The seven types of love discussed below are loosely based on classical readings, especially of Plato and Aristotle, and on J.A. Lee’s 1973 book Colours of Love.
Eros is 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, as did Paris with Helen, leading to the Trojan War and the downfall of Troy and much of the assembled Greek army. In modern times, eros has been amalgamated with the broader life force, something akin to Schopenhauer’s will, a fundamentally blind process of striving for survival and reproduction. Eros has also been contrasted with Logos, or Reason, and Cupid painted as a blindfolded child.
The hallmark of philia, or friendship, is shared goodwill. Aristotle believed that a person can bear goodwill to another for one of three reasons: that he is useful; that he is pleasant; and, above all, that he is good, that is, rational and virtuous. Friendships founded on goodness are associated not only with mutual benefit but also with companionship, dependability, and trust.
For Plato, the best kind of friendship is that which lovers have for each other. It is a philia born out of eros, and that in turn feeds back into eros to strengthen and develop it, transforming it from a lust for possession into a shared desire for a higher level of understanding of the self, the other, and the world. In short, philia transforms eros from a lust for possession into an impulse for philosophy. Real friends seek together to live truer, fuller lives by relating to each other authentically and teaching each other about the limitations of their beliefs and the defects in their character, which are a far greater source of error than mere rational confusion: they are, in effect, each other’s therapist—and in that much it helps to find a friend with some degree of openness, articulacy, and insight, both to change and to be changed.
Storge (‘store-gae’), or familial love, is 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. More broadly, storge is the fondness born out of familiarity or dependency and, unlike eros or philia, does not hang on our personal qualities. People in the early stages of a romantic relationship often expect unconditional storge, but find only the need and dependency of eros, and, if they are lucky, the maturity and fertility of philia. Given enough time, eros tends to mutate into storge.
Agape is universal love, such as the love for strangers, nature, or God. Unlike storge, it does not depend on filiation or familiarity. Also called charity by Christian thinkers, agape can be said to encompass the modern concept of altruism, defined as unselfish concern for the welfare of others. Recent studies link altruism with a number of benefits. In the short term, altruism leaves us with a euphoric feeling—the so-called ‘helper’s high’. In the longer term, it is associated with better mental and physical health, as well as longevity. At a social level, altruism serves as a signal of cooperative intentions, and also of resource availability and so of mating or partnering potential. It also opens up a debt account, encouraging beneficiaries to reciprocate with gifts and favours that may be of much greater value to us than those with which we feel able to part. More generally, altruism, or agape, helps to build and maintain the psychological, social, and, indeed, environmental fabric that shields, sustains, and enriches us. Given the increasing anger and division in our society, and the state of our planet, we could all do with quite a bit more agape.
Ludus is 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 also on conquest, with no strings attached. Ludus relationships are casual, undemanding, and uncomplicated but, for all that, can be very long-lasting. Ludus works best when both parties are mature and self-sufficient. Problems arise when one party mistakes ludus for eros, whereas ludus is in fact much more compatible with philia.
Pragma is a kind of practical love founded on reason or duty and one’s longer-term interests. Sexual attraction takes a back seat in favour 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. Many relationships that start off as eros or ludus end up as various combinations of storge and pragma. Pragma may seem opposed to ludus, but the two can co-exist, with the one providing a counterpoint to the other. In the best of cases, the partners in the pragma relationship agree to turn a blind eye—or even a sympathetic eye, as in the case of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, or Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson.
Philautia is self-love, which can be healthy or unhealthy. Unhealthy self-love is akin to hubris. In Ancient Greece, a person could be accused of hubris if he placed himself above the gods, or, like certain modern politicians, above the greater good. Many believed that hubris led to destruction, or nemesis. Today, hubris has come to mean an inflated sense of one’s status, abilities, or accomplishments, especially when accompanied by haughtiness or arrogance. As it disregards truth, hubris promotes injustice, conflict, and enmity.
