Love. It’s a word that some of us use a lot. “I love that color on you.” “I just love pizza.” “I love, love, love you” to our little grandchildren. Some of us never feel comfortable using the word out loud. Philosophers, Theologians and now neuroscientists and clinicians think a lot about love. We use this word for so many emotions.
Maybe as we approach Valentine’s Day we should think a little bit about the different kinds of love. Some good for you and good for your health and some maybe not so much. The Western tradition from the Greeks distinguishes four types of love and has a Greek word for all of them. There are many sources that define many other kinds of love but four is a pretty manageable number.
Eros: erotic, passionate love
We might as well get that one out of the way first. Eros is erotic or sexual or passionate love. It’s often all about need and it’s more about the person who’s feeling sexually attractive than it is about the person who is the focus of that love or thing that is the focus of that love. It is addicting. It can cause great joy and great sorrow. It isn’t always good for you. More hearts are broken on Valentine’s Day due to the unfulfillment of erotic love.
Philia: love of friends and equals
It can be the love between lovers when they’ve been together for a long time and are not so hot and bothered anymore. It’s also called brotherly love as in the city of Philadelphia. The city of brotherly love. Of course, it could be sisterly love and it is the accepting love of good friendship. This is the love that is good for your health. The touch of a loved one. The philia touch lowers blood pressure. People in loving relationships feel your love have few doctor visits, shorter hospital visits, have less pain, and have more positive emotions. All of these positive consequences of philia love, loving friendships make us more resilient when hard times come.
Storge: love of parents for children
This kind of love is what mothers know best but isn’t talked about too much when we talk about love. It is the love of parents for children. It is described as the most natural of loves. Natural in that it’s present without corrosion. It’s emoted because we can’t help ourselves and it pays the least attention as to whether the person is worthy of love.
It’s often transient behaviors that wouldn’t be tolerated in philia love. For example, women can continue to love their children despite truly awful behaviors. Behaviors they wouldn’t tolerate in their girlfriends or their spouses. It seems to come unbidden in the care of a newborn and it grows to allow us to love our children despite their behaviors. Thank goodness for that. In many ways it’s probably a genetically programmed and hard wired love compared to the affectionate love, philia, which is maybe not so hot wired.
Agape: love of mankind
The love modeled on the love of the Christian God for men and the love of man for God. It’s the love that is given whether or not it’s returned. It’s the love without any self benefit. In the Buddhist tradition it is the central foundation of loving kindness for all mankind. This kind of love is important in the process of forgiveness. Forgiveness is important to your health, because the inability to forgive is associated with anger and a number of health outcomes that are not very good. It is love that sets a very hard bar but it may be at the foundation for happiness and contentment.
So, if you are planning something for Valentines Day for the focus of your erotic love, I hope you get it. The good news for your budget is that humans can usually only have erotic love for one person at a time. So it means one card. Good for you.
If you’re planning cards for your philia loves I hope that you have quite a few and they make you smile and that you get a bunch back.
If you’re planning cards for you storge loves your probably just planning on some heart shaped cookies for your kids.
If you planning cards for your agape loves, good luck on that one. You will break the budget and the postal service to send a card to all mankind. But we can take a little moment on Valentine’s Day to send out a little thought message of love and peace to the world.
This interview was originally broadcast by The Scope Radio. The Scope Radio, from University of Utah Health, highlights expert health advice and research you can use for a happier and healthier life.