We see philia among the whole group in The Man in the Fallout Shelter – they even talk about their relationships and what they mean, particularly in the exchange between Hodgins and Goodman about friends vs. colleagues. But in the end, when all of them but Brennan are fleeing the building, it’s Booth who turns around and tells her he’ll be at Wong Foo’s if she wants company. Friendship of a slightly deeper shade.
And it’s philia that allows Brennan to give Booth the case file on her parents in The Man on the Fairway, and governs not only his acceptance of it, but how he does so. He’s aware that she’s trusting him.
Partnership adds another layer to their philia. Law enforcement partners are in a dangerous line of work (as Gordon Gordon reminds us in The Dwarf in the Dirt) and that leads Booth to feel responsible for her sooner than he might have done with another friend he was at the same level of getting to know. We see this in his behavior in The Woman in the Garden, Two Bodies in the Lab, and his appearance in New Orleans after she calls him in The Man in the Morgue.
As I’ve thought about the different types of love, I’ve realized that philia is sort of the backbone, or workhorse, of the types of love. When they’re bickering but we know it could turn serious at any time? That’s philia. When we see them having fun together floating around in the ‘vomit comet’ in The Spaceman in the Crater? Philia.
But it’s also more than those types of moments: it’s when she puts her hand on his arm in the cemetery in Soldier on the Grave, and simply listens. It’s when he comforts her in the Woman in Limbo and offers her Jasper at the end of The Blonde in the Game.
It’s when they share meals (mac and cheese!) and run out of the bar laughing because you ‘have to be bad to be good.’
And while their relationship has deepened into other kinds of love as well, philia is still present this season, such as in the look of pride he gives her when she’s participating in the Science Guy’s show.
As I noted several paragraphs back, philia can be quite emotionally intimate. I think the moment right before he goes into surgery in The Critic in the Cabernet is probably philia, though it’s possible it’s more storge, which we’re going to consider next.
I wasn’t sure I was going to include this, because the term is frequently defined as ‘motherly love’ or the love one has for a dependent. Instinctive love. But while researching it, I realized it has also been used to designate family bonds in general, as well as adoptive relationships. There’s an element of commitment to it that I like, which I think is essential to understanding Booth and Brennan’s relationship.
Philia is important, and can describe people with very deep, emotionally intimate bonds. But even so, storge offers something else, found when two people say, “I’m sticking with you from here on, even if I don’t always like you,” as adoptive parents do, for example.
Unlike philia, storge isn’t completely equal, or, rather, equality is the goal rather than a reality at the beginning of the relationship. Between parents and children, for example, the parents make a commitment to the kids while they’re still incapable of committing back. But most parents, I think, raise their kids to be people who can eventually reciprocate in those kinds of bonds.
I think most of us know it’s easy to say the words, “I’ll never leave,” when everyone likes everyone else, no one is hurting and things are going smoothly. Actually sticking when there’s pain and difficulty is a different ballgame, and that’s the aspect of storge I want to highlight here.
It’s explicit in Judas on a Pole among the team as a whole, both when they unite for Booth and then when he tells Brennan, ‘there’s more than one type of family.’ But it’s a running theme through the whole series.
I’ve said before that I have this theory that early on in their relationship, Booth decided that he was never going to be the next person in her life to walk away from her, no matter what. I suspect it was there as early as The Man in the Fallout Shelter, when he overhears her telling Angela about Russ’s decision to leave her shortly after her parents did. Although we never hear him spell it out explicitly, I think he comes close in his words to Cam in The Boy in the Shroud: “I’m with Bones, Cam. All the way.”
He’s never going to walk away from her, no matter how difficult things become – and he never has, something I’ll address further in my comments on the next type of love we look at.
Meanwhile, what about Brennan? I think we see her commitment to him – and to their ‘family’ – in the ‘center must hold’ conversation at the end of The Widow’s Son in the Windshield, but after that, it’s spotty until this season, and that’s okay. Why? Because Brennan didn’t have a framework for what it meant for someone to stick like that until Booth and the others began giving it to her with their commitment to her. (And it’s not all Booth: I think when Angela flatly refuses to testify in Max’s trial, she’s teaching Brennan about this kind of love, too.) Until she found herself with a family she never expected in Booth and the squints, no one had ever modeled it for her. Her parents left, Russ abandoned her…she didn’t know what that kind of stick-to-it-tiveness looked like until Booth and the others showed her.
But that doesn’t mean we never see it from her before this season. We see storge – and even possibly agape, which we’ll cover next – in her determination and commitment to save him from the Grave Digger in The Hero in the Hold. As the episode unfolds, we see a nearly grim determination from her, and I’ve long suspected that if Booth had died…we would have seen a reversal of the times he threatened someone for Brennan, only carried through: Taffet would not have lived to see her trial. (What? I can’t be the only one to believe she’s capable of that?)
I think it’s also there at the end of The Critic in the Cabernet, when she tells him he’s been in a coma for four days, and the implication is she’s been there with him the entire time. She gets flak from fans – unfairly, I think – in Harbingers, when it’s revealed she went to Guatemala before he was completely recovered. But it’s clear to me that she didn’t simply get up and run. She checked with his doctors, believed he was on the road to recovery…and was upset when she found out that recovery had taken longer than she’d been led to believe it would.
