- People use the word "love" to describe a variety of forms of affection — from "loving" one's favorite snack to "loving" a romantic partner.
- Other words describe different types of love, such as "eros," which describes erotic love, or "ludus," which focuses on playful flirtation.
- Terms that describe types of love also include "pragma," or pragmatic, mature love, and "philia," which describes friendship and mutual respect.
When you’re crazy about your new technology toy, you probably tell people you “love it!” What’s your favorite snack, and do you “love it,” too? What about your new favorite exercise routine – is it something you also “love”? And what about your family, your significant other, your nearest and dearest friends? Do you “love” them more than life itself? It’s either a testament to our flexibility in language use or our laziness in developing “feeling words” that truly connote the unique brand of affection/esteem/reverence that we feel for the long list of people and things that we “love” in such a wide variety of ways.
In regions where there is abundant snowfall and snow on the ground year-round, there are numerous words for “snow.” Perhaps we need to expand our contemporary use of the word “love” to include a handful of other words that are rooted in ancient Greek and describe a variety of forms of “love” that may be more helpful in clarifying how love between two people can vary based on a million different factors. A few decades ago, and supported by empirical evidence, a set of eight words were introduced into the popular literature that described as many unique forms of love:
Ludic love involves engagement that focuses on playful interactions – typically, these are embedded at the early stages of a relationship. The flirting, the chase, and the playful conversations, innuendoes, or flirtatious touches exemplify this type. Ludic lovers love to "play the field," so as to avoid any romantic connection burrowing in too deeply.
While playfulness is needed in long-term romantic relationships to maintain their vitality, there is a darker side to ludic love, unfortunately. This is the type of connection that narcissists capitalize on as it can create a power structure in which the narcissist is calling the shots to make their targeted love interest unwittingly follow the narcissist's playbook. Ludic love is such that there is the implied presence of game-playing, but this can vary from harmless come-ons or playful conversations to harmful relationships in which power over another and lack of commitment become the language of this attachment. The game-playing may take a darker turn and stretch to include lying to or gaslighting the potential partner.
Narcissists rely on control and they enjoy the having people dance to their game and play by their rules. Through this "catch and release" type of love play, narcissists are able to keep their prey focused on them and they take pleasure in all of the confusion and insecurity their target feels as the narcissist claims innocence when their target calls them out for their power trips.
This is the type of love that hits you in the gut and other highly sensitive areas of the body. It is driven by passion, sexual attraction, and excitement. It creates that type of reaction that leads us to jump into a relationship with someone we barely know, and it is driven by pheromones and endorphins and neurochemical reactions that light a spark between two people. Sexual attraction and lust are not just felt in the erogenous zones, these are actually the result of chemical reactions in the brain that generate feelings of euphoria, motivation, and reward – we go all tingly around a person and are driven to find ways to spend as much time with them as possible.
Erotic love drives us to a particular person for a particular goal – and this can lead to dangerous liaisons and risky behavior – instinct prevails over reason in some cases. Ancient Greeks considered eros to be the most dangerous form of love as it encouraged abandon and risk-taking that other more stable forms of love did not.
Just as its name suggests, maniacal love is a form of love that is more about obsession, possession, and self-interest. At its worst, maniacal love is characterized by behaviors such as controlling, stalking, or pathological co-dependency. Stymied maniacal love can generate frighteningly strong reactions in those whose feelings are unrequited. This reflects the use of a relationship as a vehicle to feel “complete” or to experience a sense of “victory” and self-aggrandizement through the establishment of the relationship. There is a sense of desperation that permeates this form of attachment and it seldom leads to an enduring connection. This is more than the sexual hunger that eros whets; it can be extremely destructive and lead to unsafe consequences.
The word for this type of love sounds a lot like the word "pragmatic." This form of love is a longstanding, mature love that grows richly and deeply between long-term romantic partners. In its best light, it represents a willingness to compromise with a partner, support their growth and development and accept their foibles and shortcomings, and be there for the long haul.
In another light, it can be considered “unromantic” or “too practical,” or “boring.” However, if a long-term relationship is one’s goal, no one has enough energy to maintain the high-velocity spark that starts a romantic relationship year after year. Relationships that exemplify pragmatic love are often forged through the white-hot heat of early eros and tempered by time and experience.
This is thought to be one of the highest levels of love between two people, as it reflects mutual respect, mutual fondness, and mutual hopes for the continued wellbeing of each other. The Greek word philia means friendship and affection. Philia describes the relationship between close friends but also can describe the relationship between lovers who also experience a deep friendship with one another.
This is the word that describes the deep bond that forms between parents and their children and it springs from basic instinctual affection. Parents are protective and often in awe of their newborn infant and as the infant associates their caregivers with all things good in their world, love grows and deepens. Storge is a deep attachment that is sparked by primal connections and primal needs being met – survival and protection from the elements as well as survival of the species and the bloodline.
This love is all about “the other guy” as it is a selfless and unconditional love that is bestowed freely to all others, whether friend or foe; lover or ex. It is the form of love that is at the heart of mindfulness meditations that focus on fortifying our feelings of loving-kindness towards others and ourselves. Agape is experienced in a way that is like how we recognize “joy” or “enlightenment” – we just “feel it” springing forth from a place deep within us – unforced and unfettered. It’s considered a spiritual form of love for others that allows us to be patient, tolerant, and empathetic with others.
And as we’ve been reminded time and again, we have to love ourselves before others can love us the way that we deserve to be loved. This final type of love is termed philautia. The ability to love ourselves is the key to building healthy and enduring romantic relationships and friendships. It’s about self-acceptance, self-care, and being okay with who you are and how you show up in the world. Relationships can only be built as strong as the two individuals involved. Love yourself with abandon and nurture your strengths and shore up your areas in need of attention to build the foundation that will support the relationships you long to create.
Enduring Love Builds Up Your Beloved
While each form of love has its place, relationships that endure over time are those that keep the focus on satisfying and supporting your beloved over your own self-interest. Mature relational love, such as pragma and philia, embody these traits. It's exciting and tempting to focus on erotic and ludic aspects of novel relationships, but when those burn out or lose their appeal, finding a partner who is into your well-being as much as they are into you is the path you want to follow.
# # #
Did the pandemic re-shape any of your relationships? Did you create new relationships as a result of the pandemic? Share your experiences through this survey: Relationships & the Pandemic
Hendrick, C. & Hendrick, S. (1986) A theory and method of love. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 392-402. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.522
Lee, J.A. (1973). Colors of Love: An Exploration of the Ways of Loving. Toronto, ON: New Press.
Proyer, R. T., Brauer, K., Wolf, A., & Chick, G. (2018). Beyond the ludic lover: individual differences in playfulness and love styles in heterosexual relationships. American Journal of Play, 10(3), 265-289.