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Life Beyond Therapy: The 8 kinds of love

Now that Valentine’s Day has passed, many of us are wondering: What exactly is “love” anyway? I recently went to a workshop where many different aspects of love were addressed and we, the participants, were encouraged to examine how these different aspects of love appear (or don’t) in our lives.

Excited by this, I sat down and wrote about the eight kinds of love that I think are the most interesting and how they enrich or impoverish our lives. Most of these names are from the original Greek words, so they may not be familiar to you.

Phllalautia — This is self-love, how we feel about ourselves. In the Greek definition, it has two sides: narcissism and self-respect. I think narcissism is often misunderstood. It can mean thinking that you’re so much smarter, better, more beautiful than everyone else (which will inevitably lead you into trouble) or it can mean that you do think you’re smart, beautiful and talented … but then, so is everyone else! See the difference?

Storge — This word is pronounced “stor-gay” (nice, isn’t it?). This kind of love is a parental, mentoring love. It has a protective vibe. I feel this when I see a young LGBT couple eating at a restaurant, holding hands, and some homophobic guy at the next table glares disapprovingly at their expressions of love. I feel very protective of the young couple: This is the essence of storge.

Pragma — This word describes a deep, long-lasting, committed love, the kind you see in the best kinds of long-term relationships. It’s not easy to achieve, but there is a depth here that helps us get through the disagreements and disappointments that any long-lasting loving relationship is bound to experience.

Platonic — You may think you know what this means, but I was told that it means loving the beauty inside people, not their external presentation. This has an interesting implication for friendship: Do you love your friends because of their inner beauty (kindness, sensitivity) or must someone be physical beautiful to be your friend?

Eros — This is sexual, passionate love, often manifested in the physical. This may be the kind of love you are most familiar with. If so, you might explore the others a bit more. On the other hand, if you have little eros in your life, you probably feel pretty low-energy. Eros — in healthy moderation — recharges our batteries.

Ludus — This is a word that was new to me. I was told it is a playful, flirting, teasing love. Perhaps ludus leads to eros (or vice-versa). Ludus can also relate to playing games and sports, giving another aspect to the playful quality. Ludus has a lightness to it, a youthful energy. If you find yourself not very light or playful, a little ludus just might be the thing for you.

Agape — In the spiritual world, this is quite a popular term. It is hard to define, but is about unconditional love, like how we are told God loves us mortal humans. Regardless of whether you believe in God or not, agape is something we can all strive for in our loving relationships. To love with agape means we forgive easily and understand that everyone we love will screw things up at some point. Will we still love them? Can we easily forgive them their humanness?

Epithumia — I wasn’t familiar with this term. I was told it is an obsessive kind of desire, where you find yourself saying things like: “You are my life; I can’t live without you” to someone you allegedly “love.” Let’s be clear: Obsession is not love. Obsession is a very unhealthy form of insecure self-centeredness, where other people exist only to make you happy.

After reading through the list of the many types of love, I suggest you try this exercise:

Look at each kind of love and ask yourself these questions:

- Do I have this in my life?

- Do I want more of it or less of it?

- How could I make that happen?

Have fun with it. Experiment with it. And now that Valentine’s Day is over, why not have an entire month/year full of many kinds of enriching, enlivening love?

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Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBT clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Michael is currently accepting new clients. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit HERE. This column was originally published on SDGLN media partner Gay San Diego.