I think it’s storge when she promises Pops at the end of The Foot in the Foreclosure to be there when Booth needs her, because she will be. My sense of Brennan has always been that she’s the sort of person who doesn’t make promises lightly, but when she does, she keeps them. I think it would be a matter of pride and honesty for her to do so.
And even with the trip to Maluku, she doesn’t just run. She plans to discuss it with him before making a final decision. I don’t see anything there to suggest she wouldn’t have gone if he’d said, “Please don’t go,” but she didn’t simply leave, and for someone who’s never had any real ties before, never had anyone care whether she stuck or not, that’s commitment.
Agape is frequently translated as unconditional or self-sacrificing love, and it’s not hard to see how that merges with/is part of the two loves we’ve already looked at, particularly storge. Commitment to stick ‘no matter what’ implies unconditional love.
Unlike philia and storge, agape isn’t about equality. Someone who loves with agape love isn’t in it for what they get out of it, even the same kind of love in return. They seek what’s best for the other person with no thought of themselves.
As with storge, we see agape from Booth toward Brennan before we see it from her toward him, and for the same reason, I believe. Whether it’s completely fair to her parents or not – who loved her enough to do what they believed was necessary to protect her – Brennan’s understanding of love causes her to reject it at the beginning of the series. It’s through the love shown her primarily by Booth but also by the others that allows her to begin opening to the idea that not only do different kinds of love exist, they can exist for her, to the place where we see her offering love back, in all its forms.
So what does agape look like between them? I think Booth shows her agape when he tells her she should go with Sully in The Boneless Bride in the River. He doesn’t want her to go, that’s obvious. But he wants what’s best for her, even if it’s not best for him.
We see it at the end of The Verdict in the Story when he does something that goes against every protect-those-you-love instinct he has by telling a jury that yes, she could have killed the deputy director of the FBI. And while we don’t necessarily see it at the end of Wannabe in the Weeds because taking the bullet for her doesn’t appear to be a conscious choice, we know he would have made that exact choice. That’s the quintessential meaning of agape, by the way, that someone would love another person enough to die for them.
We see self-sacrificing love from him in what he goes through to keep that commitment I believe he made not to leave her, even when she rejects him. I don’t think she had any idea what she was asking of him when she said, ‘Can we still be partners?’ in The Parts in the Sum of the Whole. I don’t believe she understood love, or at least not his love, enough to grasp how painful it would be for him to continue to work with her, to be her friend (which was implied by ‘partners’) after she’d turned him down, until recently.
But that commitment he’d made, never voiced, was still there, and his love for her is agape – unconditional, and self-sacrificing. So he puts her first, and sticks. He sticks until she leaves him, and as I noted in my Booth’s Turning Points post, that’s when he knows things have to change…but I don’t think his commitment not to walk away from her is one of those things that changes. I know people – people whose opinions I respect – who believe Booth made his decision to leave for Afghanistan very early in The Beginning in the End, before she did. But I can’t see that, because there’s such a history of him sticking with her.
What about now? I think this is exactly what he means when he says, “That person’s not going anywhere,” at the end of The Sin in the Sisterhood. I know that line confuses people because when she’d said, ‘What if you let that person get away?’ she was clearly talking romantically, and he’s clearly not in his response, not given his relationship with Hannah. But I believe he understands that knowing he’s always going to be there for Brennan in some way is important to her.
When they returned from Maluku and Afghanistan, he was allowing for the possibility of her not wanting to work with him, but it was going to be her choice. Never his. We saw this again at the end of The Daredevil in the Mold the other night. He’s hurt and angry, and some of it is toward her, enough that he lashes out when she questions what happens next, enough that he spells out what their relationship will be and tells her to take it or leave it. As upset as he is, though, even to that degree of putting limits on their relationship, giving up entirely would be her choice. She’ll be the one to walk away, not him.
That’s the reason that scene didn’t throw me at all, I guess. Because what I see behind his ‘partners only, take it or leave it’ is that commitment to never be the one to walk away from her (storge), based on an unconditional love (agape) that puts her first, even there.
What about Brennan? Does Brennan love him unconditionally and in a way that puts his needs before her own? Absolutely. It may have come later than his – which makes sense to me, as I think she had to first learn what it meant – but it’s there.
I think it’s getting to that point when she tells Gordon, “I can’t think of anything I wouldn’t do to help Booth” in The Dwarf in the Dirt, and we see it begin to play out in The Proof in the Pudding when she lies for him – or at least isn’t forthcoming with the full facts.
But it’s only now, this season, that we’ve seen its full expression: when she warns Hannah to be sure about moving in with him in The Maggots in the Meathead, when she accepts those limits he’s putting on their relationship at the end of The Daredevil in the Mold. That moment she makes it clear she’s sticking with him, no matter what, is the single most committed, loving, even sacrifical act we’ve seen her make for him.
(Okay – raise your hand if you’ve been waiting for this one?)
It would be understandable if you had, because we’re all products of our culture and western culture views eros – sexual desire/love – as the highest form of love, whether we acknowledge that or not.
