We tend to think about our positive relationships in one of two ways, either love or friendship. By essentializing our relationships we may feel closer to other humans but
lose some of the gradations that exist within relationships. It’s like only having a red crayon and a blue crayon to color with; excellent for coloring big bold colors, but you lose the rainbow that exists between those colors that show subtle differences. The Greeks originally identified six different love styles to capture the different shades of relationships, which was then brought to psychology by John Lee as a method to better understand interpersonal relationships. The six types of love that have been identified are Eros, Ludus, Storge, Pragma, Mania, and Agape.
I’d like to first discuss Mania and Pragma, two conflicting love types, and save the other love types for another blog (for reference though, Storge love is akin to my blog post on The Psychology of Likability). As a therapist I find the different love styles as a helpful tool for people who are struggling with relationships with others. In my work with clients when people are not able to identify the different shades of an emotion, and love in particular, it can be difficult to take a step back and analyze the nature of the relationship. The different types of love help provide a foundation for the self-examination of needs and wants in relationships, and can help develop realistic expectations or modifications in communication that can make relationships more successful.
I see the mania love style most frequently in people who have a history of bad relationships, who have gotten to a point where any sign of affection must mean love. In the course of falling for someone and being with them, s/he does not recognize how s/he loves the person back and how this may be received. The mania style of love (both friendship and romantic) can be off putting to their friends/partners, and can set the client up for unhealthy relationship where the client’s need for love allows them to be taken advantage of. This type of client is typically characterized by low self-esteem and will put the needs of the relationship ahead of their own needs. The mania love style can be characterized by a desperation, i.e. need for the relationship, and less about the person who the client is in a relationship with. An upside as a partner to a manic lover, is the intensity of love, but this is often coupled with jealousy, possessiveness, and instability. If left to their own devices partners of these clients may burn out, unable to sustain the intensity of the relationship, and at the termination of the relationship the client may react severely and will often seek out and happen into another relationship beginning the cycle over.
On the other end of the spectrum are those with pragma love style. I tend to find this love style more in men, who historically have difficulty making an emotional connection, seeking to find love logically. These clients will have a checklist of things they want in a partner, which sounds like a reasonable approach, except for often this shopping lists of traits will be near impossible for any one partner to fit adequately. Due to no one completely fitting the list of needs, a person with this love style will evaluate the cost and rewards of the relationship, taking an orderly approach to its evaluation before engaging in a relationship. These clients also frequently approach the relationship like a business partnership; they believe each party should be working together to reach a common goal, versus enjoying each other’s company for the sake of the relationship. The pragma type of loves strength lies in practicality and realism, but it’s drawbacks are a lack of demonstrated affection and emotionality. In the pragma lovers mind if s/he isn’t commenting on the relationship that means that everything is going well, which her/his partners may find frustrating and not meeting their needs, with the partner often leaving due to not feeling a deeper connection to the pragma partner.
As writers, we can see how these two love styles can be contradictory, which we should know means grist for the writing mill. As was noted in a previous blog post one of people’s needs is for belonging and by recognizing what type of love or relationship our characters need to engage in to feel like they belong, we can then understand their relationships with other characters. Some questions we may ask ourselves: does our character need to be in a relationship to make sense of her/his self (Mania)?; is our character stand off-ish because she he approaches relationships like a business transaction (Pragma)?; does our character come into conflict with another character because that character needs our other character more than s/he needs him/her (Mania pursuing Pragma)?
Understanding the love types can help us as writers answer the question, why does a character interact with other characters in a certain way, and what does a character want from others? Just as in our real lives, we don’t randomly love others, there is a reason that love occurs (even if it’s about love for the sake of love), by adding a reason behind the how and why our characters love we permit ourselves to understand our characters better. It also gives order to their relationships; most characters wouldn’t hop love styles, going from Mania to Pragma, without a significant catalyst or some type of growth on their part. Recognizing how our characters love will help add another layer of detail to our writing giving our characters that one more way to reach out and connect with our readers.
Writing Prompt: Write a short story about two characters interacting with different love styles. What is one characters approach and the others response? How do they breech their different needs? Do they?