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The 10 Kinds of Healthy Love (1): How we Get to Know them

Updated: Apr 5

Why use the 1 word love when the Greeks have given us 5?

In short, because of the simplicity and the freedom that the one-size-fits-all type of words provide. If something doesn't mean anything concrete, it can mean everything abstract. But with the logic of less [definition] is more [meaning] comes the deterioration of our differentiation abilities, lack of attention to detail, blurry focus, and even blindness to things altogether. For instance, we have overused the phrase "I love you" so much that it is hard to tell what it means if we extract it from the context situation, body language, voice intonation, our shared history with the speaker, and so on other factors that are supposed to fill in this empty container that the phrase is to give it any meaning at all. And if using the phrase in speech may still be helpful because of all the additional side support it receives from the above factors upon which it depends for any substance whatsoever, we cannot say the same about the times when we contemplate love in our minds as a thought experiment, for example, for how can we think about love unambiguously when this one word can mean so many different things (love between sisters, partners, grandchildren and grandparents, employers and employees, etc). No wonder the Greeks invented 5 different words (agápe, eros, philia, storge, philautia) to sort out the mess.

But wait a minute; we have exchanged 4 for 30 letters... What's the use?

The sad truth is that if the 4-letter word love does not make any sense to us, chances are that none of the above more concrete sub-words would do much better. The only relief in our minds we can achieve after getting lost in the labyrinths of notions and meanings is that love is not a word but a feeling, as Winnie the Pooh will tell us. But this relief is only temporary as it transfers, assigns, and slightly reformulates the same problematic task of figuring out what love means from the head to how it feels in the heart. For how many different shades of love can your heart recognize? Or is it somewhere else in your body that indicates for you the presence or absence of love? In the solar plexus, in the gut, in the bones, in the back, in the neck...? Do you catch your heart rate going up, your blood rushing to your cheeks, your legs shaking, or your palms sweating? If your answer sounds like Different times, different places, different ways, good job with your self-observation! But most of the time, we do not invest in self-research of our visceral responses, and they could all easily go by/ be swept under the same name/carpet. Let's go to the pile of tangled emotions stored somewhere deep around the house/body and try to do some sorting for the sake of organization, lightness, and general well-being clarity brings by checking your visceral responses to the below 13 words that supplement and fine-tune love a bit more.

  1. familial love (for parents and grandparents) - storge

  2. self-love (for ourselves, in a non-selfish but compassioned way)

  3. brotherly love (for siblings and cousins)

  4. companionable love (for classmates, companions, and colleagues)

  5. friendly love (for a friend) - philia

  6. romantic/intimate love (for a date)

  7. erotic/ infatuated love (for a lover) - eros

  8. committed love (for a spouse)

  9. unconditional/parental love (for children and grandchildren) - storge

  10. universal love (for everything in the Universe: animals, nature, people on the other side of the world you will never meet, black holes, exoplanets, "higher powers," etc.) - agápe

-> How do you feel right now? Have you visualized a specific someone towards whom you have experienced what any of the 2-words-pairs try to refer to - that introspected little something away from view, no one can really tell what it is if there is anything at all? Have some warm and tender memories surfaced? How would you name your feelings about them? Would you use a common word, or would you make up a new one only you (and the special ones) would know?

The pyramid of the 10 kinds of love

I do not have the habit of making up new words, but as you may have noticed from my other posts, I love organizing notions in chain reactions. So below's another one that depicts the gradual order of evolution and progression of the 10 kinds of love I made up in my (non)sense-maker capacity. Of course, like any other model or theory, it is idealized. Do not think yourself a doomed failure in love if the description below is nothing like your love life so far in reality. Some of us are born in a family of a single parent or to no parents at all and have been taken care of by our relatives or in an orphanage, others do not have siblings, or all of their senior family is deceased; some haven't attended kindergarten or school, others cannot afford to marry or are not able to have children. Whatever your imperfect circumstances might be, we all have the right to hope and try to get it right in love. That said, be gentle to yourself as you read along below.

  • 1->2 How familial love brings us to self-love

The love we receive from our family on our arrival in the world is the first thing we know and respond to. If we receive enough of it, we do not question our worth and our chances of staying safe and satisfied. We trust that our family knows best what's good for us, and we obey its rules. We are sure that the family interests are not different from our own interests. We reciprocate our family's love back to them with gratitude, and we perceive them as role models we follow. We are more than happy to be like them, and we are proud to resemble them as their creations. Because we love them, we love ourselves for our familiarity with them. At this stage, we learn our first lessons on receiving and giving love. Conversely, if we do not receive enough love and we feel neglected, we may start believing we are not worthy of being cared for, that we are not valuable to our family, and that our existence in it and in the world at large is not welcomed and granted. By mistrusting our family, we start questioning our own qualities and capacity for giving and taking. If we feel that our family is mean or unjust to us, we dislike it, and then we transfer this dislike to ourselves, for we realize that we are the offspring of something we do not like and approve of.

