Though all of these forms of love are driven by affection and attachment, they're all distinct. There are seven words in the language that describe love in all its nuanced forms, rather than just applying one word to several contexts.
- Ekaterini Constantine, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist based in Los Angeles
Below, learn about all seven Greek words for love. With any luck, you'll be able to identify and experience each form in your lifetime—if you haven’t already.
The 7 Greek words for different types of love
1. Eros: romantic, passionate love
Eros is passion, lust, pleasure. It’s an appreciation for one’s physical being or beauty, and is driven by attraction and sexual longing. It describes desire and is most similar to what we think of as romantic, passionate love between life partners. At least in the earlier stages of courtship, when everything is wildly hot and you can’t get enough of each other, that is.
In Greek mythology, Eros was the son of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. “Eros, over time, may turn into a deeper type of love that encompasses a lot of the other types mentioned below, like philia, storge, agápe,” says Greek licensed marriage and family therapist Ekaterini Constantine, LMFT.
Usually, eros is directed toward another person, but you can (and should) also experience this with yourself, adds Constantine. “Simply put, exploring eroticism starts with oneself. A quick way to explore one’s eroticism is by being curious about one’s body.” From there, you can probably show someone eros by exploring their body.
2. Philia: intimate, authentic friendship
Philia is characterized by intimacy, knowing, and soul-to-soul bonds. It’s encouraging, kind, and authentic; the stuff from which great friendship is made, regardless of whether it's with a platonic best friend or a romantic partner. This love is also based in good will, or wanting what’s best for the other person. Philia is a connection akin to that of soulmates; it’s one part destiny, another part choice.
“Philia, friendship, is a relationship that can be created between two or more people who may share core values such as love, faith, understanding, freedom, joy, honesty and commitment,” says Constantine. “Friendships are emotional in nature and are cultivated over time through mutual care.”
To show you care, then, you might consider doing a favor for a friend or going on an errand date with them, where you both can cross off things on your respective (and potentially overwhelming) to-do lists.
3. Erotoropia or ludus: playful, flirtatious love
According to Constantine, ludus is of Latin origin and is actually known as erototropia in Greek. “Erototropia is a child-like love that is sometimes seen in the beginning stages of romantic relationships,” she says, adding that it’s defined by playfulness.
This can also be a non-committal type of love—like when you banter with your best friend. To demonstrate this type of love, consider “engaging in playful conversation, laughter, teasing, dancing, flirting, seducing, and dancing,” says Constantine.
To be sure, though, erotoropia and ludus might also be the love you’d experience with a fling—casual, sexual, exciting, and with zero implications of obligation.
4. Storge: unconditional, familial love
“Storge is more like affection or a familial type of love and is a gentler experience of care,” says Constantine. “[It] makes you feel safe and cared for—and it’s not passionate
in nature.” You might love your sister, even if you don’t like her, for instance, and you might love your dad, despite the mistakes he made in raising you.
Storge is driven by familiarity and need and is sometimes thought of as a one-way love. For instance, consider a mother loving her baby before the baby is aware enough to love her back. Storge can also describe a sense of patriotism toward a country or allegiance to the same team.
To show that you feel this Greek term for love toward another, Constantine recommends listening reflectively, providing undivided attention, spending quality time, and showing
5. Philautia: compassionate self-love
Google Translate will tell you that philautia means “selfishness,” but this term is a little more nuanced than that. In fact, says Constantine, “self-compassion” might be a better term for this form of love. It encompasses two concepts: The first is that healthy, feelin’ yourself, care-based love that reinforces self-esteem, like buying yourself a new book as a gift for completing a big work project or putting on a face mask to relax and take care of your skin. But it doesn’t have to be materialistic.
“Self-compassion looks like giving yourself tenderness, nurturance, and understanding, cultivating self-awareness, listening, and honoring your body and its needs,” says Constantine. “A great way to start practicing philautia is through mindfulness, which is simply the act of focusing on what you’re sensing and feeling in the here and now without judgment."
That said, Google Translate wasn’t completely off: The other concept is one of selfishness, which can be pleasure- and fame-seeking and highly concerned with status. It can even be the foundation of narcissism.
6. Pragma: committed, companionate love
Pragma is a love built on commitment, understanding, and long-term interests, like building a family. As mentioned above, over time, eros can turn into pragma as a couple grows to honor, respect, and cherish each other, accepting of differences and learning to compromise.
Pragma is everlasting love rooted in romantic feelings and companionship. “Pragma, in love terms, is a more values-based system one uses to find what we call ‘compatibility,’” Constantine says.
7. Agápe: empathetic, universal love
Agápe is love for others that's inclusive of a love for God, nature, strangers, or the less fortunate. It's generally an empathetic love toward humanity itself and is sometimes connected to altruism since it involves caring for and loving others without expecting anything in return. This sort of pay-it-forward love—people helping others selflessly—is the foundation of great societies and communities.
“Agápe is characterized by unconditional positive regard, acceptance, faithfulness and commitment,” says Constantine. “Becoming involved in one’s community by volunteering is an easy way to show this type of love,” she says.
So, the next time you talk about loving someone—as a friend, as a lover, as a human—consider keeping in mind the Greek words for love so you can articulate more precisely the unique shades of the single emotion.
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