Updated: Jun 23, 2021
Many reading this might find it a touch pedantic: of course, the eight loves - they're not some secret or some hidden gem. They may even be rather basic, taught in humanities cores around the world. But even if you're already familiar with the eight types of love according to the ancient Greeks, perhaps it can't hurt to revisit those. Rehash them. Maybe look a touch more closely at each and think, think, think about what those mean to you and how they apply in your own unique snowflake relationships.
Although I could develop an entire research essay on the anachronism of modern marriage (and associated attitudes thereabout), this is not where I plan to spend my energy in this piece. No; this piece is not about my skepticism about the efficacy of marriage as a social institution. All that for a later date when I have time for much research. Instead, this piece is about love.
In our culture, it seems, love is perhaps one of three things: general love (for the fellow man), familial love (for mom, dad, siblings, etc.), or romantic love (for, you know, lovers). Oh but how deeply flawed and oversimplified is this narrow spectrum of love!
What was it that opened my eyes to the complexity of love, do you think? Was it the day that I realized, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that I love some of my friends deeply - so deeply, in fact, that they often feel more like family? So deeply, in fact, that I began telling them I love them? Was it the day I realized that not everyone talks to their friends like this? Who knows?
However, there is my compunction to approach the world with the eyes of a child, seeking understanding and questioning status quos. My mind sees relationship and connection and thinks, “but is this love?” or “but is this love?” and “how is this love different from that love? Are they both love?”
Yes. And yes. And in so many ways, and yes again.
Why would we pigeonhole love the way that we do, I wonder, my Anglophone friends? It’s likely that this piece should be read in conjunction with my “Modern Friendships: We’re Doing it Wrong” essay because a part of me, deep deep down, believes that too many people in this world are afraid to love their friends. My guess is that there’s a tinge of fear of the romantic implications: what is it to love if people are not lovers? Or, perhaps there is also a hesitation for marital/fidelity reasons: what is it to love and not be lovers? What does it imply about your marital relationship - that there is something missing or broken within it? These are two conundrums that could easily trouble any relationship lacking clear communication and well-defined boundaries.
But this cannot account for all reluctance to love others freely; no, I think there is also a deep-seated terror of emotional honesty with the self (and thus others). If we admit that we love someone, we open ourselves up to the possibility of rejection – and that’s scary. However, if we never admit to loving our friends, can we ever truly connect with others? And if we do love our friends, how is that love different from the love we give our parents, our children, or our life partners?
Let me tell you, in no uncertain terms, that I believe love to have as many shapes and shades as there are people on this planet and thus as stars in the sky. Just as stars, just as people, some of those loves burn brighter than others…and that is only natural. Some are longer lasting. Some are hotter, some are cooler. Ooof love in its varying degrees and shades, my people. Let’s talk about this one silly word that can mean 1,000+ different things…
Perhaps the Greeks had it closer to correct with their eight loves: philia, pragma, storge, eros, ludus, mania, philautia, and agape. Look at these loves, friends. Evaluate them. Note critical factors in their differentiation. I am including an infographic (designed by yours truly) with this piece for your perusal.
Note that eros, sexual and romantic love, is just one of these eight types of love! Note also that codependence and jealousy are really only present in mania. But don’t overlook philautia, either: where healthy self-love can lead to compassion and true selflessness, where its polar opposite, unhealthy self-love can lead, instead, to narcissism – which then drives into mania and madness.
But what I want you to note, most of all, my friends who have been married for over a decade, is that what you share with your long-term partner is not simply eros. If you are anything like me, what you share with your long-term partner is eros, philautia, ludus, pragma, and yes, even a touch of agape.
Check. That. Out. That’s a combination of (at least) FIVE different types of love!
On the flip side of this, what I share with friends is frequently agape, philautia, and philia.
What is my love for my children? Agape, storge, philautia…and what happens as they grow older? Will all of that be joined by a touch of philia? Who’s to say!
Look. Look at them. Compare my love for my spouse with my love for my friends and my love for my children for just one moment, using the infographic as a guide. These are not the same! One English word describes all three: love. And yet, look at the vast difference between their meanings.
Do you see it? Do you see why it is so problematic that the English language has but one word to describe LOVE?
But that’s not all. The Greeks sure did a service for illuminating the complexity of this emotion, but they did not take it quite as far as I might, personally, like. As I mentioned above, sometimes it feels to me that the Greeks would have us stuff any type of love into one of these pretty little boxes. Yet, as you can see, they do not always go. My love for my children (storge) cannot exist without philautia! Therefore they must exist in the same relationship at the same time.
This, to me, means that love, just like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, must operate on some kind of sliding scale system for each and every loving relationship. That is to say, where any given friend is concerned, there may be any level of agape, philautia, and philia involved, each in their own doses. These doses cannot be the same between friends, either, as personalities, intimacy, communication, context, and experiences will impact them all!
Therefore, just as there are 16 Myers-Briggs types (yet innumerable combinations even of those), the same can be said for love!
For this reason, it is nearly impossible for me to categorize any close friend as a “best friend,” even if you do hear me say it once in a blue moon. The truth is, I have a handful of deeply close friends, but the love between us is necessarily different – and complex almost beyond reason! To choose one above another is illogical, irrational, and obtuse.
So…what is my point, ultimately? NORMALIZE TELLING YOUR FRIENDS YOU LOVE THEM. Even if this makes you uncomfortable at first, have faith in your own identity, your own sexuality, your own values, and dive in, baby. Love is not simply love. Love is too complex for the word love; yet at the core of it all is AGAPE, and we should share love – no matter what – for the benefit of everyone we touch.
Don’t be afraid of the deeper connections that might result from such openness. Don’t shut anyone out of your heart.
Ultimately, love cannot be divided; it can only be multiplied.