Do you remember what Valentine’s Day was like when you were a kid? When I was little, everyone in my class would give each other valentines along with candy hearts or other treats. Some valentines were store-bought, others homemade. Either way, we would store them in special “mailboxes” we created out of cardboard and construction paper, glue, and glitter. We would go around the classroom and swap valentines, maybe giving a few extra to the kids we liked most.
This, I realize now, is an example of philia, or “affectionate love” – a love that exists between friends, close colleagues, and peers. It has nothing to do with romantic attraction but occurs when two people share similar values and respect for each other. Many experts believe there are at least seven types of love. When I first heard this, I was a little confused. After all, love is love, right? But when I looked at the subject more closely, I realized those experts were right. There are many kinds of love – and I would argue that our journey as
human beings is largely about discovering each type.
For example, the first type of love most of us feel is storge, or “familiar love.” This is the kind of love that flows between parents and offspring, between brother and sister. It’s natural, it’s deep, it’s imbued in our very blood. It’s the kind of love every child has the right to experience, because it lets us know that we are not alone, but valued, appreciated, and wanted. As we grow, taking our first steps into a larger world, we then discover “affectionate love,” which we’ve already talked about.
Next comes ludus, or “playful love.” Based on flirting and lighthearted teasing, this type of love is still childlike and innocent, but it’s our first experience with intimacy. This is the type of love that makes our teenage years feel so exciting! Eventually, ludus transforms into eros, or “romantic love.” From our first kiss to our first partner, this is the stage of falling in love with someone else. It’s a thrilling ride no rollercoaster can ever match. It’s the domain of poets and playwrights. A love on which thousands of stories and songs are based. It’s the type no one who experiences it can ever forget.
Hopefully, each of us eventually finds that special someone with whom we can progress to pragma, or “enduring love.” This is love everlasting, love eternal. A love that occurs when two equals decide to experience this crazy journey together. A love based on dedication and commitment; on sharing in each other’s challenges and reveling in each other’s victories. A love that deepens with the years. As we grow older and become beset by cares and challenges, disappointments and regrets, we then discover the importance of philautia, or “self-love.” (These days, many people refer to it as “self-care.”) This is all about learning to accept and appreciate yourself for who you are and what you bring to the universe. It’s about celebrating your own differences and quirks, acknowledging your own needs and emotions, and taking the steps to ensure your own happiness.
Finally, we have agape, or “selfless love.” This is the kind most of us aspire to. A love that recognizes neither race nor color nor creed. A love that leads to doing good for others. It’s a love based on empathy, charity, and most of all, kindness. A love that transforms us all into something greater than the flesh and bones we were born with.
Why am I telling you all this? Two reasons. First, because knowing about these forms can help turn Valentine’s Day from being an extremely commercial holiday into
something much deeper. Instead of seeing it as an obligation – to give our money to Hallmark and Hershey’s – it’s an opportunity. An opportunity to realize just how important love is to our lives. An opportunity to see just how many people we actually do love. An opportunity to express that love in whatever way fits best.
Have a colleague at work that you particularly appreciate? Drop them a note this Valentine’s Day telling them so! Lucky enough to have a mother or father who cherishes you? Give them a call or stop by their house for an extra-long hug. Have a spouse or a partner who completes you, one you couldn’t imagine living without? Take them out to count the stars and dream. Realize you’ve been asking a lot of yourself, lately? Then show some self-love this Valentine’s Day by taking the day off and doing your favorite hobby. Recognize how blessed you are to live in this country? Then pay it forward by helping a veteran, or an elderly person, or anyone in need.
In other words, fill your day with philia and storge, eros and pragma, philautia and agape. And watch how Valentine’s Day becomes one of the best days of the entire year.
Oh, and the second reason I’m telling you all this? To take this opportunity to say how much I love and appreciate you! It’s a privilege to know you, and an honor to serve. I
hope you always know how much I cherish our relationship. Tina and I wish you a happy Valentine’s Day!