The Three Types of Love

three types of love
People often misinterpret love because they don’t realize that there are three types of love. Misunderstanding the different types can lead to heartache.

Eskimos and Snow
In 1911, anthropologist Franz Boas published his book Handbook fo American Indian Languages. In it, he suggested that Eskimos have dozens if not hundreds of words for snow. As their lives were steeped in snow, it only made sense to be able to describe it more thoroughly. Knowing the difference between a light dusting, a heavy snowfall, or a pounding drift could instantly inform others whether this was cause for delight or concern.

On the other hand, some group who has never seen snow might just have the one word. That might be the only way they express it. But that limitation could cause a lot of confusion if one person sees a snowfall as the awe of witnessing the gentle lilting of snowflakes to the ground and another sees it as a torrential blizzard. The lack of expressive vocabulary can make for grave misunderstandings.

Now imagine the same thing about love.

Our Misunderstanding about Love
When people talk about snow in simple terms there can be some confusion. What’s a pleasant walk in a winter wonderland to one could be thirty minutes of shoveling snow and a wrenched back to another. People understand things differently, so talking about a light dusting vs. heavy snowfall can help clarify expectations.

The same is true about love. When we talk about love in English, we are really talking about three types of love. Unfortunately, we don’t have three words for love; we only have one, and so we get confused.

Three Days Grace shows this vividly in their song I Hate Everything about You. The lyrics simply say “I hate everything about you. Why do I love you?” Probably because they have mistaken one type of love for another, one of which we actually don’t call love. What we often simply put in a bucket as “love” is usually just one of three types of love, and if we don’t understand that, we end up on a road to heartache.

The Three Types of Love
The Greeks actually came up with four types of love a long time ago. There is a lot of overlap between the greek types and what we generally talk about as love.

If you’ve ever heard the term “love at first sight” you will understand the first type of love. This is called “eros”. This is passionate love. Some might simply call it attraction. When people talk about “falling in love”, they are typically talking about attraction.

This isn’t to say that “love at first sight” isn’t real. What it means is that you are attracted to someone, but attraction is not enough. If people who have this attraction also exhibit the other types of love, then they can enjoy a long and happy relationship.

The second type of love that people are talking about when they use the blanket term “love” is the love of feeling. It’s when we enjoy spending time with someone or feel good when we are around them. It’s not attraction as much as it is the good feeling we get when we are around them. This might have a basis in attraction (eros), but this type of love doesn’t have to be related to attraction. It might be more friendly (philia) or it might be more familial (storge).

The third type of love comes when we feel love toward someone else. This type of love isn’t a feeling, but an action. It’s what we do for the other person, and often without concern for what we get in return. The greek term agape for unconditional love is the closest to this.

Understanding Love
What this really means is that “love” is a blanket term that can be confusing. We may feel attraction for someone, but if we don’t have a strong underpinning of love as a feeling, that can wreak havoc on our emotions. Like the song “I Hate Everything About You”, a strong attraction to someone we truly find repugnant as a person can make us behave erratically.

At the same time, If we are attracted to someone and feel love toward them, but don’t show them love with our actions, we are still adding turmoil in our relationship. It’s not enough to feel love and attraction: healthy relationships also need demonstrations – small ones daily with big ones on occasion – to show the other person how much they mean.

If you want to understand love, you must know that there are three types of love. One word is not enough. Attraction, the feeling of love, and demonstrating love are all important to the types of romantic relationships we aspire to have. Understanding the three parts and focusing on them can make for better relationships and happier ones.

David Bishop

David is CEO of Cedowin Productions, dedicated to helping you live your best life through positive habits. He has inspired tens of thousands to improve habits and communication through books, articles, workshops, and apps. He is the creator of AweVenture, helping families enjoy fantastic, active experiences and Zombie Goals, literally making building healthy habits a game. He’s authored several books including How to Create Amazing Presentations, 7 Steps to Better Relationships, and The Man in the Pit, which helps people who have loved ones struggling with depression.

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