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What Love Is (and Isn’t)

For millennia, philosophers, psychologists, and humanity in general have attempted to explain love.

In English, we may say we “love” our pet, or we “love this dessert”, or we “love” hiking. But it’s only one word and it’s left to context, the sender, and the recipient to understand the meaning behind it.

The Ancient Greeks had at least 8 different words for love, each with a distinct meaning and place between two people in society. In a nutshell, they are:

Pragma, Eros, Philia, Agape, Philautia, Storge, Mania, Lupus

For me personally, I believe that the first 6 are the only ones that are necessary for long lasting romantic love between two partners. And the last 2 simply have no long term importance in my eyes. I’ll explain each below.


Pragma — Enduring Love

The love that’s there for you even when times get tough. It’s knowing when to ask for time off for work when your partner needs to be taken to a doctor appointment. Or standing by your partner and supporting them when job loss comes, or worse, losing someone close to them.

It not expecting the other person to stand by you no matter how poorly you treat them, abuse them, cheat on them, or take them for granted.


Eros — Erotic Love

It’s hot, it’s steamy, it’s exciting, and it’s important for bonding. It’s the passion and the flame that keeps a relationship burning long past the honeymoon phase.

It’s not pushing your partner past a healthy boundary for the sake of your personal pleasure. It’s not cheating on or leaving your partner for someone else because you “weren’t sexually fulfilled at home”. It’s also not coercing your partner into a sexual situation under the fear of losing them.


Philia — Affectionate Love

Also the root of Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, this love was equated to the love between friends or teammates. It’s the love that exists without attraction, romance, and eroticism. But I believe it also has a place in a romantic relationship between partners. Hence, why we often hear “my partner is my best friend”. It’s the bond that grows after many trials and difficulties and coming out the other side of the storm together.


Agape — Selfless Love

Often used in the Bible as a love for everyone, completely unconditional. It’s a love born of compassion and empathy. For romantic relationships, it’s a desire to make sure that your loved one is always cared for and happy. It’s the pain you feel when they hurt. It’s the warm embrace when they are sad. It’s the cup of coffee in the morning to keep them safe on the way to work. It’s accepting the flaws, forgiving the mistakes, and understanding when plans don’t always work out.

It’s not forgiving their cheating or abuse over and over. It’s not allowing them to ruin you financially because the expenses make them happy. It’s not being treated like a doormat and neglecting your wellbeing.


Philautia — Self-Love

This one is extremely important on different levels. Love yourself enough that you are taken care of and not neglecting your mental or physical health. Love yourself enough that you won’t stand for abuse or cheating. Love yourself enough that you are prepared and able to take care of your loved ones.

This is not a selfish love. It is not wasting your partner’s hard earned money. It’s not putting your wants above theirs all the time. It’s not damaging your partner just so you can feed your impulses and desires.


Storge — Familiar Love

Storge was generally referred to between siblings, parents and children, and other close family relationships. Through a romantic relationship, you create a familial bond with your partner, you create a family, you bond with your in-laws.

It’s not, however, the assumption that your partner will suffer through your antics just because you are now part of the family. Everyone has a breaking point.


Lupus — Playful Love

While this one is great for the honeymoon phase, I equate it more with flirting that usually takes place during the conquest phase of a relationship. Yes, it’s important to keep the playfulness alive, but don’t forget that it won’t always be fun and playful — sometimes we have to stop and deal with the real issues of life. Always seeking “fun and flirting” can lead to infidelity, especially if your partner isn’t emotionally mature enough to know that it’s not always going to be a bed of roses.


Mania — Obsessive Love

It is one thing to say that I belong to my partner, in that I will not stray emotionally nor physically, but when it becomes obsessive it becomes dangerous. It’s controlling, it’s manipulating, it’s belittling, it’s demeaning. It’s the mindset that the obsessed partner needs you to be happy or to survive. They’ll do anything to make sure that no one else will ever want you and make you believe you will never be worth anything to anyone else. Sometimes, it becomes deadly.


Pragma, Eros, Philia, Agape, Philautia, Storge — my personal guide for love.

What is love to you?

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