Love is not just about romantic love. In fact people get so obsessed by romance that they forget about their mates, family, teams, God, humankind and pets. Don’t do that.
For more general advice on how to do relationships read the Brief Guide to Relationships
The Ancient Greeks had around 30 different words to describe different types of love – here are some of the key ones. I was inspired to write this by the the Southbank Centre’s Festival of Love – some pictures of that below.
This is the type of love that is probably most talked about (but not one that is necessarily felt by everyone) as it means romantic and/or sexual love. (Side note, remember that people can have romantic relationships that aren’t sexual and sexual relationships that aren’t romantic).
When people talk about finding ‘The One‘ or ‘someone to spend the rest of my life with’ or ‘my soulmate’ or ‘my ideal partner’ they are probably talking about Eros. Cos everyone talks about this kind of love a lot (listen to a pop song from any time since the 1950s, chances are it’s about this kind of love) it puts a lot of pressure on people to have/want/hang on to it.
Cos everyone talks about this kind of love A LOT, it puts a lot of pressure on people to want it or to hang on to it (even if they don’t want to or if it’s doing them harm).
This kind of love is that feeling of working towards being part of something with other people. It might be a friendship type thing, it could be a school/college/uni mate. You could get it from work. Or from a hobby like being in a band, a dance group, a choir, a sports team. It’s possible to feel philia even if you aren’t really mates or in a relationship with someone as shared experiences can bring people together: for example being on a front line of a war or a fight, or maybe just a shared history of where you grew up.
Play the friends board game
This is the kind of love that we might have with family. We all have very different kinds of relationships with family. Like all relationships they take effort, compassion and communication to make work so many people might not really be feeling very ‘Storge’ all the time. As this artwork at the festival shows, Storge relationships have ups and downs (geddit?). Many people feel like their family are their friends, but also that their friends are their family – I guess this applies to that too.
This is about self love (no, for once I’m not talking about wanking … ok maybe a bit). It can be hard to love ourselves at times and there might be bits of ourselves that we really don’t like at all – so I think it’s a bit much to say that we should all love ourselves. However I do think it’s really important that we try to focus on ourselves a bit: maybe giving ourselves big ups about the bits we feel good about as well as being nice to ourselves about the bits we aren’t into. It might also mean taking care of ourselves (whatever that means for you). Trying to listen to our body more than we listen to all the ‘you should do this/you shouldn’t do that’ stuff.
This is about our love for humanity (deeeep). Feeling for the triumphs and tragedies that people we don’t know and may never know might have. Maybe it’s also about feeling we are doing something for good – whether it’s something we believe in, or activism, or doing random nice things for people we don’t know. This artwork at the festival is called the Temple of Agape and it features a quote from Martin Luther King Jnr – he knew a thing or two about Agape love.
These next two are less about who we might feel love for but the type of love we might feel (and do).
This is playful love. Fun, flirty, exciting. It might happen at the beginning of a new relationship or friendship (some call this ‘new relationship energy’ or the ‘honeymoon period’) but this kind of thrilling exciting kind of love could happen many years into a relationship too. We’re all changing all the time so it’s possible to feel Ludus with someone we’ve known all our life.
This is about the more everyday kind of love. It’s about hugs, WhatsApp messages, watching telly together, making tea, going to the pub, fish finger sandwiches. It’s the kind of thing that makes relationships last (not that the length of a relationship is a sign of how ‘good’ a relationship is). There was some research into this if you’re interested – Enduring Love.
‘Why do I need to know this?’
You might not be as into all of these different kinds of love as each other – but I reckon it’s important to remember that there are different kinds of love and different kinds of relationships.
If our focus is only on having or achieving one kind of love (eg Eros) then we might miss out on having other really important kinds too.
So I made this spider chart.
It’s a way of you thinking about which kinds of love you are having right now and maybe helping you to recognise some that you have and don’t realise, or some that you are neglecting or some that you aren’t that bothered about.
Comment below if you like. I moderate all comments before they appear, so don’t be cheeky!
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© Justin Hancock, 2023
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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health.