  • 2->3 How self-love brings us to brotherly love

If we have developed self-love, we can feel love for our siblings because we are deeply reassured that whatever we need, we will be granted it for we deserve it, and no one could ever be in competition for it with us. If self-love is not there, we perceive our siblings and cousins as hostile competitors for the love, affection, and attention of our elderly relatives. When self-hate has developed, envy and jealousy towards siblings may cause disasters of the Cain and Abel magnitude.

  • 3->4 How brotherly love brings us to companionable love

Once we have become accustomed to gladly sharing our toys, space, time, and resources, the most important of which is the love and attention provided by our elderly family members (parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc.), we can then calmly venture to the next bigger circle of peers (classmates, team-mate, etc.) without feeling endangered by them because we firmly believe that whatever we may need help with, the elderly superior will be just to provide it. Of course, we transfer our trust from our family members to the new adults around us (teachers, trainers, coaches, etc.). This automatic transfer of trust is almost always successful because teachers and trainers and all other elderly people are generally predisposed to like to interact with optimistic, happy-go-luck children who are not overly needy and demanding as the children who have been neglected at home are. Ironically, needy children are paid much more time and attention than that paid to those who are already self-assured, and yet that does not help the needy ones nearly as much. As hard as teachers may try, they are not able to replace or fix family love entirely. (Still, in rare cases, a Matilda might meet her Miss Honey)

  • 4->5 How companionable love brings us to friendly love

The ones who are not capable of sharing the attention and resources of their superior (boss, supervisor, instructor, etc.) with the rest of their equals (colleagues and mates of all kinds) without feeling unfairly treated, and are not equipped with the self-love to build their boundaries to signal the injustice they perceive, are not fitting in the collective and are having hard times finding another outsider to befriend on the principle of their mutual dissatisfaction. However, when the "bond" between the two outsiders is their common unhappiness, and the motivation behind the "friendship" is avoiding confrontation with the bigger group in some sort of "settling for less" only to be less lonely, these are not really friendships, and they easily decomposed when the bigger group is disbanded or if conditions impose their separation. On the other hand, people who can experience companionable love because they have mastered brotherly love, self-love, and familial love, have all chances to form stable friendships because they have gathered enough understanding about human nature (temperament and character) during their collaboration with equals to know who would be the best available fit among them to pick up for the rare privilege of unbreakable true life-long friendship (The best thing ever; available all years of the life cycle!)

“All (friendly) feelings for others are an extension of a man’s feelings for himself.” - Aristotle
  • 5->6 How friendly love brings us to romantic/intimate love

Friendships provide the foundations for romantic love because they prove to us we can be loved for who we truly are, not only by our family members or peers we cannot choose (and neither could they choose us) but by someone whom we have selected purposefully to share our interests and curiosity for the world, and they have voluntarily accepted our invitation. We are enthusiastic about sharing experiences with them because they provide us opportunities for mutual discovery. We crave to go with them anywhere on adventures into the unknown without fear because we know we have each other's backs. Our friends might be nothing like us, yet we feel completely at ease with them. Once we have learned how to relax and enjoy ourselves in our friends' company so we can bare our souls before them, it is only one step away from speculating that emotional intimacy could be supplemented by physical intimacy.

*Dating a friend for whom we do not have romantic aspirations will ruin the friendship. On the other hand, a romance without friendship is pretty banal.

  • 6->7 How romantic/intimate love brings us to erotic/ infatuated love

Romantic love and psychological intimacy may include hugs, (stolen) kisses, holding hands, "incidental" touches, and the like, but it does not go all the way because it is fed on the expectation that there is still something more lying ahead to be experienced. Dating is the most common outlet for romantic love and usually does not last for too long because it is hard to enjoy slow circling around the fire without jumping in the middle of it right away. The moment the relationship is consummated, it stops being romantic; it either turns into an erotic and infatuated relationship, with the danger of becoming toxic, or it dies because the dates believe they do not match each other's (physical) needs. In the cases when the romantic relationship progresses to commitment without going through the phase of infatuation, there is the danger of a future sense of unfulfillment and dissatisfaction as if something is missing in life. Once the FOMO starts knocking, fantasies of other people start sneaking in, and infidelity lurks around the corner.

