Categorizing Love: How having more words for love might make it less scary

by squidiousOpals and Bonobos4 min read5th Apr 20182 comments

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Relationships (Interpersonal)
Personal Blog
When discussing the idea of loving more than just our spouses and families, the phrase "love thy neighbor" often comes to mind. A quote I tend to prefer was said by Thomas Aquinas: "The person who truly understands love could love anyone". He believed that true love was unspecific, and open to all humanity. When we speak of falling in love with someone, we tend to talk of the person as if they're flawless (as one does in the honeymoon period of a relationship). Aquinas instead preferred a less romantic, more modern view of love: where you love someone, flaws and all.

That's not to say you have to love strangers equally to family and friends. A popular children's poem goes "I love you, I love you, I love you, I do. But don't get excited; I love monkeys too!". Love gets underused with people because we want to save it for someone special, and overused with things and experiences. I might say that I love peanut butter, but feel shy telling my partner I love them, even though I have given up peanut butter due to their allergy. This is because we don't tend to quantify love, even though it is something that waxes and wanes with time. I might microlove peanut putter, but decalove my partner. Or maybe, I refuse to even say "I love you" to my partner until I feel that I megalove them -- even though they've already said it to me. I may have milliloved my husband at first sight, but now feel that I gigalove them. Someone who participates in hierarchical polyamory might kilolove their secondary partners and teralove their primary.

You'll note that these different examples imply different models of what love even is. A monogamous person may see jealousy as part of a normal, functioning romantic relationship, while a polyamorous person may do all in their power to process jealousy until they don't feel it anymore. Different cultures have different ideas of what kinds of closeness and affection are appropriate in couples, families, and friendships. Some people feel that love is something that fades or changes with time; others feel that it simply matures and grows stronger.

The ancient Greeks spoke of love based more in quality than quantity. The closes to the way we most often describe love in the West is Eros, or sexual passion. The Greeks found Eros to be fiery, but dangerous on its own. The next most common form of love was Philia, which is more of a friendship. This was valued far more than Eros, and was common among men who had fought together in battle or close friends who were very loyal to one another. Storge is sometimes described as a more specific type of Philia, and describes a familial love, like the way a parent loves their child. Ludus was the name for what we now call puppy love; flirting and other forms of affection between new partners and young people. To contrast, Pragma was the word for the type of love between a couple that had been married for years: patient, tolerant, and committed to doing whatever it takes to make things work. The last two types of love are less common in Western media: Philautia and Agape. Philautia is the word for self-love, whether obsessive and narcissistic or secure and empathetic. The last type of love is Agape, which is love for everyone. Agape was translated in Latin to caritas, which is the root word for charity. Agape love is something that many religions hold up as the highest form of love, and so it is unsurprising that it fits with Catholic priest Thomas Aquinas's views. From Christianity to Buddhism, religions around the world tout this kind of love as something we should all aim to embody.

It is interesting that, despite this, there is a lack of English words for love, where there might not be in other languages and cultures. Indeed, things like poetry and music often fill in the gap between the word "love" and what the person is actually feeling. Perhaps this is why the arts and emotions get lumped in with each other so much. But, one need not be artistic to express their emotions. Some choose to tabboo the word "love" altogether, preferring to make statements such as "I'm glad you're part of my life" and "I feel like you understand me", in order to accurately portray what it is about the other person that brings up the feeling of love. So in a sense, it's not that we need to say the words "I love you" to more people, or more often. Moreso, we need to be more specific when we say them.

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I like the topic and I agree. I think words help us differentiate our experiences (sometimes) (when they don't limit our experiences to those we can put words on)

I'd really like a list form of the different types of love that you are talking about. It's the inner scientist in me who wants data not paragraphs of descriptions. Or at least both.

The English language has multiple words. Besides "love", English has "like" in common usage.

It however also has a lot of words that aren't in common usage. When it comes to sexual passion the English language has the word "lust" that's more specific. There's "yearn", "devoted", "affection", and others.