Falling in or out of love is one of the strongest emotions that people can experience. Love can be kind. Love can be cruel. Love is everything. Love has been called “one of the most studied and least understood areas in psychology.” Everyone has experienced feelings of love to some extent or another. There are those who found love then lost it, those who found it and kept it and those who are seeking it in odd places. There are also those who don’t know they have it, not realizing it is closer than they think. Let’s talk about love!
The ancient Greeks were sophisticated in the way they talked about love and would be shocked by our modern crudeness in using a single word both to whisper, “I love you” over a romantic candlelight meal and to casually sign an email, “lots of love.“
Romantic love, the love that perhaps most naturally springs to mind, has been the inspiration for countless ballads, stories and pieces of art and has captured the imagination of singers, artists, and poets throughout history. However, there are many “flavors of love“, from brotherly love, family love, the love of God and self-love. In English, as with other languages, it has been difficult to distinguish the separate meanings of these words without carefully considering the context in which the words are used.
The question “what is love?” generates a host of issues; some have sought to analyze them; others have preferred to leave them in the realm of the ineffable. This article, ‘Let’s Talk About Love‘, is my attempt to shed some light on this subject. There are many types of love. The Greeks have identified 8 types of love.
1. Eros or Erotic Love
Eros was the Greek God of Love and fertility, born of Ares (God of War) and Aphrodite (Goddess of Beauty and Eternal Youth). Eros is said to have been the one who blessed the union of Gaia and Uranus after which the Universe came into existence. Gaia was a Greek Goddess; she symbolized the Earth and was the mother of everything. Uranus symbolized the sky. Eros represents the idea of sexual passion and desire.
The ancient Greeks considered Eros to be dangerous and frightening as it involves a ‘loss of control’ through the primal impulse to procreate. Eros is a passionate and intense form of love that arouses romantic and sexual feelings. Eros is a primal and powerful fire that burns out quickly. Eros is usually depicted as a young boy, with his bow and arrows, ready to either shoot into the hearts of gods or mortals to rouse them to desire. His arrows came in two types; golden with dove feathers to arouse love, or leaden arrows with owl feathers to cause indifference. Eros is known as being bitter-sweet and cruel to his victims. Unscrupulous, and a danger to those around him, Eros would make as much mischief as he could by wounding hearts of all. Without warning, he would select his targets and forcefully strike at their hearts, making them fall in love.
2. Philia or Affectionate Love or Friendship
The ancient Greeks valued philia far above Eros because it was considered a love between equals. Plato felt that physical attraction was not a necessary part of love, hence the use of the word ‘platonic’ to mean ‘without physical attraction.’
Amongst the different types of love, Philia is a love that is felt among friends who have endured hard times together. Aristotle defined philia as a ‘dispassionate virtuous love’ that is free from the intensity of sexual attraction. Philia often involves the feelings of loyalty among friends, camaraderie among teammates, and a sense of sacrifice for your pack. It is about loyalty and sacrifice for your friends and the sharing of emotions with them.
Aristotle thought deeply about the concept of human well-being and the virtues necessary to live well; he wrote his findings and conclusions in ‘Ethics.’ Aristotle concluded that to live well, is a proper appreciation of the way in which friendship, pleasure, virtue, honor and wealth fit together as a whole.
3. Storge or Familial Love
‘Storge’ closely resembles philia in that it is a love without physical attraction, however, Storge is primarily to do with kinship and family. Storge is the natural form of affection that flows between parents and their children, and children for their parents.
Storge is the bond that a mother develops with her child as it forms inside her womb as the miracle of life is happening. Once born this bond will continue to strengthen as the mother and baby get to know each other through the nurturing and breastfeeding process.
‘Storge’ can also be found in the unconditional love that dog owners gain from their dog. Dogs are the only species who, like a child, run to their owner when they are frightened, anxious or just pleased to see them. Dogs have a very special capacity to demonstrate unconditional love that is quite refreshing. Studies have shown that being in contact with animals such as dogs, cats, rabbits, and horses can lead to lower blood pressure and can combat stress and ease anxiety disorder and depression. Pets can provide friendship to those who are lonely, sick or depressed.