Here’s the thing, though: on its own, unless it’s combined with one of the other loves, eros is nearly anti-love. It’s lust that takes no thought of the individuals, of their needs apart from sex. (Did the Greeks see it that way? It depends on the era you’re talking about, but consider this: Cupid is portrayed as shooting random victims with an arrow that took personalities, affection and even choice out of the equation.)
So I’ve not put eros last because it’s the most important type of love, the one we’ve been eagerly anticipating, but rather for the opposite reason: on its own, it’s nothing but an imposter. Eros by itself was what we saw in the flashback to their first meeting, and it nearly destroyed any chance they had at anything else. It’s heat and flash, which can be wildly pleasurable – no question of that – but without anything else, destructive.
When eros is driving the train, there’s no room for anything else, not really. Not until it begins to burn itself out. And then, for some, there’s a chance for them to see if there’s anything else there.
Ah, but what if it’s not on its own? What if it comes along with philia, storge, and agape? Or even just one or two of those? Although the Greeks didn’t weigh in on this, I believe that’s what we call ‘being in love.’ The desire, flash, and heat of eros combined with a deeper bond built in intimacy, trust and commitment. Sometimes, the point where eros combines with something else comes quickly, and sometimes it’s later. But it must come for a relationship to last, and when it does, it transforms eros into something quite different, something where the heat and flash give what else is there warmth and beauty.
Sexual attraction has been a part of Booth and Brennan’s relationship from the very beginning, but after the disaster of their first case, they rein it in, choose not to act on it. It’s there – we see it, that awareness, somewhere in every episode – at least prior to this season, and unlike some, I’ve been aware of it even this season. But it doesn’t control them, doesn’t control the relationship or where it goes. Without eros running things, they move from trusting one another’s goals (to find justice for victims), to trusting one another (when she gives him her parents’ file, when he shares details of his sniper past), to committing to one another and finally to unconditional love.
So what am I saying, really?
First, that I really, really want to see them make love some day, within a romantic relationship. I want to see them acknowledge eros because it’s not been allowed to drive the train of their relationship, and never will. It’s there, along for the ride, and someday, when acknowledged, it will be beautiful, will give them something neither of them have had before: romantic, sexual love on a foundation of trust, commitment, intimacy and love that nothing – not even this year – has been able to shake. And I want to see that.
But second, I just want us to step back a bit, maybe, and remind ourselves that part of the reason we have what we have is because they’ve not gone there yet. Do I think it’s time? Yes, I do. Not this week, certainly, but soon.
But so much of what they have, what we’ve seen them have this season, is because they’ve not acted on eros yet. Could they have done so in, say, season four, and been happy? Well, sure. I suppose so. But – and maybe this is just me – there’s something beautiful in watching a relationship be tested and grow. So if they’d become a couple two years ago, there’s a lot we wouldn’t have seen. And neither we, nor they, would know the full extent of what’s between them.
I know this season has been hard for a lot of people. I’ve found it as painful to watch at times as anyone else. But I’ve perversely enjoyed it at the same time because what I see when I step back and look at it as a whole is that the strength of their love has been more obvious this season, when it’s been so tested. Really, the fact that they’re still working together at all shows that bond. Would it have been easier for Booth to tell her no when she asked if they could still work together in The Parts in the Sum of the Whole? Yes. Would a lot of guys – even good, honorable guys – at least have said, ‘give me time’? And what about that moment in the SUV in The Doctor in the Photo? They talk about her adjusting, as he did. What they don’t discuss, don’t even consider, is of giving up their partnership and all that it means to them. Such a decision is never even on the table. That’s the nature of what they have together.
Am I making any sense at all here? What I feel they have is so much more powerful because we’ve seen them hang in there with and for one another, even when it’s excruciatingly painful. Their love – philia, storge, agape – never falters. Even when Booth is with another woman, a woman he loves. I believe his commitment to Brennan is never clearer than when he saves her life just before that conversation in the SUV. It’s so easy to take it for granted, particularly given his rejection moments later. But in order for him to be there, he’s been following her around and it must have been all night since even if she’d gone back to her apartment he wouldn’t have known she wouldn’t leave again, at least not as far as I can see.
That’s love. That’s commitment. That’s a bond that many people never know from any relationship in their lives, sexual/romantic or not. And Booth and Brennan are already there.
It’s this, all of this, that I think David Boreanaz means when he says they already are together. He looks at their relationship and while not discounting sex and a romantic commitment as unimportant, sees what they have, sees the wonder and miracle of anyone having that kind of relationship in their life.
They are together. Can they yet become more together? Yes, and I have every hope of that. But in the meantime, what they have –what we’ve seen illustrated in the very story line that’s brought so much pain to so many – is breathtakingly beautiful.
So when people ask why I like the show, my response is “their relationship” as opposed to “the romance between them”.
What do you think? Is there a lot of love to go around? Can you think of any other examples for each ‘type’ of love? I know there are a lot of BONES fans and Bones Theory readers from all over the world….which types of love are valued where you live? Would Booth and Brennan be considered ‘lovers’ already? Let’s discuss!