Everyone seems to be yearning after romantic love, but few of us realize that far from being timeless and universal, romantic love is a modern construct.
But there’re, of course, many other ways to love. By preoccupying ourselves with romantic love, we risk neglecting other types of love that are more stable or readily available, and that may, especially in the longer term, prove more healing and fulfilling.
The Ancient Greeks had several words for love, enabling them to distinguish more clearly between the different types. I’m now going to guide you through seven types of love. Are you ready?
- Eros: It’s sexual or passionate love and is the type most akin to our modern construct of romantic love. In Greek myth, it is a form of madness brought about by one of Cupid’s arrows. The arrow breaches us and we fall in love. In modern times, eros has been amalgamated with the broader life force.
- Philia: The hallmark of philia, or friendship, is shared goodwill. Friendships founded on goodness are associated not only with mutual benefit but also with companionship, dependability, and trust. In sum, philia transforms eros from a lust for possession into an impulse for philosophy.
- Storge: It’s a kind of philia pertaining to the love between parents and their children. It differs from most philia in that it tends, especially with younger children, to be unilateral or asymmetrical
- Agape: It’s universal love, such as the love for strangers, nature, or God. Unlike storge, it does not depend on filiation or familiarity. It can be said to encompass the modern concept of altruism, defined as unselfish concern for the welfare of others. More generally, altruism, or agape, helps to build and maintain the psychological, social, and, indeed, environmental fabric that shields, sustains, and enriches us.
- Ludus: It’s playful or uncommitted love. It can involve activities such as teasing and dancing, or more overt flirting, seducing, and conjugating. The focus is on fun, and sometimes on conquest, with no strings attached.
- Pragma: It’s a kind of practical love founded on reason or duty and one’s longer-term interests. Sexual attraction takes a back seat in favor of personal qualities and compatibilities, shared goals, and making it work. In the days of arranged marriages, pragma must have been very common. Although unfashionable, it remains widespread, most visibly in certain high-profile celebrity and political pairings.
- Philautia: It’s like self-love, which can be healthy or unhealthy. It’s the healthy kind of love we give ourselves and need, for personal growth. Philautia is essential for any relationship, we can only love others if we truly love ourselves and we can only care for others if we truly care for ourselves.
Of course, there’s a kind of sponginess between the seven types of love, which keep on seeping and passing into one another.
Love aims at beautiful and good things, because the possession of beautiful and good things is called happiness, and happiness is an end-in-itself. Of all beautiful and good things, the best, most beautiful, and most dependable is truth or wisdom, and above them is love.