When our generation thinks of love we have, most likely, this romantic framework in our mind with the perfect partner that can give us all: excitement but also stability, understanding but also mystery, spontaneity but also commitment. The Matryoshka dolls model. All in one.
And media is perpetuating that approach in movies, stories, adverts, etc so it’s only natural for us to consider that the norm.
Given the above, I was surprised to find out that the ancient Greeks had more words to describe the nuances of love. Up until now I read about 7 different meanings that I want to share with you:
1. Eros – depicted as sexual love or lust. Probably what we identify the most, nowadays, with the word love. The butterflies in the stomach, the thrills and excitement one feels usually in the beginning of a romantic relationship. The longing and the desire for the person you feel attracted to. The intense emotions that makes you see the other as a perfect match. The expression “drunk in love” describes perfectly this stage of love.
If you consider love to be only this, then you are in trouble. Being defined as a state of intense feelings, wanting to keep them as long as possible it’s physically impossible. After a while you get used to that intensity and, to feel it again, you need to increase the dose. So, to live happily ever after in an Eros type of love is not realistic. At least not with only one partner.
2. Philia – depicted more as friendship, without the sexual connotation. It’s the kind of love that exists between true friends based on loyalty and sincere interest in the other. This type of affection is based on a deeper connection you establish with someone and can last for a lifetime.
This type of love is very rare in our modern society between both friends or lovers because it means having the willingness to invest time and effort in building the relationship. This can’t happen overnight and we’re used to get rewarded quickly and massively. To check how much Philia (or camaraderie) you have in your life think about how many confidants you have. I’m not talking about social media friends that like your posts, I’m talking about genuine people you trust and can turn to when you need support or advice or simply to get something off your chest.
3. Ludus – the game-playing love which is focusing more on the entertaining side of love. It’s about the flirtation, the teasing or the spontaneous things you do in a relationship. In the same way, it can refer to seduction, casual sex without commitments or having fun with a complete stranger on a night out singing and dancing for example.
To focus only on the playful love means to have a lot of conquests at a superficial level and reject the more complex and deep relationship you can have by choosing to focus on one stable partner. Still, to keep the sparkle on in your relationship, being more playful is a breath of fresh air. So, don’t take yourself and your partner too seriously!
4. Mania – the possessive love is about considering the other as our belonging. It’s about jealousy and putting the other on a pedestal. Usually women that love too much develop an obsession on a partner and consider that only them can satisfy the needs of the other or the other just has to understand what a great couple they are for the relationship to work. It can involve stalking. And yes, social media stalking counts too.
To be honest, to some degree we’ve all been there. When we had an idea about what the relationship was, but the reality was somehow different. And what we tend to do in those circumstances is to try to bend the reality to follow our ideas of how reality should be. But love is not needy or enforced, so this type of expressing love is unhealthy and consumes a lot of energy and self-esteem.
5. Agape – the selfless, unconditional love for the humankind irrespective of the qualities or lack of them in a person. It’s the altruistic type of love for the others as preached by big religions like Christianity or Buddhism. It’s the purest form of love as it is unconditional and directed towards the entire Creation.
Looking at the daily news, I wonder if this idea is even remotely present in ourselves anymore. Almost everything I see is positioned as me versus the others. Different but equal is becoming different ergo superior to you. On a micro level, for a relationship to last, this type of love is a must. It combines respect, selfishness and care for the other. It’s not dependent on the benefits you get from the other, it just is.
6. Pragma – the practical love based on mutual desires and goals. It is a mature form of love focused on tolerance and willingness to adjust within the couple for the relationship to grow and develop. If you have lived in the western world where love cannot exist without lust, you have a hard time digesting this concept. Or accepting that arranged marriages based on Pragma still exist in oriental cultures.
As an Indian friend of mine told me, this type of love sets the ground for a lasting marriage more than Eros type of love (just check the rate of divorces in the Western countries) because it shapes the boundaries and the goals of a marriage better than the unrealistic idea of having it all, with no exceptions, from one partner. It sets a better structure for the relationship.
I do believe alignment is necessary, even in love, and discussing about boundaries and expectations is a sign of maturity and commitment. However, I also believe that emotions are what makes us feeling alive and human and a romantic relationship needs that as well, on top of practicality. You can blame this idea I have on the fairy-tales I read or the Disney movies I watched, but it’s there, in what I think love should encompass.
7. Philautia – maybe the most important of them all, if not the one that is the base for all the other types of love, is the love for the self. Not seen as a narcissistic love, but as the love you carry for yourself because you understand your worth and you know that only by loving you first, you can give love back to others.
If you’ve seen the movie Sex & The City, you may remember how Samantha broke up with the superb Smith Jerrod: “I love you, but I love me more”. I was shocked 10 years ago by these words. But now I know a bit better that self-love is the foundation for the love you give to others. Without it, you end up clinging on others and needing proofs of their affection to feel good or appreciated which is neither healthy nor desirable.
I’m almost at the end of my long explanation on the different definitions of this concept, but I guess the main idea is that Love involves so many aspects that it cannot be defined by one angle only. Also, by having so many layers it’s unrealistic to expect your partner to fulfill all the expectations you may have and all at the same time!
Romantic relationships usually start with physical attraction and playfulness and evolve into Philia and Agape, if we’re lucky and don’t believe the love is over the moment the sexual spark is decreasing in intensity. Then, elements of pragmatic love are added when the relationship becomes more mature and serious. But all this can never happen without having self-love as a prerequisite.
So, what’s your definition of love?
Do you care more about what you give or about what you get back?
And most importantly, do YOU love yourself first before expecting others to love you?