I will discuss the various types of feelings and emotions involved in what one calls love, I label them “components”. I am to some extent inspired by the famous book The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis, but while he described them as distinct forms of love, I will rather consider that they can mix together in various proportions through any particular love relation. This idea of mixing different forms of love was developed by J. A. Lee in Lovestyles; however he views them as “styles”, which can be not only emotions, arousals and feelings, but also attitudes towards feelings such as commitment, playfulness or manipulation, as well as degrees of compliance with social norms such as marriage and family.
I take into account all types of love that a person can experience with other beings, adults, children or even animals, and whether in a pair or in a wider group. Indeed, some types of feelings are more easily expressed with some beings, or in some arrangements. On the other hand, Lee only studied love in a sexual pair, but each such experience has always an erotic component, so of all his “styles” only eros should be considered as “pure”, the other styles that he considers as “basic” are in fact already mixtures.
I will also discuss the notions of “equality” or “symmetry” in a love relation, terms which are widely misunderstood, or confused with equality in other types of social relations. I will consider the different forms of physical intimacy corresponding to the various components of love; our simplistic sex-fetishist epoch tends to assimilate any physical intimacy with sexual contact.
In a future article I will stress the haphazard use of words and Greek roots in modern terminology, and the confusions they lead to in the description of loves and lovers.
Three basic components
Ancient Greece had four words for love and friendship: eros, storge, philia and agape. Lewis was inspired by this terminology, as he retained the first three words, but renamed agape “charity”. I will defer to a later part the discussion on agape, as its meaning remains somewhat unclear, and from a historical point of view it has been contrived by religion. So I can now characterize the first three.
It is love driven by physical beauty (note however that Plato in his Symposium proposes, through a discourse attributed to Socrates, that this love could be purified into one for spiritual beauty). It is very selective, only a person sufficiently close to the ideal of beauty can qualify as beloved. It works like a bright fire, it is very intense and it can appear or disappear quickly. The lover can experience strong physical signs of excitation, such as tickling, trembling, or “shaking of guts”. The biological basis for it is sexuality. Among birds and mammals, the male displays his physical attributes and engages in a courtship ritual to prove his worth (that is, the quality of his genes) to the female; then the coitus is intense but quick. While many bird species are monogamous, this is often not the case with mammals, in particular our closest cousins, the chimpanzees and bonobos, often change partners and are generally unfaithful.
It is often suggested that love is a relation between “equals”, and that the rule of “equality” applies in an erotic relation. Equality is an economic, social and political concept, people are equal if anyone of them can be replaced by any other without changing the result. For instance in work, only professional qualities are taken into account, no distinction should be made with respect to gender, race or religion, such discrimination on the part of the employer or of the colleagues is forbidden. The same holds for social position and political rights. Now in an erotic relation, one would generally not accept to have the partner replaced by a person of the opposite gender, and often replacing one partner by another person of the same gender will not be agreed by the other. The beloved is unique. In fact, equality between lovers is stressed mainly because in the present social organization the erotic relation is mixed with family and household economy: any household work or family duty can be performed equally by either spouse.
An erotic relation, if one puts away its interactions with economy and domestic labour, is often asymmetrical, with one partner more active and leading than the other, for instance a lover and a beloved. Charles Fourier characterized erotic love as the relation of inversion: the stronger bows to the weaker. This happened indeed in the art of courtly love that spread in Southern France around the 12th century: the man considered himself as the vassal of the beloved woman, his lady in the feudal sense; here traditional power relations between the genders were inverted.
Another type of asymmetrical love relation is given by the ancient Greek custom of love between an adult man and a young boy. The man was erastes, the lover, he brought wisdom and experience into the relation; the boy was eromenos, the beloved, he brought beauty and youthful enthusiasm. The same approach to love was expounded by Oscar Wilde during his trial for homosexual behaviour:
“The love that dare not speak its name” in this century is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare. It is that deep spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect. It dictates and pervades great works of art, like those of Shakespeare and Michelangelo, and those two letters of mine, such as they are. It is in this century misunderstood, so much misunderstood that it may be described as “the love that dare not speak its name,” and on that account of it I am placed where I am now. It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an older and a younger man, when the older man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him. That it should be so, the world does not understand. The world mocks at it, and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it.
Rather than equality, I would stress mutual respect and understanding between the lovers, who can differ in age, gender, education, social status, or physical ability.
It is love as natural affection, for example the bond between members of a family, in particular the feeling of parents towards their children. It exists also between human beings and their familiar pets considered as companions. It does not discriminate in terms of physical beauty, the beloved is viewed as beautiful in its own right. It is unconditional. It is a warm and tender feeling, but not a burning passion. It grows progressively, but can last for a long time. Its biological basis is the care of the young by the mother among mammals, the mother loves and cares for her offspring unconditionally and for a long time.
Our sex-obsessed epoch interprets physical intimacy as necessarily erotic, or even simply sexual. However physical intimacy can be non-sexual and storgic. Breastfeeding involves a physical contact, and sometimes babies touch their mother’s breasts. She can also hold the naked body of her baby against hers, this is often done at birth. A mother can also hold an older child in her arms while both are naked, for instance in a naturist setting, see for example the photograph Mother and Child by Jock Sturges. This contact of skins is an expression of tenderness, not sex.
