The Three Tiers of Love: A Theory

I have had a fear of inadequate love for many years now and I fear it from both sides. By that I mean I am scared of situations where I am not able to fully love someone and those where another’s love for me falls short, at least in my eyes.

In my twenty-one years of living I have had lots of quote-on-quote “things” (millenials, I know you guys know what I mean), four boyfriends, and of those four I would say only two were serious relationships. Still, I don’t know if I have ever been in love.

But I do have a theory about love, which I unconsciously developed in high school, and I thought it would be interesting to throw it out into the world.

My theory about love is that it comes in three tiers.

The first tier is a non-romantic love. The kind you feel towards parents, siblings, and good friends. Platonic, but still powerful and important to cherish.

The second is a romantic love, reserved for your actual significant others. I suppose it could also apply to people that you simply “fall for” and not just boyfriends/girlfriends, but I have witnessed that the usual case is that the love is mutual.

You’re together, a couple, and your love can fall anywhere on this wide and wavering spectrum of romantic love. Your relationship might be in the honeymoon stage or maybe it’s months in and still strong or perhaps it’s a withstanding love that continues to burst at the seams no matter how many months or years pass.

A spectrum, a scale, call it what you will.


This light spectrum illustrates how each tier of love can be a spectrum, as well. It all falls in the same category, but within that category there are different levels on the scale. Credits: Gemology Online

In this little theory, each tier is not a pinpoint, there are different levels. For example, in Tier One, you don’t love your best friend in the same way you love your mom, but you feel platonic love towards both of them. Both fall into the same tier, but are very different.

Now, moving forward, I’m not saying I’ve never loved.

I’ve felt that “bursting at the seams” love twice, and let me tell you, it’s an incredible feeling. It’s nerve-wracking, confusing, empowering, exciting, and blissful all at once.

But some obstacle or roadblock or mental shift always led me to watch it crumble. No love ever satisfied the long term or seemed worth the pain, I suppose. No matter the letters, the adventures taken, the late night talks, the cuddling, the kisses, the comfort, the safety, or the many family members and friends telling us that we were “perfect for each other.”

I’ve always believed, and truly felt, deep down, that there’s got to be something more.

Where’s that love they show me in movies? Where is that love I read about in books? Where is that love that has turned my favorite writers into crazy, poem-fanatic, lovesick freaks? Where is the love that makes you a fool? Where is the love that stands up and challenges you and changes you, for the better, and reminds you why you were meant to be born human? Why you were meant to feel! Why you are lucky! Why you can’t let go. Where is that love?

That love is the third tier.

I’m fully aware that I have been heavily brainwashed by movies, TV, and books and that this entire idea may be naive. But part of me doesn’t care if it’s a social construct or fairytale idea. Some part of me knows (or at least hopes with an undying passion) it exists… it has to. I just don’t see how society could just make something like that up.

It’s those couples you see in pictures that make you choke up for no reason. It’s the storylines played out on your favorite series. It’s Shakespeare’s sonnets. It’s The Notebook. There must be a love, one great form of love, that inspired these beautiful things.


To be honest, this movie messed me up in 10th grade. It is 100% possible that it is responsible for this entire theory. Just kidding… kind of.

This the third tier… being in love.

That is where I have not ventured, but I wish, someday, to go. Even though the idea of it strikes me with just as much pure fear as incessant curiosity.

So, there you have it. The three tiers. Platonic love, romantic love, and being in love.

This is what I have seen and how I have categorized my relationships and those of the people I see around me. I don’t always do it intentionally, but this theory has bounced around in my head for over four years now, so it’s hard to avoid.

Part of me thinks that you only fall in love once or twice in your lifetime. If you’re lucky.

I also honestly think that some people will never fall in love at all. And I worry, sometimes, that that could be me.

But I am in no rush. I believe in whatever the universe has in store for me. I think I have a destiny and if that’s not a part of it, well, that would f*cking suck (and not just because it would be the ultimate inspiration for a writer.)

But life is life and you have to do what it commands when you don’t have a choice.

Just like falling for someone. It might not be your choice or the other person’s, but it happens. You don’t always get to control when or how you fall or who for; when it comes to love you just do your best to survive it and hopefully thrive in it.

I understand not everyone will agree with this theory and that’s fine. I have adjusted it a lot over time, doubt it occasionally to this day, and my own dad doesn’t agree with it.

He told me, “I’ve been in love probably three or four times before meeting your mother. That’s five total.”

I asked him if he could be mistaking some of those “in loves” for just really high hits on the Tier Two scale. He said no, he was definitely in love. So, I digress.

All I’m saying is this is how I have come to see love. This is something I’ve noticed, observed, gathered thoughts on, and believed in. It is not the end all. I’m totally open to the fact that a year from now I could look back on this and realize it’s total BS and there’s no validity to it whatsoever.

Still, I believe it’s worth pondering, because thinking deeply about what love is fuels curiosity, hope, risk, fear, passion, and reflection, all of which are worth feeling.

1 thought on “The Three Tiers of Love: A Theory

  1. I posted a link on your FB to a similar and well-known theory about the different types of love discussed in the Greek language: eros (romantic love), pathos (familial love), and agape – the love that devours. Amazing. Anyway, I actually agree with you. I get where your dad is coming from, but while he may have been very much in love with those other women, they didn’t last. And this doesn’t necessarily mean that their love wasn’t real and all encompassing and that life got in the way for whatever reason. If he were in love with them on a “Tier 3” level, I think what you’re getting at is that this level of love can’t be matched by anyone, and anyone after that love couldn’t be loved nearly as much, because he would still love that first person with part of his heart and not be able to give his whole heart to the next person.

    I definitely loved my first boyfriend, but I was more in love with the idea of being in love than I was with him. He was really into the whole boyfriend thing, too, so it made it really easy. We celebrated all of our monthly anniversaries in some small way, we spent tons of time with his family who were super cute and encouraged us being romantic, all of that cheesy stuff. But he also kind of sucked in so many ways that I could never REALLY love him.

    Hunter and I are so different, we had completely different upbringings and we have totally different philosophies on life. But we also are very similar in enough ways that our differences allow us to challenge each other and have helped both of us grow SO much in the 3 years we have been together. I love him so deeply that I know if we ever didn’t work out, any guy I dated after him would know that I didn’t love them with my entire heart, because Hunter will always have a piece of my heart. And that’s why “Tier 3” is so intense, because even when you fight over every little thing for a week straight or life throws you a curveball like having to be long distance or you think you have differences that you’ll never overcome, it always comes down to whether it would be harder to be apart than to stay together. Life may be a little easier logistically – no more traveling, we might find people who have more shared interests making everyday activities easier – but LIVING would be significantly harder.

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