According to the Ancient Greeks, us humans have the capacity to experience 8 types of love.
Think of it this way: Does eroticism play a central part in your relationships? Do you long for romance? What about the platonic love between friends and companions? And how about obsessive love?
In this post I’d like to explore this time-honoured wisdom to help you identify the main types of love in your life. I’ll include links to some of my favourite books on the topic which you might like to research. (1)
Let us delve into the world of passion, romance, and eroticism and figure out which of the 8 types of love dominate your life…
- A definition of love…
- Love as a trance state
- The love of the great poets, artists, mystics, and philosophers
- The Ancient Greeks’ 8 types of love
- 1. Eros (passionate love)
- 2. Pragma (enduring love)
- 3. Philia (deep friendship)
- 4. Storge (familial love)
- 5. Agape (universal love)
- 6. Philautia (self-love)
- 7. Ludus (playful love)
- 8. Mania (obsessive love)
- The 8 types of love – summary
A definition of love…
Throughout the ages, humans have written, sang, and created artistic masterpieces inspired by feelings of love.
But what do we mean by this most mysterious of states that can appear – and disappear – quite unbidden?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, love is…
“A feeling or disposition of deep affection or fondness for someone, typically arising from a recognition of attractive qualities, from natural affinity, or from sympathy and manifesting itself in concern for the other’s welfare and pleasure in his or her presence (distinguished from sexual love at sense); a great liking, strong emotional attachment; (similarly) a feeling or disposition of benevolent attachment experienced towards a group or category of people, and (by extension) towards one’s country or another impersonal object of affection…” (2)
That definition of love seems rather long-winded, so I’ve highlighted what I think are the main words in bold.
So, love is a type of feeling. There is affection or fondness. It involves some kind of recognition of attractive qualities and/or natural affinity. Love might be driven by sympathy or concern and some kind of emotional attachment.
Love as a trance state
But according to some, love is more than than a feeling.
I would suggest that the feeling of love is a powerful trance state. (Remember, what we mean by trance is a state of focused attention).
When we’re in love the beloved is all we can think about. And when we fall out of love, the lost love still dominates our thoughts! The accompanying feelings of heart break keep us ‘locked in’ to the trance as we lick our wounds before tentatively venturing out into the world again.
So this ‘trance of love’ swings both ways, producing exhilarating highs and abysmal lows. What’s clear is that our rational minds seem to go offline when love appears. And this can (and has throughout history) caused the most heinous crimes of passion.
Author, Frank Tallis commented in his book, Love Sick, that, “Love, far from being benign and sweet is…the closest many of us get to mental illness.”
The love of the great poets, artists, mystics, and philosophers
Whether we see love as a ‘sickness’ or not, the words used to capture the experience of love usually fall far short and is, perhaps, best left to the poets and songwriters who might take us closer to love’s essence.
If we go right back to King Solomon’s Song Of Songs (3), then through the romance poems of the Medieval Troubadours (4) and later William Shakespeare, we start to get a glimpse of the mystery.
13th century Persian poet Rumi said…
“Love is the bridge between you and everything.”
And, “Love is not an emotion. It is your very existence.”
Such ‘mystical’ quotes perhaps take us a little closer to the truth of love without fully understanding what love is. Of course, for that we need direct experiences.
So maybe we should turn to the ancient Greeks to get a better grasp about the subject of love and see how it plays out in your life today…
The Ancient Greeks’ 8 types of love
If it’s hard to nail down a succinct definition of love, maybe we need to break it down into smaller chunks?
That’s exactly what the Ancient Greeks did when they categorised 8 different types.
You’ll find that each of the 8 types of love fall into just two distinct categories; either passionate love (romantic love, desire/lust, eroticism, etc.) and attachment love (compassion, care-giving, friendship etc.)
Let’s look at 8 types of love below and as you do, spend a moment contemplating your own experiences of each.
Let’s start with the type of love that seems most uncontrollable and sweeps us off our feet…
1. Eros (passionate love)
In Greek mythology, Eros (son of Aphrodite) was the God of love and sexual desire. He is the archetype of passionate love.
