Components of Love

Color wheel Eros Storge Philia

Today 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 John Allan 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. This love 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.

Jock Sturges – Mother and Child – from

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 the baby touches the 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 represent bonds between individuals, 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 several 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 a “marriage of reason” (or even an arranged one), while ludic Storge underlies stable adulterous relations.

Another important type of love described by Lee is Mania, named after 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).
Plato, Symposium.

Previously published on Agapeta, 2015/11/16.

2 thoughts on “Components of Love

  1. Nice overview.
    I think you set up the Eros explanation well, but perhaps left too understated a summary:
    “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,”
    It’s my view that the very dynamic potential of Eros has its origin in differentials between people who are markedly distinct from each other in the ways you’ve mentioned and others. In studying electricity it occurred to me that Eros mapped nicely onto voltage, an expression of ‘power’ given by uneven potentialities. It isn’t ‘often’ assymetrical, it is by definition, fundamentally so.

    There can of course be two-way differentials, with the most obvious example in an illicit relationship or desired relationship between an adult and a child being the child’s access to wielding the brute force of censure and punishment by making an accusation that often need not be evidenced.

    “Some mothers have felt sexual arousal while breastfeeding their baby.”
    The widespread cultural insanity in which we find ourselves so shames this physiologically derived sexual pleasure that many women feel guilt for it and/or are too ashamed to breathe a word of it. There are some lovely, frank discussions about this on the internet now, including some courageous videos that eschew the ‘confession’ framework altogether. By discarding the apologetic attitude they’re forging a new line of moral coding that may allow eventual space to embrace this reality instead of denying it or punishing it.
    “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.” Quite so. There’s a well illustrated article on this at the Art of Manliness.
    You’ve referenced C.S.Lewis, and it’s worth bringing in one of his sources, the scientist and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg. See

    Note that Swedenborg attributes the cause of Storge to the ‘innocence of infancy’ which he defined in ‘The Delights of Wisdom Pertaining to Conjugial Love’ number 395.
    He writes, “[Infants] have innocence, because they do not think from any interior principle … they have no prudence originating in selfhood, nor any deliberate purpose; … They are free from selfhood acquired from self-love and the love of the world; they do not attribute any thing to themselves … they have no care about food and raiment, or about the future; they do not look to the world, … they suffer themselves to be guided, … This is the innocence of infancy, which is the cause of the love called storge.” (Seems like a 17th century enlightenment era scientist might have agreed that the cause of paedophilia is ‘sexy children’. … And of course I’m messing with the Greek here.)
    In any case it’s worth considering how Lewis expands the idea of Storge well beyond parents and offspring, and how Swedenborg’s description of it (and its extreme examples in the cases of ‘evil men’ and ‘savage beasts’) revolves around the idea of Storge as an extension of the love of the self — as seen in the offspring or others. Having heard a handful of first-hand accounts of how narcotraficante bosses raise their sons, it isn’t hard for me to imagine that Swedenborg was on to something.
    Finally, in cases where the expected effects of the Westermarck hypothesis fail to subdue or remove erotic desire for offspring, this combination of the naturally occurring dynamic differential (origin of Eros) and the willingness to submit/learn/suffer/defer (origin of Storge) can generate a pretty intoxicating/enthusiastic mix of feelings in the direction of incest or adult-child sexual bonding in general.

    I think you’ve been partly confused about this one. You write, “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.”
    Perhaps you will say that the evidence to the contrary (like the Art of Manliness article on Buddies depicting both Storge and Philia) is simply evidence of mixing of loves, but I don’t agree. I say they both call for expression in terms of physical intimacy. If you reconsider your last statement in this you may see that it is likely Philia’s bodily expressions have simply been so thoroughly attacked and stigmatized that we have come to apply a rigid distortion of Agape principles to it in our behavior and behavioral expectations.

    1. Thank you for your long and informative comment. Despite its relative length, my post is concise, its ideas are presented in a rather concentrated form.
      The ancient Greeks were aware of the dual powers at work in an asymmetrical man-boy love relation. The man had power and authority, he could abuse the boy; on the other hand, the boy had beauty and seduction, he could manipulate the man.
      I have not read the mystic Swedenborg, but he seems to see the source of Storge at another level than me, as I see it evolving from the mammalian care of the young.
      In my view, Philia is group bonding. In the case of companionship and “buddies” (as in the page you linked to), there is a personal relation, so in my view it is a mixed affection involving some degree of Storge.

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