Love, Yes. But What Kind?

The many forms of love that affect our life.

Posted Feb 22, 2019

“I’m in love with you.”

"You, Eros limb-loosener!"—as Hesiod would say in his Theogony (120-2).

A declaration of love, especially if reciprocated, has the power to make your legs feel loose while a flush of endorphins will bathe your body in true happiness.

Yet, it might happen that this good love gets mixed up with uncomfortable feelings and bad behaviors, such as:

Breaking boundaries like checking your phone, small white lies, casual diminishing judgments thrown here and there, occasional gaslighting. The list can go on forever.

The point is: Why would a person in love behave in an unloving way? Love should always be good by definition and yet, it is not so. Even if someone is deeply in love, she might act in a way that feels hurtful. Diminishing judgments can be there to help—they say, the white lies are just an omission, or the phone was checked because….well, I don’t know how to save this.

It seems that the way in which everyone expresses love is as complex as one’s personality and this complexity gives birth to several forms of love. It takes luck and commitment to discover what you like and what you can’t even digest; what is hurtful and what puts you in a good mood.

Often, I ask my clients—what kind of combination of love do you want to invite in your life, and do you know when to say no?

How many forms of love?

While in English there’s one main word to express these various combinations of feelings, in ancient Greece there were at least 10 different gods of love to pray to when one’s love life was falling apart.

This variety stands there to help us to think through what kind of love we want to attract to us.

Here’s the list:

The god of sex (Eros), the god of passion (Pothos), the god of intense erotic desire (Imeros), the god of mutual love (Anteros), the god of marriage (Hymenaios), the god of sweet words whispered in the ears (Hedylogos)—my favorite! The god of affection and intercourse (Philotes), the personification of seduction and persuasion (Peito), Aphrodite the goddess of beauty and lust.

Let’s use this one to see how crazy a love generated from lust and beauty can become. In the Theogony, Hesiod tells us that Aphrodite was born pregnant with Eros, Pothos, and Imeros (176ff). So, a love whose main components are beauty and lust would bring with itself the triad of lust, passion, and intense erotic desire.

Needless to say, these divine components are not the recipe for the most balanced diet in terms of love. In fact, they used to do horrible things to people.

Aphrodite, apparently, was a terrible, terrible mother-in-law. She felt so jealous of her son, Eros (or Cupid in Latin), that she cast a bad spell on his lover, Psyche. Even if only human, Psyche was considered to be more beautiful than a goddess, including her mother-in-law. So, Aphrodite separated from her son. Missing her desperately, Eros sought for her in the underworld and brought her back to eternal life with him, making her the Goddess of the soul. Since then, being in love meant finding your own soul even if it is hidden in the scariest places you can think of.

Another story sees the beautiful Aphrodite chasing a quite ascetic man, Hyppolitus. When Hyppolitus didn’t return her love, the most rational thing for her to do was to make Phaedra, his mother-in-law, fall in love with him. Later, on Aphrodite lets Phaedra die because of her unfulfilled passion.

Reasonably, Phaedra, victim of this love, speaks of eros as something that hurts, pains, and eventually kills (vv. 392-393.395; v. 349; vv. 419-420). Hyppolitus was, after all, just a very cautious person. He didn’t want to have anything to do with love. He didn’t want to become an adult and have a sexual life. He wanted to only take care of his spiritual life, and yet in the fury that surrounded Phaedra’s death, he was accused of raping her and enticing her to eventually kill herself.

In another bad story, this Goddess of beauty and lust, Aphrodite, was made to fall in love with a human, Anchises. The poor mortal knew that no human could survive the beauty of a Goddess, but he also knew that no human could resist that beauty either. So, after sleeping with her he survived but he lost forever his ability to walk. To look at the half-full glass, Aeneas, the demi-god hero of Troy and future founder of Rome, was the offspring generated from that costly union.

Think of what kind of love you want to attract in your life.

Why am I writing about all of this? Let’s come back to my previous question: What kind of combination of love do you want to invite in your life, and do you know when to say stop?

When I hear that clients are put down by their experiences of love, I invite them to reflect on what kind of love they want to attract in their lives. Sometimes I understand that they don’t even think about the possibility of various forms of love. They think of the kind of person they want to attract, but not on what form of love they desire for themselves.

Do they want passion? Beauty? Lust? Is this love made of persuasive talks and luxurious whispered words like Hedylogos? Or is it made of solid deeds and reassuring facts like Anteros? Is it the stunning Aphrodites the main component of a loving life?

In the book, Phaedo, Socrates observes that desire (Imeros) creates a cage in which the prisoner is “the chief accomplish of his bondage.” Sometimes Love, the one animated by a strong desire, can feel like a cage that we have built for ourselves. Other times, if we add some Harmonia (goddess of harmony) to Imeros (strong desire), we can achieve exactly what we need.

So, I invite my clients to think of all these gods and goddesses as a pantheon of ingredients that they might want to consciously use in their lives. It might happen that too much Imeros (lustful desire) is disruptive for a good life, but if correctly mixed with Hedylogos (the god of sweet words whispered in the ears) and Anteros (the god of mutual love) it might make you happy