When we think about loving other people, or just love in general, we may tend to believe that as long as we have love in our hearts, we are on the right path. Because, after all, it is better to love than not to love, right?
While I agree that to love is better than not to love, not all “love” is the same. I would actually suggest that some “types” of love may be somewhat counter-productive to our progress on the road to living happier and healthier.
Now, you may be thinking what kind of love could actually be counter-productive, where I would even label it as a sort of “selfish” type of love. Well, the ancient Greeks actually had sorted this out pretty well, defining six different types of love, all with different meanings and characteristics.
The first kind of love is called “eros.” This kind of love is the fiery, passionate love that we generally associate with love in our movies and songs, and what we as a general society view as the love where we lose ourselves out of love for another person. The ancient Greeks didn’t necessarily view this type of love as positive, because it was regarded as rather out of control and sort of dangerous, so to speak.
But, what is wrong with this raw, passionate, and fiery love? Well, to say wrong is rather strong, in my opinion. After all, it is usually what helps us find that special someone who may end up being “the one” we spend the rest of our lives with. However, at the same time, this type of love is, well, rather selfish.
Psychologist Roger Callahan has written, “Romantic love is selfish! When it comes to an authentic romantic relationship, it is your pleasure, and your happiness that’s the central base of emotion. Lots of people believe that real love is total selflessness and a generous concern for someone else is really at its root. As ‘nice’ as this may sound, it has nothing to do with romantic love. A selfless romantic love is absurd.”
Dorothy Tennov, a behavioral psychologist actually called this type of love “limerence,” which is defined as “the state of being infatuated or obsessed with another person, typically experienced involuntarily and characterized by a strong desire for reciprocation of one’s feelings.” Apparently, the typical life span of limerent feelings is between eighteen and thirty-six months.
Think about the typical love songs. When you listen to a song about love, what is it really about? It’s about the feelings of the person who is singing it. The whole song is predicated on what the other person either does or doesn’t do which then either leads to positive or negative feelings of the singer. The song is much about loving with the hope of reciprocation. It’s very much about doing something for another person with the hope (and expectation) that they will follow up and do the same for the singer. When they do, love is wonderful. When they don’t, well, it’s a sad day and a sad song.
But not all is lost with “eros.” It can often be a first stage of one’s relationship with another person. What is important is that we move from eros to a “higher,” more refined stage of love, called “philia.” This is a deeper type of friendship between “comrades,” where there is a deep loyalty to friends, and where concern for others trumps concern for self. Not only do you sacrifice for them, but you also share your thoughts and emotions with them as well. Those of you who have children may recognize a sub-category of philia called “storge,” which typically defines love between parent and child.
If you wish to keep going, there are other types of love, including “ludus,” which is a “playful” type of love, usually expressed between young children, or by adults in their flirtatious stages of a relationship. There’s also “pragma,” which is a more deep type of love shared by those who are in long-standing relationships (and marriages). This usually is defined by patience and tolerance for other viewpoints, consciously giving love rather than just wanting to receive it.
Finally, there are two other very important types of love — “agape” and “philautia.” Agape is defined as a “selfless love.” It is the love you have not for just one person, but for all people, including those you don’t even know. C.S. Lewis referred to this as “gift love,” and some Buddhists call it “universal loving kindness.” This type of can be lacking, especially as we constantly think about ourselves and our own self interests first, before we consider the interests of others. However, this type of love, where we can look at others as “brothers and sisters” rather than strangers, is so important in us developing that “loving kindness” that can make a huge difference in not only our lives, but in the lives of others. If we can spend more time practicing this “loving kindness” toward others, and simply be “friendly,” we will notice a huge impact not only on ourselves internally, but externally in our interactions with other people.
The last type of love is equally important: “philautia.” Philautia is a love for the self. While this can be unhealthy if taken too far (narcissism and materialism), it is so beneficial if we keep it in the “healthy” range. It is so important to love yourself. If you can come to love yourself, it is so much easier to love others. In the words of Aristotle, “All friendly feelings for others are an extension of a man’s feelings for himself.” If we begin with love for ourselves, we can turn to others and extend to them love as well, without expectation of anything in return.
So, when you look at your relationships with those you love, do you love without expectation of reciprocation? Do you love unconditionally, with a genuine concern for others and their well-being? Do you respect other people’s points of view? Can you look at others as brothers and sisters? Are you genuinely “friendly” to everyone? And, finally, do you love yourself unconditionally?
It’s not about “right or wrong” when it comes to the type of love we share with others. It’s about being aware of why we love. We don’t get anywhere when it’s only ourselves that we care about. This world cannot become a better place if we don’t care for others, or if we don’t have a genuine desire to help one another. When we can truly love in kindness and generosity, we can not only transform ourselves, but we can transform the world we live in as well.