Sexual desire, lust, eroticism and romance drive our behaviours when Eros is in control.
This is the type of love that can happen in an instant with our partners – or complete strangers in a nightclub, for instance! It’s as if a ‘sex trance’ takes over and you succumb to a mixture of animal instincts and a deep yearning for connection in your heart.
As therapist and author Jacquelyn Small says in her beautiful book, Psyche’s Seeds, “The thrust of erotic energy is outward. Linked to sexuality and the human will, Eros…motivates us with arrows of attraction…”
Thrilling as it may be, this type of love usually changes into something more sustainable as the relationship develops.
So ask yourself, where is Eros in my life at the moment? When do I feel sexual desire, eroticism, or romance? And if I’m not experiencing Eros at present, perhaps this is the cause of my feelings of de-motivation, loss of interest, and low mood?
If that is the case, take a moment to contemplate how to awaken Eros in your life…
2. Pragma (enduring love)
Once the lust settles, the relationship develops more enduring characteristics.
But it’s at this stage when many people feel that the relationship is missing something; when the excitement of Eros wanes, we might wonder where the spark has gone. This gives rise to fantasies and affairs, still driven by Eros.
But if we can just persevere a little while longer we can kindle a different kind of excitement, one that comes from a deepening of affection for our beloved. Perhaps this is where true intimacy resides? Eros with depth, duty and commitment?
I’m reminded of the excellent book, Slowing Down to the Speed of Love in which Joseph Bailey outlines a number guidelines and principles that help us increase self-awareness and intimacy in our closest relationships.
So again, ask yourself, “Where is enduring love in my life?“
3. Philia (deep friendship)
I feel blessed that I’ve always had lasting and deep friendships, some of which go back almost 40 years. It doesn’t matter how long the gap between seeing friends, when we meet up we carry on where we left off. There is a deep love, empathy, and respect for each other.
Mentioned in the Bible, philia encompasses love, care, respect, kindness, and compassion. And even though philia love is most commonly felt as affection between good friends, it can extend out to one’s neighbours, the community, and even the whole of humanity; love for one’s fellow human beings.
Philia might better be known as ‘platonic love’ (after Greek Philosopher, Plato – though he never used the term himself). Platonic love refers to ascending the ‘ladder of love’ toward divinity, away from the carnal pleasure of Eros and toward ultimate Truth.
Who are your best friends? Do you have lasting friendships? Where is philia present in your life?
4. Storge (familial love)
I’m lucky that my closest family members have always gotten on well. Even with occasional disagreements, we’ve always maintained a healthy love and respect for each other and we enjoy each others’ company.
Storge (pronounced storjay) refers to natural or instinctive affection toward your closest family members, such as that felt toward your children, parents, brothers and sisters. It can sometimes be felt between very close friends, especially those friendships you’ve maintained since childhood.
Storge love differs slightly from philia in the way it is reinforced by blood ties, familiarity, and early childhood attachments. Having such ties and attachments helps us meet the need for a sense of belonging that can serve us well throughout life, described beautifully by John O’Donohue in his book, Eternal Echoes.
On the flip side, Storge becomes Astorgos, meaning ‘devoid of natural or instinctive affection.’ Perhaps this is something experienced by parents who adopt a child or by mothers who, for whatever reason don’t feel a bond with their babies? There might well be a deep sense of love, but not the instinctive love of Storge.
So question where Storge is in your life. Do you have close bonds with family members? Did you have a sense of belonging in your childhood? Do you now?
5. Agape (universal love)
This is where love connects us to a larger reality, something I’ve written about in my page on Oneness – the mystical experience.
This is felt as unconditional love for everyone and everything to the point that, in the deepest mystical state, you experience the universe as made of love. Everything is felt as being ONE. There is no subject, no object. No me, no you, no this, no that. All is ONE THING.
Thus, agape is a transcendent state of love, a state of wonder and amazement that can occur spontaneously, as it did for me.