4. Ludus or Playful Love
‘Ludus’ has a touch of the erotic Eros in it but is different in that the Greeks thought of Ludus as a playful form of love; the affection between young lovers. Ludus is that feeling we have in the early stages of falling in love, the fluttering heart, flirting, teasing and feelings of euphoria. Playfulness in love is an essential ingredient that is often lost in long-term relationships. Yet, playfulness is one of the secrets to keeping the childlike innocence of your love alive, interesting, and exciting
Aristotle frequently emphasized the importance of pleasure to human life and stated that a happy life must include pleasure. For Aristotle, pleasure is not a process but an unimpeded activity of a natural state. It follows from his conception of pleasure that every instance of pleasure must be good to some extent; how could an unimpeded activity of a natural state be bad?
Aristotle did not mean that every pleasure should be chosen. Simply put, although some pleasures may be good, they are not worth choosing when they interfere with superior activities. We must choose our pleasures by determining which ones are better. The standard we should use in making comparisons between rival options is virtuous activity because virtuous activity has been shown to be identical to happiness.
5. : Mania or obsessive love
‘Mania,’ or obsessive love, is a type of love that leads a partner into a kind of madness and obsessiveness. To those who experience mania, love itself is a means of rescuing themselves; a reinforcement of their own value, as they suffer from poor self-esteem. Because of this, they can become possessive and jealous lovers, feeling as though they desperately “need” their partners.
6. Pragma or enduring love
‘Pragma’ is an enduring love that has aged, matured and developed. Pragma is beyond the physical, it has transcended casual love, and has formed a unique harmony over time. You can find pragma in couples who have been together for a long time, or in friendships that have endured for decades.
Unfortunately, pragma is a type of love that is not easily found as we often spend so much time and energy trying to find love but so little time in learning how to maintain it. Pragma is the result of effort on both sides. It is the love between people who have learned to make compromises, who have demonstrated patience, and tolerance to make their relationship work.
7. Types of Love: Philautia or self-Love
‘Philautia,’ or self-love, is about caring for ourselves. The Greeks understood that self-care is necessary before we can care for others. Philautia is not unhealthy vanity nor self-obsession focused on personal fame, gain and fortune as is the case with narcissism. Instead, Philautia is self-love in its healthiest form. It shares the Buddhist philosophy of “self-compassion” which is the deep understanding that only once you have the strength to love yourself and feel comfortable in your own skin that you will be able to care and demonstrate love for others.
Aristotle described “all friendly feelings for others are an extension of a man’s feelings for himself.” You cannot share what you do not have. If you do not love yourself, you cannot love anyone else either. The only way to truly be happy is to find unconditional love for yourself.
Buddhism also promotes self-love as vital for health and happiness. Buddha, “You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” Loving ourselves unconditionally in exactly the same way we love our children and pets is what we are striving for. Instead, we love ourselves with conditions. We only expect to be happy with ourselves when we get the job we want, or after losing weight. Then and only then do we feel worthy of self-compassion.
Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail or feel inadequate. Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable; they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals.
Self-compassion requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. Balance requires putting ourselves through a process of relating personal experiences to experiences of others who are also suffering, thus putting our own situation into a larger perspective. Balance also stems from a willingness to observe our negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity.
‘Agape,‘ or selfless love, is the highest and most radical type of love according to the Greeks. Agape is what some call spiritual love, it is an unconditional love, bigger than ourselves, a boundless compassion, an infinite empathy. Agape is the purest form of love, free from desires and expectations is given regardless of the flaws and shortcomings in others. Agape love is altruistic love, love that is given for its own sake, without expecting anything in return.
Agape is the love that is felt for that which we intuitively know something as being the divine truth; a love that accepts forgives and believes for our greater good. Aristotle makes the point in several of his works that the happiest human life resembles the life of a divine being.
We are often hankering over romantic love, but the message from the Greeks is that there are many types of love. A better understanding of love and a larger vocabulary helps. It helps to recognize how we feel, and it helps to recognize feelings being bestowed upon us.
We are all students of love and can thank the Ancient Greeks as our esteemed teachers. We have learned that there are many types of love, that it’s good to talk about love, and when loving:
Stay away from ‘Mania.’
Don’t just seek ‘Eros’ – it usually ends badly.
Cultivate ‘Philia’ by spending more time with your friends, family.
Add some frivolity into your life from time to time with ‘Ludic’ activities.
Seek ‘Pragma’ for a long-lasting relationship.
Indulge in ‘Storge,’ let your maternal and paternal instincts out. For any lonely souls, get yourself a dog!
Practice ‘Philautia’ to stay away from stress, anxiety, and depression.
And for the most advanced students, seek ‘Agape.’
And this, my dear companion, is your Quest.