I’ve been thinking about love a lot lately, particularly the way that we describe and define it. It’s such an interesting concept. The idea of love permeates every aspect of our modern society. That’s particularly true for romantic love and for love within families.
The concept is also heavily loaded. Love comes with many different implications. That’s never more true than romantic love. There are so many assumptions and meanings tied into the concept. Just look at the weight around the words I love you. It’s incredible. Those 3 words have such a history and so many implications.
Saying them is often the turning point for a relationship.
And yet, what does the phrase even mean? What do we mean when we say I love you. What is romantic love, when you get all the way down to it? And, how does it differ from other types of love?
If I tried to define my own innate sense of romantic love – I would probably say that it is a way of defining the state of a relationship. A way to describe the level of commitment, trust and devotion between two people. I suppose it is like a threshold.
It’s a nice concept, but it feels incomplete somehow. After all, we talk about suddenly falling in love. That doesn’t fit my definition.
Some of the time, it seems like we just talk ourselves into the concept. At some point, we simply start to say we are in love and the emotions seem to reinforce themselves until the concept itself becomes real.
The idea of love like that is certainly convincing. And sure, it has it’s place. I’m just not so sure how helpful it is. We end up creating this all or nothing situation. Either we are in love or we’re not. Either our partner loves us or he/she doesn’t. There’s a lot of angst tied into that. A lot of worry about whether or not we’ve done something wrong or what the right move even is.
We also end up tricking ourselves that someone is our soulmate. Like we could never love anyone as much. That’s not really accurate. We’ll never love anyone in quite the same way, that’s true enough. But, that’s simply because each pairing of people is entirely unique.
Ebbing and Flowing
It seems like we often look for a staticness, a stability, where one does not necessarily exist.
We apply this to many situations, including relationships. It’s like we expect them to be and to remain one thing, unchanging over time. We then get upset when they do change. Like that old issue of ‘falling out of love’. Many young marriages break up because of that – as the couple expects those early emotions to remain the same throughout.
Yet, life doesn’t tend to be static like that. Nor do people.
There is a certain ebb and flow to it all. A backwards and a forwards as things shift. This is true even when there are no earth-shaking changes. Just in the day-to-day, moment to moment, life ebbs and it flows.
After all, everyone has their own changes to their mood. Some days are good, others are bad.
If we try and force the people we love to always feel or behave in a given way, we’re doing them a disservice – and ourselves. The so-called negative emotions aren’t necessarily bad anyway. They’re a key part of the human experience, a critical component of who we are. Pretending they don’t exist or shoving them down and away isn’t healthy, especially not in the long term.
Some days it’s okay to feel like crap. To want to cry or be melancholy. To just want to be quiet and self-absorbed due to some event, or for no particular reason at all.
There’s nothing wrong with that.
When I accept this idea, then the expectations of any relationship change (romantic or otherwise). The interaction between two people simply won’t be the same day-to-day. Some days the interactions may be easy, other days strained. Neither indicates a fundamental change, they’re simply moments.
Likewise, two people might talk non-stop one day and barely exchange words another.
There’s a kindness to this concept. It takes much of the emotional weight off events that are always going to happen.
It’s a way of allowing ourselves and others to be human. To go through the full range of emotions, without feeling like they have to tailor their emotions to the other person.
In a sense, it almost feels like a relationship isn’t the right word, particularly not for romance. It’s more of a dance. Two people trying to navigate the world and one another. Understanding their own needs and each others, seeing where to step and how to move. The more aware we are of the dance, the more we can adjust for it in our own minds.
The long-term benefits of doing so are much more dramatic than expecting everything to remain the same forever.
Types of Love
Love is defined in many ways and there are countless different books and articles on the topic. I can’t even pretend to be an expert, but I did stumble across something cool a little while back.
It’s a piece from the site Psychology Today, which is one of my favorites anyway (you can read the full thing here, if you’re so inclined).
The article takes inspiration from various other pieces on love and highlights 7 distinct types. Other sources will have their own types, of course, but I particularly like this set.
- Eros. Sexual or passionate love. This version is most similar to what we consider modern love in the romantic sense, including the concept of falling in love and that
- Philia. This is the type of love between friends. It can be considered shared good will. A particularly interesting variation on this theme is philia that emerges from eros. This love acts as an intersection between sexual and friendship love, creating a focus not on possession, but on understanding self and the world. Philia lovers can act almost like therapists for one another, helping each other to explore and understand themselves, growing in the process.
- Storge. This can be viewed as familial love, the love within a family. It’s most significant between a parent and a child as storge tends to be unsymmetrical. It develops on the basis of dependency or familiarity. Storge love also develops within relationships. Here, it becomes the consistent affection and fondness that can act as a solid foundation – helping lovers to resolve problems even when the more immediate eros passion has decreased.
- Agape. A form of universal love, often connected with God, strangers and nature. It doesn’t depend on familiarity, so agape love can (and frequently does) occur for strangers. The love can also be viewed as charity. It is a key reason for altruistic behaviours and the desire to help other people.
- Ludus. This can be considered playful or uncommitted love. It often includes behaviours like flirting, teasing, dancing and even making love. The intensity and depth vary depending on the relationship, but the general emphasis is on casualness and a lack of commitment. While
luduslove is often viewed negatively, it does have advantages. Ludus relationships can even last long-term – providing that both parties have the same expectations.
- Pragma. This type of love has a practical focus. It includes relationships that develop based on long-term interests, duty or practicality. While such love is often unpopular in modern society, it can be effective. The emphasis on the
practicalmay also mean that the partners put more time into thinking about compatibility than couples who focus on emotions first.
- Philautia. This final version of love is self-love. It can be beneficial or damaging. Healthy self-love includes a focus on one’s own needs and includes people recognizing their own value. It is an important process – one that modern society is beginning to embrace more.
These types of love aren’t as distinct as they appear. They ebb and flow into one another, changing and developing over time. The strongest relationships often involve multiple forms of love, along with a recognition that this is a healthy pattern.