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What is love?

There are 7 different types. At least...

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Love… the heady whirlwind of passion. A cosy warm hug. A bowl of chicken soup when you’re sick. Love can come in various shapes and sizes.

Love is an emotion and a set of actions

Emotions are complex concepts. And they are different for all of us. The primeval oxytocin-fuelled sensation is in us innately; we can interpret this as the drive to love and be loved in order to both reproduce and to survive.

Love varies in intensity and form: from low-arousal (relaxation, warmth, calm) to high-arousal (passion and the melting sensation of “making” love).

If we are in touch with our bodies, we can feel it.

It’s also a set of positive actions: listening, sharing, helping, cooperating. See our article on Learning to Love for more.

Love is Positive

Whatever its form, the common dominator is that it is positive.

At it’s most intense it can be seen as all of the positive emotions and attitudes felt and demonstrated together – from hope and respect to sexual excitement and euphoria.

 

It’s helpful to remember and explore the various types of love, not just the type involving sex. So that when the honeymoon is over, we know what else we can look forward to, what we can also aim for and enjoy if we’re thinking longer term.

The ancient Greeks had a nice explanation; they categorised love into 7 types:

Sexual love: Eros. The stuff of novels and Hollywood, a form of “madness”, desire and passion as well as respect and appreciation for someone, often believed to be brought about by “fate” – one of Cupid’s arrows.

Friendship: Philia, shared goodwill. Not just for mutual benefit (the stuff of many business relationships), but for companionship, dependability, trust. Real friends relate authentically and teach each other about their limitations, beliefs and defects – for which we need a degree of articulacy, insight and openness, both to change and to be changed.

Familial love: Storge. This tends to be unilateral or asymmetrical. Familial love is born out of familiarity or dependency and does not hang on our personal qualities. People in the early stages of a romantic relationship often expect unconditional Storge. Usually they find the need and desire of Eros then, with work, the maturity of Philia, and with enough time, Storge can develop.

Playful, uncommitted love: Ludus. Teasing and dancing, seducing, flirting, sex. Detached emotionally. The focus is on fun, or conquest, with no friendship or loyalty. Works best when both parties are mature and self-sufficient. Problems arise when one party mistakes Ludus for Eros…

Duty: Pragma. A practical regard founded on reason and long-term interests. It’s the stuff of arranged marriages and, although unfashionable, it remains widespread (high-profile celebs, politicians). Many relationships start as Eros or Ludus and end up as a mix of Storge / Pragma.

Universal love: Agape, such as the love for nature, or God, or strangers. Also called charity, altruism and compassion. An unselfish concern for the welfare of others.

Self-love: Philautia. Crucial. Unhealthy self-love is hubris; believing we’re one-up, above “the gods”, above human experience, above others, or above the greater good. Healthy self-love is self-esteem; our realistic and positive appraisal of our own worth as equal to any other human. With enough self-esteem we don’t need to prop ourselves up with external things such as money, status, or fame, or alcohol, drugs or sex for kicks. We are able to invest ourselves in people and projects. We cry and get scared and angry, we suffer hurt and disappointment, but these don’t diminish us long term. We grow resilience.

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Which have you experienced in your life? Could you tell the difference at the time? Which do you want to experience?

For all the types of love are available to us if we want them… Being open and positive towards others can leave us vulnerable. It’s puts us out there. Heart on the line. But as we develop self-confidence and self-awareness, we start to be able to engage in and enjoy more of the types of love, and receive them in return.

Try it… We dare you.

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