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Some Thoughts On Love

Some Thoughts On Love

There is something peculiarly British about the fact that we have many different words for precipitation arising from our legendary obsession with the weather, itself not surprising for a people living on an island at the junction of four weather systems but with a prevailing westerly airstream. In contrast, the most dramatic and powerful of human emotions is summed up in a single rather bland word “love.” 

To the Ancient Greeks, love could be differentiated into four distinct forms — agape, eros, philia, and storge. A little research, however, reveals that modern psychologists now recognise seven different but overlapping ways of loving, adding ludus, pragma and philautia to those from Ancient Greek philosophy. I will briefly describe each of these seven forms of love and then offer some conclusions drawn from personal experience.


1. Eros

Eros is perhaps the most basic form of love and describes sexual or passionate love, including the modern construct of romantic love. In Greek myth, it was a form of madness brought about by one of Cupid’s arrows, and was seen as the opposite of logos, ie. reason. In a conceptual leap that might appear strange to the modern mind, the philosopher Plato believed that while eros was initially felt for a person, it could develop into an appreciation of the beauty within that person, or even becomes appreciation of beauty itself. Plato did not necessarily see physical attraction as an essential element of eros, which gives us our word platonic, ie. love without physical attraction. In his most famous ancient work on the subject of love, the Symposium, he argued that eros is fundamentally spiritual in origin, arising out of an inchoate knowledge of the ideal of beauty, and that even sensually based love aspires to the transcendent. In modern philosophy, the concept of eros has been amalgamated with the broader life force, which is a fundamentally blind process of striving for survival and reproduction.

2. Philautia

Philautia means self-love, which may be either healthy or unhealthy. Unhealthy self-love is basically hubris. In Ancient Greece, a person was believed to be guilty of hubris if they placed themselves above the gods, which would eventually result in nemesis, ie. destruction. Today hubris has come to mean an inflated sense of one’s status, abilities, or accomplishments, especially when accompanied by haughtiness or arrogance. As it disregards truth and places the self above the common good, hubris promotes injustice, conflict, and enmity. Unhealthy self-love in a politician is extremely undesirable.

Healthy self-love may be thought of as self-esteem, which is not necessarily the same as self-confidence. It is possible to appear to be highly self-confident and yet possess profoundly low self-esteem, as is the case with many performers and celebrities. People with high self-esteem do not need the affirmation of externals such as income, status, or notoriety, or lean on crutches such as alcohol, drugs, or sex. They are resilient in the vent of hurt or disappointment and have no fear of failure or rejection. For this reason, they are open to change and growth in relationships, tolerant of risk, quick to joy and delight, and accepting and forgiving of themselves and others. Those who do not possess a healthy level of self-love find it difficult to give love to others.

3. Philia

Philia means affectionate regard and friendship, usually between equals. Its hallmark is shared goodwill and is associated with mutual benefit but also companionship, dependability, and trust. Real friends seek to live truer, fuller lives by mutually relating to each other in an authentic way,  and by honestly pointing out the limitations of each other’s beliefs and character defects. It is a true blessing to find a friend who possesses some degree of openness, articulacy, and insight, both to change and to be changed.

4. Storge

Storge or familial love is the kind of philia that is seen in the love between parents and their children. Especially with younger children it tends to be unilateral or asymmetrical. More broadly, storge is the mutual fondness that is born out of familiarity or dependency and, unlike eros or philia, does not reflect the personal qualities of an individual, and is therefore non-judgemental. People in the early stages of a romantic relationship often seek unconditional storge, but find only the need and dependency of eros, and if they are lucky, the maturity and fertility of philia. Given enough time to mature eros can eventually mutate into storge.

5. Ludus

Ludus is playful or uncommitted love and can involve activities such as teasing and dancing, or more overt flirting and seduction. The focus is on fun, and sometimes also on conquest, but with no strings attached. Ludus relationships are casual, undemanding, and uncomplicated, but, for all that, can be very long-lasting. Ludus works best when both parties are mature and self-sufficient. Problems arise when one party mistakes ludus for eros, whereas ludus is in fact much more compatible with philia.

6. Pragma

Pragma is a kind of practical love founded on reason or duty and one’s longer-term interests. Sexual attraction takes a back seat in favour of personal qualities and compatibilities, shared goals, and the mutual willingness to make a relationship work. In the days of arranged marriages, pragma must have been very common. Many relationships that start off as eros or ludus end up as various combinations of storge and pragma, and it is probably essential in long-term partnerships including marriages. Pragma may seem the very opposite of ludus, but the two can co-exist, with the one providing a counterpoint to the other. In some cases, people in a pragma relationship might agree to turn a blind eye to a partner’s infidelity where the other relationship is merely based on eros or ludus.

7. Agape

Agape is universal love, such as the love for strangers, nature, or God, and does not depend on kinship or familiarity. Often called charity by Christian thinkers, agape can be thought of in terms of the modern concept of altruism which is defined as the unselfish concern for the welfare of others, and by extension, the natural world. Altruism appears to confer real emotional benefits and seems to be associated with better mental and physical health, as well as longevity. At a social level, altruism serves as the glue that binds society to the mutual benefit of all its members through cooperation and the just sharing of resources. More generally agape serves to build and maintain the psychological, social, and environmental fabric that shields, sustains, and enriches all of us, and given the increasing anger and division in societies across the globe and the state of our planet, the world, and even the future of our species, would benefit from more agape.


Wherever one looks today, it seems that romantic love is essential to happiness and fulfilment. Far from being timeless and universal, romantic love is actually a modern construct, and emerged as a desired end in itself in the late eighteenth century at a time when the romantic novel began to be popular. These books were all about love and lovers, with their unrealistic descriptions of damsels in distress and heroic gentlemen with the courage of lions and the gentleness of lambs, riding to their rescue. 

The romantic keeps an idealised portrait of his or her beloved in their heart, which, in the same way that a photoshopped image has been altered to enhance its attractiveness by the softening of skin tones and removal of blemishes, is really a counterfeit of reality. Romantic lovers often use a private language which is characterised by childish terms of endearment and unrealistic images of the beloved. Affairs that are predominantly romantic cannot bear too much familiarity, and the plain unvarnished truth is an enemy that will, in time shatter the illusion of love. In essence, romantic relationships are probably best conducted at a distance, either by letter or telephone, or by the various methods of instant communication made possible by the internet.

Relationships that are purely carnal are even more fragile. They are inherently selfish and personal satisfaction is generally of primary importance. It is the form of eros promoted by pornography. A fundamental feature of such so-called love affairs is the element of novelty, and familiarity will often lead to decline in the intensity of physical pleasure and the need for more extreme practices in order to achieve a climax. The initial importance of the forbidden cannot be underestimated, although a growing fear of discovery or feelings of guilt associated with betrayal once the original excitement has passed, will inevitably lead to a decline in libidinous urges.

In our preoccupation with romantic love, we risk neglecting other types of love that are more stable and that may, especially in the longer term, prove more healing and fulfilling. Of these, I would suggest that philia — the love between friends — is most to be desired. True friends will feel able to express their deepest feelings with candour, often sharing secrets that they will not tell a lover. They will forgive each other’s mistakes with understanding and compassion, and will support each other through the darkest times whilst delighting in each other’s good fortune without envy. 

Although the end of an erotic relationship, whether romantic or carnal, can feel unbearable at the time, time inevitably heals the pain. Betrayal by an intimate friend is often so traumatic that memory of the pain never fades. So, in conclusion, I pose a simple but very profound question — which is worse — the end of a romantic or erotic love affair, or the breakup of a close friendship? 



This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

Copyright © 2021 by Keith Paver

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