In Western Europe, until the end of the 19th century, two men could express their friendship by kissing each other, holding hands or walking arm in arm, without raising any suspicion of homosexuality; it was simply considered as a manifestation of affection. During the 20th century, such a behaviour survived in some parts of Eastern Europe and Russia. According to the present Western norm, two female friends or two friends of opposite genders can greet each other with a kiss on the cheek, but two male friends will only shake hands, as in this case kissing is implicitly assumed to be male homosexuality.
Both storge and eros are affiliative loves, and they can mix together. Some mothers have felt sexual arousal while breastfeeding their baby. On the other hand erotic lovers usually exchange gestures of tenderness typical of a mother-child relation, and they sometimes address each other using “baby language”.
It is friendship mediated by a common activity, for instance between colleagues, members of a sport team, or soldiers in a trench. It does not form an interpersonal relation between two people, as eros and storge, but generally a bond within a larger group, and often the larger the group, the better the friendship. It really represents love between equals, as friends are not viewed for their individuality, but for their participation in the common activity; moreover, someone leaving the group can easily be replaced by a newcomer, “nobody is irreplaceable”. It does not express itself through gestures of tenderness or physical intimacy, conventional greeting gestures are the only type of physical contact between friends. Its material expression is not through the body or bodily contact, but through shared physical activities such as doing a sport, having a drink or dining together. Its biological basis is group bonding among social mammals, in particular apes.
Love for animals is storge in the case of companionship with a pet, but philia in the case of activities involving animals, such as horse riding, or a general interest in one type of animal.
Other forms of love found in the literature
In Lee’s Lovestyles, storge is a “style” of erotic relation having a strong storgic component, but also some philiac elements, such as love growing through shared activities with common friends. Beside eros and storge, Lee proposes a third basic “style”, ludus. It represents a playful and sometimes manipulative form of love, with a strong tendency to control one’s emotions. I don’t consider it as a component of love, as it does not bring in any type of emotion or feeling, it is rather a way of withholding them. Ludus can combine with eros, giving what Lee calls ludic eros. He also describes ludic storge and pragma, both combining ludus and storge, the first as a mixture and the second as a “compound” (in the chemical sense); the difference between the two lies mainly in their relation with social norms, pragma corresponds to “marriage of reason” (or even arranged one), while ludic storge underlies stable adulterous relations.
Another important type of love described by Lee is mania; it is the Greek word for madness or frenzy, also for passion (in the case of love). Lee describes mania as an obsessive, irrational and self-defeating love, in some way it is “love of love” rather than “love of someone”. As it shares some characteristics with ludus and eros, he considers it as a paradoxal compound of eros and ludus. I rather view mania as a failure to express eros by an emotionally immature person.
In his celebrated book L’Amour et l’Occident, Denis de Rougemont calls eros the mystical drive to fuse with divinity and its supposed human translation as an unhappy love passion, on the model of Tristan and Isolde, where lovers are attracted to love itself rather than to each other and seek their ultimate release in death. Lee assimilates such love with mania. I consider the drama of Tristan and Isolde as a symbol of the tragic defeat of eros in the face of overpowering social circumstances inimical to love, and this failure is not brought by the emotional immaturity of the lovers as in Lee’s mania. Moreover, real eros has a sensuous and physical element, which I don’t see in mysticism.
Initially, the Greek word agape meant affection and tenderness, as storge. In modern Greek, it is the general word for love. It took the meaning of the love between God and human beings in the Septuagint Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, then in the New Testament. This interpretation was developed by early Christianity, which also used the plural word agapai for the “love feast”, a meal shared by worshippers. It finally led to a conception of a purely spiritual, selfless and undemanding love embracing all humanity. In this ideal form it exists more in books than in real human beings, it represents a cultural and religious construction of perfect love. In The Four Loves, Lewis describes eros, storge and philia in terms of human beings, giving examples of loves between real humans; his chapter on charity (his interpretation of agape) takes a completely different form, as he talks mainly about God and gives no story about such love among human beings. On the other hand, de Rougemont calls agape ordinary human love that does not seek fusion with divinity (as does eros).
In Lovestyles, Lee finds that the ideal of agape is best approached by a style that he calls storgic eros, mixing eros with storge; the latter is warm and tender, it embraces not only the lovers, but also their social surrounding. Indeed, storge and eros, being both interpersonal relations, combine harmoniously.
One can posit that a combination of several components of love leads to a higher form. This is consistent with Charles Fourier’s conception that compound passions are more beautiful and more valuable than simple ones. For instance erotic lovers or storgic companions who share activities with common friends will see a deeper meaning to their relation. Hence combining all three eros, storge and philia can lead to an extremely strong feeling, experienced as “oceanic” or “religious”. This could be the modern meaning of agape, quite opposite to that given by de Rougemont.
Denis de Rougemont, L’Amour et l’Occident (1956).
John Allan Lee, Lovestyles (1976); renewed edition of Colours of Love: An Exploration of the Ways of Loving (1973).
Clive Staples Lewis, The Four Loves, renewed edition (1988).