What Does Love Feel Like? It Depends…

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If you asked the average person what love felt like, chances are it would take them a little while to try to explain it.

The people I asked expressed feelings that ranged from “terrifying vulnerability” to “overwhelming protectiveness,” and everything in between.

Love, nobility, fear, and desire are as individual as the people feeling these emotions. As such, it’s often difficult to wrap our heads around exactly what we’re feeling, and even more excruciating to try to explain it. 

What is it that you’re feeling? Overwhelming care and affection, and the desire for the other person’s happiness above all else? Elation and lust alternating with fear of loss? Warmth and acceptance?

How about we look at the various types of love that are out there, and what they tend to feel like to others.

Maybe these descriptions can help you sort out what it is you’re experiencing.

The different types of love, and what each feels like.

Some people would say that there are as many different ways to feel love as there are people on the planet. 

To simplify things a little bit, the ancient Greeks narrowed feelings of love into several categories: eros, pragma, ludus, philia, philautia, storge, and agape.

Most of the loving feelings we have can be filed into these, and each one is powerful in its own right.

Eros

As you can imagine from its name, “eros” is the root word for “erotic.” It’s the primal flame of physical attraction, and can be described as a type of overwhelming lust.

This type of love is rarely long lasting. It’s a wildfire that can consume everything it touches, but burns out quickly.

In the moment, it’s passionate and intense, and is often the driving force behind procreation. The pulse quickens, and all one’s attention is focused on the other person. 

Some of the most incredible love poetry has been inspired by eros, as we end up so entranced, so obsessed, that it becomes a type of mania that needs to be expressed.

Those obsessed by eros often have difficulty eating or sleeping, never mind concentrating. All their attention is focused on the object of their affection, and their love is a full mind-body-soul fire.

This poem rather sums it up:

It’s no use
Mother dear, I
can’t finish my
weaving.
You may
blame Aphrodite
soft as she is
she has almost
killed me with
love for that boy.

Blame Aphrodite by Sappho

As mentioned, these fires burn out quickly. Because of this, eros can lead to broken hearts if one gets more emotionally attached than the other.

Pragma

In contrast to the eros wildfire, pragma is a hearth fire. It’s a strong, enduring love that has withstood tests of time and aged into a beautiful symbiosis.

Like a couple that’s been married for 50 years. They’ve endured numerous hardships together, as well as many beautiful experiences, and supported one another through it all. 

Pragma is also found in close friendships, particularly those that have survived extreme hardships. 

It requires incredible amounts of patience and understanding, as well as communication… but you’ll recognize it by the strong feelings of care, devotion, self-sacrifice, and the desire for the other person’s happiness.

This type of love is often shunned by modern society. Most people prefer to fixate on the effervescent bloom of first love, and run when things get challenging. 

When and if you do find pragma, be sure to tend it with the greatest care, as it’s one of the most beautiful gifts you could experience.

The Bard describes this love well:

Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken

– From Sonnet 116, by William Shakespeare

Ludus

Do you remember the first time you had a huge crush? You might have felt something akin to nausea or indigestion when the other person was near, as well as giddiness, and unbelievable awkwardness.

Ludus is the type of playful love that’s often experienced by young people. It encompasses the teasing and lighthearted flirting that people engage in when they’re first drawn to one another. There’s euphoria, and also an absolute rollercoaster of emotions if there’s worry that the other person might not reciprocate.

It’s the type of love that inspires truly horrible poetry, but also adventures like midnight picnics and impromptu tickets to Prague.

If your relationship blossomed with ludus, then keeping that youthful playfulness and effervescence alive will be a key to making your relationship last. Otherwise, it can fizzle out as quickly as eros tends to.

Philia

Have you ever loved a dear friend so deeply that you would do absolutely anything for them, but without any kind of sexual attraction?

That’s philia.

It’s the type of love that Plato valued most, which is why the word “platonic” is used to describe this kind of intense love, sans physical intimacy.

