Love. It’s a word that some of us use a lot. “I love that color on you.” “I just love pizza.” “I love, love, love you” to our little grandchildren.
Some of us never feel comfortable using the word out loud. Philosophers, Theologians and now neuroscientists and clinicians think a lot about love. We use this word for so many emotions.
Maybe as we approach Valentine’s Day we should think a little bit about the different kinds of love. Some good for you and good for your health and some maybe not so much.
The Western tradition from the Greeks distinguishes four types of love and has a Greek word for all of them. There are many sources that define many other kinds of love but four is a pretty manageable number.
We might as well get that one out of the way first. Eros is erotic or sexual or passionate love. It’s often all about need and it’s more about the person who’s feeling sexually attractive than it is about the person who is the focus of that love or thing that is the focus of that love. It is addicting. It can cause great joy and great sorrow.
It isn’t always good for you. More hearts are broken on Valentine’s Day due to the unfulfillment of erotic love.
It can be the love between lovers when they’ve been together for a long time and are not so hot and bothered anymore. It’s also called brotherly love as in the city of Philadelphia.
The city of brotherly love. Of course, it could be sisterly love and it is the accepting love of good friendship. This is the love that is good for your health. The touch of a loved one.
The philia touch lowers blood pressure. People in loving relationships feel your love have few doctor visits, shorter hospital visits, have less pain, and have more positive emotions. All of these positive consequences of philia love, loving friendships make us more resilient when hard times come.
This kind of love is what mothers know best but isn’t talked about too much when we talk about love. It is the love of parents for children.
It is described as the most natural of loves. Natural in that it’s present without corrosion. It’s emoted because we can’t help ourselves and it pays the least attention as to whether the person is worthy of love.
It’s often transient behaviors that wouldn’t be tolerated in philia love. For example, women can continue to love their children despite truly awful behaviors. Behaviors they wouldn’t tolerate in their girlfriends or their spouses.
It seems to come unbidden in the care of a newborn and it grows to allow us to love our children despite their behaviors.
Thank goodness for that. In many ways it’s probably a genetically programmed and hard wired love compared to the affectionate love, philia, which is maybe not so hot wired.
It goes without saying that the love you feel for a friend, family member, or romantic partner are all distinctly different things. In fact, there are so many variants that make “love” what it is, the word itself almost doesn’t cut it.
That’s why the Greeks came up with eight different words for the many types of love we commonly experience throughout our lifetime. Here’s what they’re all about, plus how to know which one(s) you’re feeling.
According to clinical psychologist Kristina Hallett, Ph.D., research has defined two major types of interpersonal love: passionate love (which is what we think of as romantic love, involving attraction and sexual desire) and attachment (also known as compassionate love, which can be between caregivers and children, between long-term romantic partners, and other deeply bonded relationships).
Nevertheless, she adds, “We can certainly love people in a multitude of ways, and often do. When we think about the different Greek words for love, it’s possible to see how these connect to the greater categories of passionate and compassionate love.”
The question of what it means to love someone has been the inspiration behind so many songs for a reason: It’s a very
ake the five love languages, for example. Everyone has their own way of giving and receiving love, especially with different people.
Below are the nine types of love described in the Greek language and how to navigate each one:
Philia is the love that develops over a deep, long-lasting friendship. It’s platonic, but nevertheless, you feel very close to those you have philia toward and can confide in them, trust them, and respect them on a very personal level.
And according to Hallett, these friendships can be just as impactful as romantic relationships. “People may be surprised by the depth of pain and loss related to a long-standing friendship,” she says.
“Often the loss or ‘breakup’ of a friendship is as painful and challenging as the loss of a romantic relationship.”
Spend quality time with your closest friends, and get vulnerable in a way you might not usually, by letting them know how much they mean to you.
Philautia has actually been having a bit of a moment lately—and rightly so! This love is all about self-love and self-compassion. It may seem obvious, but the relationship we have with ourselves is very important, and yes, it needs to be nurtured.
Philautia is important for our own confidence and self-esteem, and it will also influence how we interact with the world. More love of self equals more love to offer. You can’t pour from an empty cup, after all.
Pamper yourself with your favorite self-care activities, create a self-love ritual—literally anything you can give to yourself that makes you feel good, do it! (Here are some tangible ways to practice self-love.)
While some might argue this isn’t really “love,” the Greeks did have a word for “obsessive” love, and that’s mania. T
his is what we would describe as a toxic relationship or codependent relationship, where there’s usually some imbalance of affection causing one person to become overly attached. It can be hard to come back from mania, but if you can, there will need to be a healthier balance of affection.
Notice any patterns of possessive or codependent behavior and ask yourself what’s causing these feelings of insecurity and clinging. Let your partner know you’re struggling with it and try to pinpoint what needs to change. (Here’s more on how to stop being codependent.)
Knowing what type of love you’re experiencing usually involves some level of self-awareness about the nature of your feelings toward a person. Be honest with yourself: Is it romantic, selfless, friendly, or playful?
Another way to tell which kind of love you’re experiencing is to consider how long you’ve known each other.
Ludus is very flirtatious and fun, without the strings that come with eros or pragma. It can be seen in the very early stages of relationships, when two people are flirting, courting each other, and crushing on each other. It often involves laughing, teasing, and feeling giddy around a person. It’s very childlike in that way, though it can certainly evolve.
Remember that all your crushes don’t need to “get serious” or pan out into full-blown relationships. Sometimes there’s great joy and pleasure in just enjoying the flirtation and the will-we-or-won’t-we game.
Agape is selfless love, like the kind you might associate with saintly figures like Mother Teresa or activists like Malala. Hallett describes this love as a compassionate love for everyone, also known as universal loving-kindness. It’s the love you feel for all living things without question, that you extend knowingly without expectations for anything in return. It’s a very pure and conscious love. It’s similar to what we sometimes refer to as unconditional love.
Feeling that agape flowing through your veins? Practice a loving-kindness meditation, and lean into work that allows you to give back and help others.
Storge is the love shared between family members (typically immediate family), and sometimes close family friends or friends from childhood. It differs from philia in the way that it’s reinforced by blood, early memories, and familiarity. There’s a reason people say “friends are the family you choose.” You don’t choose your family, and whether they actually like your family members or not, many people often do love them instinctually. Storge is compassionate, protective, and deeply rooted in memory.
Work to strengthen your relationship with family members and forgive any past grievances.
Generally speaking,” Hallett says, “when we feel a strong, positive connection to someone and find ourselves caring about their well-being and supporting them through our actions, this is compassionate love, and likely involving elements the Greeks referred to as philia, ludus, and agape.”
Importantly, you can absolutely feel a combination of different loves for different people. Some common combos are:
There’s no shortage of definitions and versions of love, with everyone experiencing their own combination of types with all their loved ones.
“There are many versions of attraction that draw people together, especially in intimate relationships, but for a long-lasting relationship, it is important to have both passion and friendship,” Whiting noting. “In the brain, these two states light up in different but overlapping areas.”
No matter who or how you’re loving, giving and receiving love is one of life’s greatest joys, and understanding what we’re feeling for the people in our lives can help us nurture our relationships to be the most fulfilling they can be.