Greek words for different kinds of love and why they matter
I am not the kind of person who is afraid of the word love. I used to be when I was younger but looking back I can clearly see and admit that it was because of how we polarize the word love and sometimes even sexualize it. Like so many things in our society (Gay/ straight, Republican/ Democrat, Liberal/ conservative, Male/ female) we tend to simplify complex ideologies into two extreme sides.
It is no different when it comes to love. We see love and something that we have with a romantic partner and with our family. Everything else in the middle is pushed out and considered less important. But this is not the way that love truly works. It doesn’t have to be one of the other to be important and to fall into a less influential emotion. You can love your friends, you can love your pet, you can love in a deep and loyal way that partners you with another person without it being romantic. To minimize those kinds of emotions is heartbreaking.
One of the ways that we as humans really conceptualize emotions is through words. As a writer and anthropology graduate I love this sort of linguistic mirror (Heck I even took several classes in linguistic anthropology in school because I loved it some much. When we give an emotion, or an item and word it actually makes it more understandable to us and lets it into the world as a real, tangible thing instead of just a complex clusterfuck in our heads where we think something is wrong with us.
These sort of representations clarify for us. Below I have listed different words for love and their meanings. As you go through them try and identify people or things that you have these sort of feelings for and see if they suddenly make more sense to you. Let it open the door to expressing love in the way you feel instead of trying to minimize it to something less relevant than romantic love. Realize as you do through this list that in your life, there is most likely far more love than you thought that you had in it and you have far more affection to give than you originally thought.
Eros: Sexual Passion
This is something that many of us are well aquatinted with. Its that fire and passion that you feel in the throws of an intense physical relationship. While we think of the whirl wind romance, the greeks didn’t always see this as a good thing because it involved the loss of control. We tend to think of this as “Falling MADLY in love”
Philia: Deep Friendship
This is a love that is so important right now as we seem to see friends as more of people in passing or on line instead of people that we have deep emotional bonds with. This sort of love is sharing of emotions, sacrifice for friends and investment of time and emotion into friendships. A great example of this is Brothers in arms. To the greeks it was valued more then Eros.
Ludus: Playful Love
Philia is considered something of deep seriousness, while Ludus is something more playful. It is something in between children and casual lovers, something silly, flirty and teasing like that friend you always dance with at the bar or sit around bantering with. It can be something as simple as dancing with a stranger and is considered a substitute for sex. It is frowned upon today but might be just what we all need to keep ourselves less serious.
Agape: A Love For Everyone
This love is perhaps the one that I think that the world needs most and it is the act of love for everyone regardless of whether they are friends or distant strangers. It is something that we all are mostly taught on a basic, intellectual level but one that we tend to forget about in the heat of a collective trauma like one that we are going through now. That tends to be when it is the most needed too. In Buddahism this is called mettā or “universal loving kindness”. In Christianity it is called “the gift of love” or “The golden rule.”
The capacity to care about strangers is something that so many of us seem to have forgotten about with the decline of empathy, finding ourselves wandering back to the Me instead of the collective Us.
Pragma: Longstanding love
Something that has become more popular lately is the idea of long standing love. This is a love that has stood the test of time and gone through the ups and downs. It requires a deep level of commitment and the maturity to work through problems and find compromises. This is being cemented in love in stead of falling in love. It requires giving love instead of just receiving it. Pragma can exist in romantic love or in long lasting friendships that have withstood the test of time.
Philautia: Self Love
Love of self is so important. I’m not saying to develop it into a narcissism but it is important to love yourself as much as you love other people. One who does not love themselves with all of their perfections and flaws can never truly love another person. It also helps us understand the feelings we have for others when we are willing to open up our compassion to ourselves.
All of these kinds of love are important in so many different ways and times in our lives. Like so many things love is fluid and can not be put in the same category. Nor can it be felt all at once or in the same person. Understanding these kinds of love are vital to living a full and well rounded life. Romance is never the total extent of love; it can not give you all of these feelings all at once. Be sure to balance your romantic love with that of those of your family, friends and self.