The different types of love

And the ways they manifest between people

Alex asked,

“Are there differences between love between a couple (dating or married) and love between friends? Does loving your significant other get held with more importance than loving your friend. If so, then how do you decide that prioritization without having to choose based on selfish needs?”

To answer the first question: yes, there are differences between romantic love and love between friends. In fact, some of our greatest thinkers named a few.

The Greeks had several types of love

By some accounts, there were four. By others, there were perhaps as many as eight.

1. Agápe — love of the soul; selfless love

“The love for humanity… the closest to unconditional love. The love you give without expecting anything in return reflected in all charitable acts… the compassionate love that makes us sympathize with, help and connect to people we don’t know.”

2. Éros  love of the body; erotic love

Eros is purely an appreciation of someone’s beauty, or even an appreciation of beauty in and of itself. Plato does not consider physical attraction as being necessary for love (hence the use of the word platonic to mean, “without physical attraction.”)

3. Philia — affectionate regard; friendship

Aristotle described philia as “loyalty to friends… family, and community, and requires virtue, equality, and familiarity.” This love can also be felt between romantic lovers.

4. Storge —familiar love, especially between parents and children

Also used when referencing the love for one’s country or a favorite sports team.

5. Ludus — playful love

“The flirtatious and teasing kind of love, the love mostly accompanied by dancing or laughter. It’s the child-like and fun kind of love.”

6. Pragma — longstanding love

The everlasting love that develops over a long period of time, pragma was the highest form of love, “the true commitment that comes from understanding, compromise and tolerance.” It “grows over time and requires profound understanding between lovers who have been together for many years.” Interesting note: one “stands” rather than “falls” into pragmatic love.

7. Philautia — love of the self

The Greeks divided Philautia into two kinds: one is purely selfish and seeks “pleasure, fame, and wealth, often leading to narcissism.” The other is a “healthy kind of love we give ourselves.” 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.”

8. Mania — obsessive love

“Love that leads a partner into a type of madness and obsessiveness. It occurs when there is an imbalance between eros and ludus.”

“To those who experience mania, love itself is a means of rescuing themselves; a reinforcement of their own value as the sufferer of poor self-esteem. This person wants to love and be loved to find a sense of self-value. Because of this, they can become possessive and jealous lovers, feeling as though they desperately “need” their partners. If the other partner fails to reciprocate with the same kind of mania love, many issues prevail. This is why mania can often lead to issues such as codependency.”

One might even consider that “mania” is categorized as a type of love purely to differentiate this behavior as being different that the truer types.

That aside, I adore the idea of many types of love. I, like Alex, once wondered this — not only differentiating between friends and lovers, but differentiating across lovers as well.

Each love story is unique

This is not to say that what is fundamentally a manic love can ever be elevated to something with as much merit as pragma, which will always be a healthier, higher form of love. But that being said, pragma can look different across couples.

Leo Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina, “there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.” I see his estimate and I raise him: “There are as many kinds of love as there are combinations of people.” Which is exponentially more than number of people alone.

Even if you love two different people with mature, healthy, long-standing love, those bonds can look and feel different. The underlying type remains the same, but the little nuances are unique.

They say eskimos have 50 words for snow, and they say that each snowflake is unique.

Humans are far more complex than snow — there’s no reason our love couldn’t have just as many types and endless ways that looks.

We prioritize based on our bond — and balance

Highest levels of relationships and types of love are maintained with the highest level of attention and care, particularly if we are structuring them within social expectations (such as monogamy, in which case love such as eros should be highly limited.)

But that doesn’t mean a pragmatic love, being the highest form of love, always trumps lighter levels such as philia, and it certainly can’t overrun philautia, which must always exist in order to build. Otherwise it quickly slips into manic love, at the loss of nearly every other type.

Love, like anything, is richness in breath and balance.

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