Dear Boy of mine,
Our last “love and sex” letter/talk went great! By which I mean neither of us said a word about it later, and you didn’t tell me to shut up. I like writing to you and there’s so much I want to tell you. People don’t teach kids these incredibly important things that could potentially make SO MUCH DIFFERENCE in how successful their relationships are. Honestly, it’s almost as if parents, like prank victims, would rather watch the next poor suckers get pranked as well, instead of warning them off.
Despite the feeling that love should always last, you will probably find yourself in and out of relationships like most people. But I do know a few couples who have been together since high school and more who met in college. So without trying to set expectations too high, whatever happens during this time is laden with serious possibilities and opportunities that are not for squandering. Full disclosure, I was a distractable relationship idiot who squandered multiple possibilities for the ADHD driven payoff of exciting new experiences. I loved my wild days but every choice kills other choices and if you kill off too many soulful choices there won’t be any left in the package later. Along the way though, I’ve lived intimately and long-term with women loved and been loved, and learned a lot. My credentials have as much to do with failure as success but that adds a bit of tangy lime, for flavor.
There’s not a lot of hard science in this territory because people are weird and complicated and in a sense, science doesn’t even really know exactly what people are yet. Maybe it’s just that as many things as we can know scientifically about neurology and sex the real experience is like being lowered into a soupy atmosphere of adrenaline and magic where everything matters too much. To be filled with desire IS to be out of one’s depth, our toes scraping for solid ground. But there are a number of things to know that can help light your way and help you understand where you are.
People love differently
There isn’t just one motivation that drives all who love and seek love. So when two people approach each other and frame their experience together as common ground they may be wrong. They may be more like actors from two entirely different plays, interacting in a way that only appears to be part of the same story. Each may be thrilled or disappointed by elements of the story their partner is clueless about. Basically, people have different feelings about what it means to “be in love.” And “In love”, couple love, is my context today.
In commonplace psychological wisdom, these are the love styles that have been charted. These are observed behaviors that are consistent enough to be described as a style. They are useful as lenses to help us observe our actual approach to love and to understand those around us. Really, they are just various aspects of the experience of love itself but concentrated in one area by the comfort wavelength of each person. These styles are like the base note of the psychological perfume and most people are a blend of a main style and a couple of sub-styles. You might also imagine each one having a range of healthy and unhealthy expressions and there’s no better or worse indicated by their order.
1. Agape: Imagine a nearly selfless joy in giving and helping the person you love. Agape nurtures, supports and cares; it is attentive, compassionate and almost parental. When healthy, it’s a self-transcending release from being a needy and lacking thing, to instead becoming a robust and generous thing. This is generous love and it comes with the incredible pleasure of holding nothing in reserve. This love isn’t “Because you’ve earned it “: This love is celebratory and full. “I don’t care if you’ve earned it, I love you!” Agape doesn’t count the change it gets back…it figures things balance out because “After all, I got to love you this much!”
The shadow side of Agape can be an inability to RECEIVE. Agape love in some people is only comfortable giving which means they can deprive their partner of experiencing the feeling of deep generosity which is their own (agape’s) deepest satisfaction. This shadow side retains a distance that seems strangely at odds with the otherwise wholehearted embrace. It often feels like fear of being unloveable. Unselfish Love: You are doing it wrong.
Agape as a structural phase of life: Usually as a parent, but a person extraordinarily open to the wide world can experience it toward life itself:“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” Rabindranath Tagore
2. Ludus: Ludus lovers experience love as a game to be played. They have a desire to live multiple, overlapping lives and they can become addicted to the process of dancing back and forth between people and simply keeping the game going since in a sense the game is their life. Secrets and lies are the padding between these separate lives and ludic lovers sometimes treat people almost like game pieces to be moved around as needed. Manipulation and control are likely as ludic lovers are “stage-managing” everything. Ludic people are afraid of being frozen and trapped in one boring story and afraid to really reveal their complete self to anyone. They always hold something back. Understandably they desire the experience of new love with its joy and intensity. But they are trapped in the mode of always starting over or maintaining long-term relationships that lack the key benefit of such: Deep honesty and trust. Ludic lovers, if they have cleverly convinced their partner to feel full trust in them, are then left with a sad emptiness inside since they alone know that the foundation contains a deep crack. A fear of intimacy strongly correlates. I had a flash once that this style is a metaphorical “Horcrux“, with a part of oneself split and sealed off in different relationships resulting in a fractured soul.
As a phase of life: Mixed feelings, restlessness, adultery in order to feel alive again, shallow gameplay.
3. Storge: This style is based in friendship and affection. Storge people really need to know someone very well in order to feel strongly about them. The dazzle of new love is often a mixed experience for them because they keep bumping down to earth with an uncertainty that this will hold up long term. “I mean, how well do I really know her?” Storge love can be very deep and very affectionate and expressive, but it usually doesn’t look entirely comfortable acting all romantic. Any two people might have good sex or bad sex but with storge it might not be so important in the long run, it isn’t the main thing.
As a phase of life: Friends you trust and love to be with.
4. Eros: This is classical romantic love. The style is NEW love. Eros is passionate physically and emotionally and truly wants to be close. Even as a relationship ages and cools Eros love will tend to maintain a slightly idealized view and honor the partner with a special appreciation.
As a phase of life: Falling in love, of course.
5. Mania: These people experience love as losing control: An earthquake/tornado combination that doesn’t care what it destroys. The mania love style challenges and may even dissolve one’s identity. Mania love is crazy, impulsive and needy. People who experience love as Mania fall in love quickly, and their love tends to consume them but it is is just as unstable as you’d guess, it tends to burn out before it gets the chance to mature. People prone to mania love are usually emotionally dysregulated with a shaky attachment style. Cold hearted people find them easy to manipulate.
As a phase of life: Almost everyone experiences at least one crazy “Nothing else matters, I don’t care what it costs me.” love moment in their lives.
6. Pragma: Pragma love is the “mail order bride” marriage that lasts 50 years and has 3 children. It’s practical, ordinary day to day love that sees the other more as a partner than a lover or even friend. The partner is almost more of a role than an individual, but it can be an honored role. Many people with few choices find themselves in a pragma relationship.
As a phase of life: There are times in a long relationship and especially one with children, where people feel no passion, but just get along and do the job.
OK, I just wanted you to have this model in your kit. These types aren’t always this obvious, they can blend and evolve, but they are real and you will meet them. You may even find more than one of these taking place at a time. There can be a dominant type and a secondary type in the same person. Recognizing their style and your own may tell you a bit about choices you have to make.