Like pragma, philia is also experienced by those who have known one another for a long time, and have experienced hardships together.

If you’re experiencing philia toward someone, you likely enjoy spending time with this person, and miss them terribly when you’re apart for too long.

You probably feel a great deal of joy in their company, and you may go out of your way to make sure they experience beautiful things. Depending on your love language, you may shower them with gifts, or perform acts of service in an attempt to bring them happiness.

Philia can be a truly beautiful type of love, but can also be devastating in relationships, depending on where both parties stand. For example, a couple can love each other very deeply, but if it’s a philia type of love, sexual intimacy might be strained, or even off-putting.

It’s an intense, beautiful type of love in the right circumstances. Basically, you may be willing to throw yourself into oncoming traffic to save this person, but you don’t want to bed them. 

Philautia

Far from being all about narcissism and selfishness, the type of self-love known as philautia is more like… understanding and compassion towards oneself.

By being able to see ourselves with this kind of gentleness and patience, we can also love others the same way.

Do you feel comfortable in your own skin, without any negative self-talk?
Then you can likely love others without any kind of judgement or criticism as well.

Aristotle encompassed this idea well when he said: “All friendly feelings for other people are an extension of our feelings for ourselves”. (Paraphrased for gender inclusivity.)

Storge

The love we have for our parents or children isn’t the same love we have for our partners, but it’s no less powerful. Indeed, it might be one of the most powerful types of love at all.

Storge is an affectionate, protective type of love that’s most often related to kinship. It can be between immediate family members, close friends, teammates, and even our extended community, depending on closeness.

This type of love is what inspires us to keep a bedside vigil next to someone who is ill, or walk miles in pouring rain to keep a promise.

This is one of the easiest types of love to relate to. Your family and closest friends may drive you insane, but they’ll always be there for you. You can usually trust this kind of love, as it’s solid and dependable.

It’s also the type of love that can lead people to interfere with other people’s life choices, out of a need to protect them from any kind of perceived harm or sorrow. This can lead to a lot of friction if there isn’t clear communication, and boundary marking.

Agape

Last, but certainly not least, is agape.

People who have a strong religious faith are most familiar with this one. It’s most often used to describe the love of one’s God, and also God’s unconditional love for humanity.

It can further be explained as the warm, all-accepting love one can have for a spouse, children/grandchildren, etc.

It’s considered to be one of the noblest forms of love, and has been lauded by philosophers from all religious backgrounds for thousands of years.

You’ll know that you’re experiencing agape when you feel an overwhelming sense of benevolence and warmth for others. Like the kind of warmth and joy you feel when sunshine washes over your face on a perfect summer day.

So, what does your love feel like?

Many of these types of love can overlap, and some may evolve from one into another.

Ludus may become pragma. Philia and storge can go hand in hand, and eros can pop up when it’s least expected.

Love can feel so many different ways, based on your own mood and character. Since it has so many faces, you may feel several types of love for many people in your social circle.

With a new partner, it may be ludus’s playfulness with eros’ carnal passion. 

Depending on your demeanor, you might experience overwhelming, mind-killing desire, or a deep, controlling, grasping love that would inspire you to do just about anything to avoid losing the object of your affection. 

Alternatively, it may be pure, noble, altruistic love. Or the reassuring, tender banter that only comes from years of knowing each other inside and out, where you know you can rely on this person to support and love you, even if you have a horrible fight. Because they’re family.

However you experience love, may it be beautiful.

Celebrate it, write about it, be as present with it as you possibly can. And if you are fortunate enough to experience all these different types of love, you are truly blessed indeed.

Still not sure whether what you are feeling is love? Chat online to a relationship expert from Relationship Hero who can help you figure things out. Simply click here to chat.

Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution’s power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.

Love is Not All (Sonnet XXX), by Edna St. Vincent Millay

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About Author

Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais region. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.