Love. It’s that other four-letter word. When we speak of it, we usually think of the romantic kind, though, generally understood, it can have several meanings; love is difficult to define and for good reason, it’s a complex emotion. More than that, like the proverbial Eskimos’ legion nomenclature for snow, there can be many kinds of love. The ancient Greeks identified eight different kinds of love. Let’s examine what those are.
Agape: This is the slogan you sometimes see on bumper stickers; it refers to a love for others in the broadest sense. Another term for agape might be altruism. Often this kind of love is associated with God or religion because it is a selfless kind of love that generalizes toward humanity or the world. It is perhaps for this reason the most difficult kind of love to achieve inasmuch as it entails the ability to extend one’s feelings beyond what we are most familiar with to embrace something that might seem otherwise merely abstract in nature.
Eros: This is the kind of love we are most familiar with when we use the term. Eros is romantic or passionate love. Cupid’s arrow blindly aimed at no one in particular suggests that it is a feeling we are prey to, struck by an emotion that jolts us out of our senses. Romantic love, actually, is a recent development in Western civilization, originating with the troubadours of the Middle Ages serenading maidens aloft in ivory towers, hence its association to a more idealized kind of love that, nonetheless, arises from sexual longing. While Eros is the stuff “that makes the world go round,” it is generally regarded as a more immature kind of love because it is usually transitory, self-serving, and at least in part biologically driven.
Ludus: Ludus means “playful” in Greek. Playfulness is often a part of flirting though it needn’t be limited to sexual relationships. When we play we open ourselves to our creative side. In order for us to become playful or creative we must be in a situation or relationship where we feel safe from harsh judgment. Otherwise we expose ourselves to feeling foolish, self-conscious, or embarrassed, so when we are playful with someone it suggests there is confidence and trust in that relationship. Intimate and close relationships depend on playfulness to demonstrate that special bond still exists.
Mania: As the name suggests, mania is an intense emotional fixation on someone or something. When someone is manic it means they are obsessed. Sometimes love relationships or feelings a person has for someone else can take on manic qualities. Romantic love has an element of it. There are also instances when an individual becomes obsessed with another person that sometimes can lead to stalking behavior (we may remember the pathological relationships portrayed in the movies Play Misty for Me and Fatal Attraction). Erotomania is a term for instances when someone develops the delusion that another person is obsessed with them. Understandably, manic kinds of attachments often are directed toward movie stars and celebrities and thus a common subject for the tabloids.
Philautia: Self-love; a modern term we commonly use today is narcissism. This word has a bad connotation and reputation but it isn’t all bad. Love of self is the foundation for the ability to love others. It is only when love for self fails to mature into generosity of spirit or when it ultimately prevails in relationships that it becomes problematic. In order for love of self to evolve into mature love one must cultivate the capacity to experience the joy of how giving of oneself is a sacrificial investment well worth spent.
Philia: As the slogan on the license plate of the state associated with The Society of Friends reads, philia, the love of friendship, is the linguistic root for its largest city. Friendship, perhaps the most rewarding and enduring kind of relationship, entails sharing things held in common and that each party deems valuable; it also is founded on loyalty and reliability. Friendship takes time and effort to develop. It may constitute the most important aspect of romantic love that enables it to become a lasting relationship.
Pragma: What we might more familiarly call commitment, pragma is the emotion one feels toward those with whom one is engaged in a long-term project or mission. You might call it an allegiance by virtue of shared purpose. This might include a business partner or workforce, a legion of soldiers, even a married couple. A long-term relationship entails working together for the good of the relationship, children, or family; it is a vital element that anneals the bond of a long-term relationship.
Storge: The closest word we might have to this kind of love in the modern dictionary is compassion. Storge is the emotion we feel toward those close to us that compels us to provide succor and caring attention when needed. As with philia and pragma, storge seals the bond in a relationship that promotes long-term commitment.
All of these words for love from ancient Greece, no wonder how difficult it is to understand and express our feelings when this emotion is the topic of discussion. Love is complex! And when we express our love toward someone it involves more than likely an admixture, not any one, of these definitions. All these definitions of love are part of what makes us human, none is more human than another though some might be identified as reflecting a more mature state of emotion than others.
In his classic book from the 1950’s, The Art of Loving, the German psychoanalyst, Erich Fromm, identified four types of emotions that express mature love: Care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge, the last pertaining to awareness of our strengths and weaknesses as opposed to idealization. The hallmark of maturity according to Fromm is the extent to which our love extends into the world as opposed to the self-absorbed and consuming relationship a strictly passionate love entails. Nonetheless the author grants that all must originate from love of self without which love for others is not possible.
Love for oneself has not always been accepted by our society and it still carries negative connotations. In his treatise, The Heresy of Self-love that explores this topic the author, Paul Zweig, points out how in the fourth century St. Augustine's personal conversion from Manichaeism helped establish the notion of the sinfulness of self-love as a founding precept of Christianity. This ethic prevailed at least until the dawn of the modern era beginning with secular philosophers such as Spinoza and Rousseau in the 17th century . Self-love forms the foundation from which all love derives because our emotional investment in others which is made possible through our capacity to feel for others begins with how well we are able to identify in others what we feel in ourselves. When either from self-centeredness, resentment, or fear the other remains “other” and empathy fails to be sufficient the development of feelings of love is inhibited.
In my work with patients in private practice, we sometimes explore the dimensions of love in personal relationships and how both the experience and expression of love is influenced by our relationships with ourselves and our personal histories. It is our endeavor, then, to confront the fears associated with the trust necessary for love to develop, and all the unconscious defenses we unwittingly erect to keep ourselves safe from sharing the most cherished emotion of human life. Love, like intimacy, is not for the faint of heart.
Robert Hamm Ph.D