Love presents itself in a multitude of forms. I truly believe there is no cap on love. With everyone or everything that touches our hearts, we grow and learn. Love prepares us to give, to be brave and strong and fierce. It also guides us toward forgiveness, of others and ourselves. Love is scary, but it is the greatest of all teachers.
But before exploring the different types of love, what about the science of it all? What makes our hearts beat faster, our eyes widen, and our palms sweat? After a short Google dip, I found hormones and neurotransmitters play a big part in this process. Testosterone and estrogen fuel the beginning stages in both men and women. These are the hormones that guide us to one another. Soon adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin fire up the transmitters in our brains. Our blood circulates as our breathing rate increases. We feel a strong sense of euphoria. We can think of nothing else. We lose our minds as we fall “madly in love.” One article I read stated that parts of our brain literally shut down during this stage. Later we attach with the help of oxytocin and vasopressin. We cuddle. We bond. We nest.
The ancient Greeks honored love in many varieties. They believed in the importance of defining and sharing all types of love.
1. Eros – sexual passion
Eros was the Greek god of fertility. Eros, the fiery and irrational form of love, is that loss of control. It is dangerous and often fleeting.
2. Philia – deep friendship
The Greeks valued true friendship above all other forms of love. A good friend is loyal, self-sacrificing, and generous.
3. Storge – family
Storge is the natural affection between parents and children. Most of us feel it at birth, and then it develops through the years. Many of us struggle with storge as we grow and fly away. We begin to question lessons taught us. Some find storge later in a strong circle of friends.
4. Agape – love for everyone
Agape is a selfless love, given to all people, especially strangers and those different from us. Empathy and sympathy come out of our sense of agape. C.S. Lewis called it “gift love,” and believed it is the highest form of Christian love, but other religions embrace some form of agape.
5. Pragma – longstanding love
Pragma is mature love. It is that level of understanding that evolves throughout the years. Compromise, patience, and tolerance are the major tenets of pragma. Longstanding marriages and friendships practice pragma every day.
6. Philautia – love of self
The ancient Greeks believed in order to love others you first have to love yourself. Self-compassion widens our capacity to love. It is important, though, to not think of self-love as narcissism, which is a self-obsessed focus on fame and fortune. Narcissists do not share love with others, they only “love” themselves.
Erich Fromm, the renowned psychoanalyst and psychologist, once stated that we humans need to learn how to “stand in love.” I believe this means instead of focusing on the process of “falling in love,” we should focus on love itself. What does love bring to the table? How can love save us? How do we incorporate all these different types of love into the fabric of our life in order to make it more vibrant, more tactile, more generous?
Standing in love is a practice, not an end goal. We must train ourselves to embrace, not turn away; forgive, not judge; and love, not hate. None of this is an easy path. Love exposes us, makes us susceptible to heart break and agony, yet it is a gift beyond any sane explanation.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”