rollo may


The Four Kinds of Love

    Different kinds of love develop from the turnings at the extremes of approach and separation at different social distances. Following classical traditions, Rollo May distinguishes four kinds of love: “One is sex, or what we call lust, libido. The second is Eros, the drive of love to procreate or create—the urge, as the Greeks put it, toward higher forms of being and relationship. A third is Philia, or friendship, brotherly love. The fourth is Agape or Caritas as the Latin calls it, the love which is devoted to the welfare of the other, the prototype of which is the love of God for man.”9
    We must add to this that each of the four kinds of love moves with the polar dynamics of approach and separation. In each kind of love, the frequencies of approach-separation play out in episodes as brief as a tremor, to a season of joy or woe, to a lifetime of parental or conjugal commitment. However, in each love the contents are different. Though all four social distances participate, each love uses sensation differently, and emphasizes different sense organizations, and each love differs in the way it focuses attention, in how the intention behind it shapes events – and on what we remember of it afterward. And each love has its own neural circuitry shaping how the body moves, how the autonomic and endocrine systems engage with consciousness, how we seek out or avoid others, and with which senses out front the love achieves its turning points.


eros and psyche  The dynamics are clearest and closest to the body in sexual love, where intercourse, conception and the birth of the child are the manifest outcome of the encounter. Sexual love requires merging during closest approach. The lovers exchange bodily secretions. They communicate energetic rhythms in both directions. And they exchange information: tenderness, passion, consideration, mastery, revulsion, etc.
    Successful conception depends on more than biology. Broader kinds of sexual compatibility and receptivity come into play. They too ride upon the rhythms of approach and separation. In the intimate distances, using the close-up senses, we enjoy smell and taste compatibility. Bonding is tightened by it. All kinds of sexual attractions and repulsions go on that shift the chemical content of the vaginal and seminal fluids.
    In all transactions, a dance goes on. The chemical senses vibrate with approach and separation rhythms of their own down to the molecular scale. Signal molecules seek and enter receptor sites in each other’s body. They disperse from their sources. They aggregate in the somatic being of the other. In many interactions, their rhythms are entrained.
    Maybe the lovers meet in the morning, spent the day together, and part at night. They share a meal, walk together, sing and dance. Approach and separation work in many frequency ranges simultaneously.10


    Where sexual love manifestly uses the approach and separation rhythms to transfer body secretions in the closest sensory circle, Eros is less wound up in physical intimacy. It lives and breathes in the province of emotion. Physical approach and separation is carried by emotional changes. Like sex, Eros uses all the senses to move through all four social distances, but the interest centers in Hall’s personal distance range. Here what counts most is voice timbre, glow of the skin, close eye contact, glances met and averted, small touches full of feeling, caresses, holding hands, listening, and making conversation.
chagall lovers  Eros seeks an exclusive and unique connection with a particular beloved. Because of this desired intimacy, we want to get to know the other, but a knowing based more on mimesis, empathy and emotion than on intellect. In Plato’s Symposium, Diatoma the Priestess explains that the defining characteristic of Eros is the completion of the self in the other. Two incomplete half-souls come together into a whole soul.     The philosopher Robert Nozick describes this sensibility very well in his essay “Love’s Bond”. He writes, “The intention in love is to form a we and to identify with it as an extended self, to identify one’s fortunes in large part with its fortunes.”11
    Like sexual lovers, erotic lovers enter each other’s being through rhythmic sharing and modulation and find marvels of attraction and mutuality there. When there is mutual engagement in Eros the approach and separation is not only desired, it carries meaning: the bond says I am wanted, I belong, and I have my place in another’s heart. Lovers even believe they are thinking the same thoughts at the same time.12
    But Denis de Rougement, a mid 20th century French Catholic thinker, argued that romantic love actually seeks opposition and repul-ion because it cannot stand its own unremitting intensity. He argued that “the erotic process introduces into life an element foreign to the systole and diastole of sexual attraction – a desire that never relapses, that nothing can satisfy, that even rejects and flees the temptation to obtain its fulfillment in the world…”13  Eros relieves itself from its own relentless intimacy by creating crises.
De Rougemont only experiences union and completion in God’s unconditional love. It takes Divine fiat to deliver us from the maelstrom of human love. Only with its help can we hold on to an ideal family life, resistant to change, based on fidelity, balance, obedience and wholesome caring.

    “A fidelity maintained in the Name of what does not change as we change will gradually disclose some of its mystery: beyond tragedy another happiness waits. A happiness resembling the old, but no longer belonging to the form of the world, for this new happiness trans-forms the world.”14




     Philia, the camaraderie that draws group members together in shared beliefs, rides on different sensory pathways than sex or Eros (again with overlap) but it too is a kind of love, sometimes a battlefield love.15
     Because Philia is inclusive of groups, its sensory range, in Hall’s social space, takes up a room, a town square, a gathering place, a dining table. Its focus is on the shared social space where groups convene and people gesticulate and speak. Plato’s Symposium, the rather wild dinner and wine-fest of philosophers, was bound together by Philia.  
    In Philia the approaches and separations are multiple and simultaneous. It takes a different kind of attending to keep up with it. However, Philia does not achieve the relaxation of tensions that Rollo May hoped for because the rhythms of approach and separation never stop driving it. It too has its turbulence and turning points. Factions form and dissolve, conflicting loyalties and enmities build up. Some people are accepted, others rejected. “In-groups” divide themselves from “out-groups.” In every heart-to-heart revelation, the possibility of a slander arises. Philia, from within its camaraderie, can build a world of “us and thems.”    
     Even within the “us”, conflicting approach and separation rhythms form as coalitions come together and dissolve and group members jostle for places. Each kind of love has its own kind of hate, every attraction its revulsion.   



    Agape is charitable love, unconditional acceptance, a love that gives without thought of receiving. In this sense, it is a love that transcends personality. Ruysbroek wrote, “When love has carried us above and beyond al
st theresal things, above the light, into the Divine Dark, there we are wrought and transformed by the Eternal Word…”16   
is the only love that can be fully realized in the cosmic expanses. But Agape can also express in the closest physical intimacy; Philia cannot. Christian saints washed leper’s sores. In crossing all distances and excluding no persons, Agape, according to its adherents, transcends the contradictions in nature, and so gives the lover access to eternity.    
    But even the great saints suffered reverses after their beatific enlightenment experiences. St. Francis had repeated spiritual crises. St. John of the Cross, the great Spanish mystic, wrote of his own experience in The Dark Night of the Soul:“That which this anxious soul feels most deeply is the conviction that God has abandoned it, of which it has no doubt; that He has cast it away into darkness as an abominable thing… All this and more the soul feels now, for a terrible apprehension has come upon it that thus it will be with it forever.”17