The Greeks gave us six distinctions or forms of love and relating to others. I find it significant that these are not just feelings, they are activities, ways of actively relating to another. If we want to know ourselves, we must observe who we love and how we love them. We must look, too, at reciprocity: how do those we love love us.
If you spend some time with each form, contemplate it, seek it in your relationships, write about it and ask questions about it, you will find new awareness enriching all your relationships. Look at love as if you were in conversation with your inner Socrates and he was asking you questions.
The Six Forms of Loving Others
Eros is sexual love: physical, hungry, creative, and the desire to possess and be possessed. Who do you feel hunger for? Who hungers for you? Taken beyond the carnal drive, eros becomes the love that seeks to co-create something new, intimate and powerful. It is creative arousal stimulated by the presence of another. How many relationships do you have that light creative sparks and turn on your sense of possibility?
Philia is friendship and the sweetness of liking another and being liked. Who are your friends? Who loves having you as a friend? Do you experience them as your twin or your opposite?
Agape is sacrificial love. The love that offers to die for the other to live. Who are you willing to die for – to sacrifice some part of your aliveness? Who has loved you in a sacrificial way?
Pragma is the longterm love of companionship. Who has become an essential part of the acts of daily life? Who sees you as essential to their daily life?
Ludus is playful love. There is nothing like the intimacy of playfulness and shared smiles. Who do you love sharing your sandbox with? Who makes you giggle? Who delights in being silly with you?
Storge is parental love. Who do you feel responsible for? Who do you want to comfort and cultivate? Who provides you with loving guidance? Within our souls are always the paternal and maternal gestures, and always the child seeking parenting.
In any close relationship, these six different ways of relating are present in some combination. Think of the ways these loves appear in your relationships.
Use these questions to explore any relationship of importance that has gone beyond the delights of discovery.
Ask your partner or your best friend about how ambition, success and failure appear in each form and then reflect, share gratitude, and imagine new active intentions in the loves you share.
The Essential Love of Self
The Greeks define a seventh love that is the root of the health of all the other loves, philautia or self-love. To feel joy and fulfillment at being you is the experience of philautia. This is the fountain of all love, the water of life. Philautia is not the desire for self and the root of selfishness. It is self-possession. When we possess ourselves, we do not look to others for self-fulfillment and we love them and experience their love for us in freedom. How do you experience self-love?