Over the last decade, as I’ve tried to make sense of my mystical experience, I’ve come to believe that the unconditional love of agape played a huge part in the way the experience unfolded. The unconditional love for my son rippled out to everyone and everything until my separateness as an individual was consumed by Universal Love. I felt born again.
The Greek philosopher, Plotinus, wrote extensively about unity with God and his ideas have been beautifully presented for the modern reader in Brian Hines’ superb book, Return to the One
6. Philautia (self-love)
I once read that there are three relationships in life…
- The relationship we have with ourselves
- The relationships we have with others
- The relationship with have with The Other (call it God, Allah, Great Spirit, The Source of All That Is, The Mystery, The Tao – however you refer to a bigger reality)
These three relationships are something we constantly have to work on throughout life. A healthy love for others and The Other starts with love for oneself. If we can get that right – through such things as self-compassion (5) and ensuring our basic needs are met – we have a better chance to develop rich and meaningful relationships beyond ourselves.
So, ask yourself, how healthy is my relationship to myself? Do I treat myself with compassion and respect? Or do I sabotage my own best interests or even self-harm?
Thich Nhat Nanh’s beautiful little book on ‘How to Love‘ can go some way in helping you expand your capacity to love others – and yourself.
7. Ludus (playful love)
Ludus refers to playful love. It involves being flirtatious, seductive and teasing and is a normal part of early courtship. You also know ludus is present when you feel giddy around someone or those times when you get tongue-tied and embarrassed.
In Latin, ludus means ‘game’ or ‘school’ and thus the love of ludus can be seen as playful, ‘free’ love where the desire is simply to have fun with each other. Online ‘no strings attached’ dating sites have a high number of people who are in a state of ludus. It is an uncommitted type of love and needn’t go any further than consensual fun.
Ask yourself, where do I experience playful love in my life? What do I get from being flirtatious? Do I have an issue with commitment and thus prefer no-strings attached sex?
8. Mania (obsessive love)
And finally, the 8th type of love, which the Greeks called ‘mania’.
This is an unhealthy, obsessive trance state that can destroy the best of relationships. People in the state of mania are jealous, possessive, and insecure, eventually turning the relationship highly co-dependent and toxic. Your needs become totally dependent on the other person and so they become the sole focus of your life.
If you’re feeling ‘mania’ in your relationship or you’ve become obsessed with someone it’s a good idea to work out what is driving the need for such an attachment…
What does that person represent to you? What (in your fantasy) do they give you? Is there any other way to meet these needs and desires in a less obsessive and dependent way?
RELATED CONTENT: Check out the online course How to Overcome Insecurity in Your Relationship
The 8 types of love – summary
I hope this post has helped you identify where the different types of love have played out in your life.
What about the immediate present? Where is Eros, philia or ludus in your life right now? Which of the 8 types of love is most dominant?
It is my belief that to give and receive love is an emotional need, no matter which of the 8 types that is. Without it, our lives can feel empty and devoid of real meaning.
But as Rumi reminded us several hundred years ago, “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” (6)
Reassuringly, we are hard-wired to connect to others. And, I believe, hard-wired to connect to The Other – a bigger reality, a bigger love. Once those barriers come down, your heart gets filled with a love that lasts for eternity.
I’d love to read your thoughts on this post so please leave a comment below. Share the love!
(1) As an affiliate of Amazon and Uncommon Knowledge I will earn a small commission if you purchase a book or hypnosis download via the links on this page. My full affiliate product disclosure can be read here
(2) Definition of love from the Oxford English Dictionary https://www.oed.com/viewdictionaryentry/Entry/110566
(3) The Song of Songs https://biblescripture.net/Song.html
(4) For a taste of Medieval poetry and song check out Medievalists.net
(5) Test your level of self-compassion on the excellent website self-compassion.org
(6) For a great collection of Rumi’s love quotes check out Your Tango
Like the image at the top of this post? Check out Sharon McCutcheon’s photographs on Unsplash