Healthy self-love is akin to self-esteem, which is our cognitive and, above all, emotional appraisal of our own worth relative to that of others. More than that, it is the matrix through which we think, feel, and act, and reflects and determines our relation to ourselves, to others, and to the world.
Self-esteem and self-confidence do not always go hand in hand. In particular, it is possible to be highly self-confident and yet to have profoundly low self-esteem, as is the case with many performers and celebrities.
People with high self-esteem do not need to prop themselves up with externals such as income, status, or notoriety, or lean on crutches such as alcohol, drugs, or sex. They are able to invest themselves completely in projects and people because they do not fear failure or rejection. Of course they suffer hurt and disappointment, but their setbacks neither damage nor diminish them. Owing to their resilience, they are open to growth experiences and relationships, tolerant of risk, quick to joy and delight, and accepting and forgiving of themselves and others.
In closing, there is, of course, a kind of porosity between the seven types of love, which keep on seeping and passing into one another. For Plato, 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, which is why Plato called love not a god but a philosopher:
He whom love touches not walks in darkness.
This is your reminder that love can be soft. That you are not asking for too much in this world, or this generation, when you strive to find something foundational. That you don’t have to settle. Because don’t you deserve to find someone who chooses you the way you choose them? Don’t you deserve to find someone who reciprocates your love, who wants to encourage your growth and see you realize your dreams and celebrate birthdays with you, and milestones with you, and make the sunniest kind of memories with you?
Don’t you deserve to find someone who wants to stand by your side, firmly, and know deeply in their heart that you are something special, that you are their favourite thing? Don’t you deserve to find someone who sees you — who actually sees you, in all that is light and all that is dark within you, in all of your mess and all of your virtue? Don’t you deserve someone who loves you there?
Don’t you deserve to find someone who knows, with a ruthless certainty, that they found the kind of human being they want to protect? Don’t you deserve that kind of beauty? That kind of peace?
Don’t you deserve to find someone who shows up? Someone who wants to laugh with you in bed at 2am when you both can’t sleep. Someone who wants to be the reason why a smile dances across your face? Someone who wants to make dinner with you, and slow dance in the kitchen with you, and squeeze your hand at the scary parts of the movie you’re watching together? Don’t you deserve someone who wants all of that? Someone who wants to be in your life? Someone who chooses depth over distance?
This is your reminder to let go of anything that does not serve that version of love in your life. Give yourself permission to let go of anything that does not want to hold your heart. Let go of those who will only ever love you in halves, who will never be able to give you what you deeply desire. Please, just don’t hold any space in your heart for those who are not showing up to claim it, because love is not meant to be pain. Love is not meant to hurt. Love is good, and you deserve good love. Release anything that does not honor that. – RAINBOWSALT
- Am I emotionally available for a relationship?
- Am I aware of my triggers/how they show up in my relationships?
- Do I really like this person?
- Am I familiar or comfortable with this person? There’s a difference.
- Do I have to perform or alter myself to be loved by them?
- Do our core values and beliefs align?
- Am I attracted to their heart, values and character?
- Am I willing to honor our differences?
- Am I willing to accept their flaws?
- Do I like who I am with this person?
- Do I want to be like this person?
- Do they challenge me to grow?
- Does this person respect me?
- Do they respect my boundaries?
- Are they an active listener?
- Do they know how to emotionally regulate during conflict?
- Can they handle constructive criticism?
- What is their relationship like with their family and friends? Would I be okay if they treated me the same way?
- Are they self aware? Do they have a healthy sense of self/emotional maturity?
- Can I trust this person with my heart?
- Can we have fun together?
I have noticed that when all the lights are on, people tend to talk about what they are doing – their outer lives. Sitting round in candlelight or firelight, people start to talk about how they are feeling – their inner lives. They speak subjectively, they argue less, there are longer pauses. To sit alone without any electric light is curiously creative. I have my best ideas at dawn or at nightfall, but not if I switch on the lights – then I start thinking about projects, deadlines, demands, and the shadows and shapes of the house become objects, not suggestions, things that need to done, not a background to thought.
∆ Why I adore the night, by Jeanette Winterson