Some ideas on preventing dissatisfaction with your love life and avoiding regrets down the road are available in the next related post, "The 10 Kinds of Healthy Love (2): How to Get Them Right."

  • 7->8 How erotic/ infatuated love brings us to committed love

If the romantic love progresses steadily into erotic love, each partner wants the monopoly over their source of ecstasy - the other person, which is naturally resolved with some sort of an official commitment that is much desired by both partners if their relationship is still healthy. (Unhealthy relationships can be spotted at this moment by the fact that one or both partners avoid commitment.) Erotic love prepares for commitment by providing evidence that pleasure and pain go together, alternate, and lead to a higher place if we manage to hang in long enough. In order to hang in long enough in anything, the partners realize they need to rely on each other, and the trust they have built so far is serving them well in dealing with all sorts of new commitments that go along with living together.

  • 8->9 How committed love brings us to unconditional/parental love

If the couple manages to master with grace all the big and small commitments they face in their now shared lives, they are ready to welcome with love and excitement their first child/children (if they are twins, triplets, etc.). However, if the couple has not sorted out who is responsible for what before the arrival of the baby, the sense of resentment and dissatisfaction with the partner is quickly absorbed by the child/-ren, who may start believing that the problems between its parents are their fault and that their birth is causing more trouble than joy to the couple. At that point, the child starts harboring guilt and shame, which are disastrous for their self-esteem and self-love later on. Partners who are not able to commit to each other for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until parted by death, are not ready for parenthood. The trauma they would cause their child will be their responsibility and burden the child will instinctively hold them accountable for in the most surprising ways.

  • 9->10 How unconditional/parental love brings us to universal love

If the partners know how to be friends, lovers, spouses, parents, and hopefully grandparents, they are ready to look at life from a higher point and perspective where love proves the worthiest of things. The soul is so full of it, so sure of its universal miraculous power, that it does not think twice about giving it away to anyone. The soul has reached that level of consciousness where it knows that love is the only cure and answer to anything; it wishes that everything in the universe has access to love; it understands that the more love for everyone, the more love for oneself. When you love your children unconditionally, the thought that someone you will never meet on the other side of the world has children they love unconditionally too softens the heart to the point of unconditional love for humanity. This realization is the source of the deepest compassion and life satisfaction.

*It may be possible to experience universal love even if you are not a parent. Nuns and monks vow to keep chastity to improve their union with the universal love of God, and many childless people dedicate their lives to the common good, not by parenting a new generation that's better than the previous, but by virtue of their work and creations within the generation they belong to.

For ideas on straightening up your unorderly love life, check the next post, "The 10 Kinds of Healthy Love (2): How to Get Them Right."

The triangular model of love

If you disagree with my pyramidal model, you may prefer the below triangular model of love theory by Robert Sternberg (illustration and definitions can be found in the textbook on page 365). Its structure is the same as the color theory, using primary (red, yellow, blue) and secondary (orange, green, violet) colors. So,

the 3 primary "colors" (intimacy, passion, and commitment) are:

  1. pure [psychological and emotional, but not physical] intimacy is liking (true friendship without passion or long-term commitment)

  2. pure passion is infatuation (passionate, obsessive love at first sight without intimacy or commitment)

  3. pure commitment is empty love (commitment to remain together without intimacy or passion)

and 3 secondary "colors," resulting from combinations between the primary are:

  1. romantic love = intimacy + passion (lovers are physically and emotionally attracted to each other but without commitment, as in a summer romance)

  2. fatuous love = passion + commitment (commitment based on passion but without time for intimacy to develop - shallow relationship, such as a whirlwind courtship)

  3. companionate love = intimacy + commitment (long-term committed friendship, such as a marriage in which the passion was never there, is yet to come, or has already faded)

We all have our very own signature colorful roadmap of our love story, but if you happen to have all of the good stuff and only the good stuff of the 3 primary "colors" - the equivalent of optical white, it is called consummate (perfect) love = intimacy + passion + commitment - an ideal difficult to attain and keep indeed but worth your life trying!

(step by step) onwards to love!

I am an optimist that consummate love is possible, but I believe it unfolds gradually in time as every previous kind of love teaches and prepares us for the next kind. Trying to skip steps in order to jump immediately and magically right on top only delays our progression to the next. Instead, I believe that perfect love is the spectacular view from the mountaintop at the very end of our journey through all the above 10 kinds of love. Once we have gathered all the ingredients to mix together and produce from all the hues of love we have experienced the white that we have always sought. We cannot force this mixture to ripen prematurely. Every kind of love comes in its own time, and that's the beauty of having something good to look forward to in every stage of life.

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