You may be surprised to know that in Greek, there are actually four words that all mean love.
Similar to how in English we refer to love in different ways (love, passion, affection, adoration, etc.), Greek does so as well.
The four most common words for “love” in Greek are philia, storge, agape, and eros.
One of these words specifically, philia, refers to love as “friendship love,” what we would call “brotherly love.”
The kind of love that is purely platonic, and void of any passion or sexual or emotional romance.
The philosopher Aristotle defined the concept of brotherly love, or philia, in many of his works.
In books VIII and IX of his Nicomachean Ethics, he gave a few examples of brotherly love: lifelong friends, fellow voyagers, parents and children, members of the same religion or tribe, business contacts, to name a few.
With all the war and contention in today’s world, you may think brotherly love is hard to find.
However, it’s all around us, especially in our own communities and circles of friends.
While Aristotle referred to it as philia, we may refer to brotherly love in terms of affection, friendship, a “brother from another mother,” soul sisters, or even kindred spirits.
No matter which term you use, the basis of philia is that it’s a kind of love that is wholly platonic.
There is no romantic attraction or lust whatsoever.
How do you know if it’s true philia?
There are a few key characteristics of brotherly love that set it apart from other kinds of love. True friendship is authentic, genuine, loyal, delightful, and selfless.
Authenticity in brotherly love
The first quality, authenticity, is key to determining whether a friendship can be characterized as philia.
The opposite of authenticity in a friendship would be ill intent.
For example, if someone befriends another because that person can be beneficial for their own personal gain, that is not an authentic friend.
If they truly want to be your friend, they will never ask anything of you or use you for who you know or what you have.
If you have a friend who only wants to hang out with you when you are going to an exclusive event or when you are with other important people who may help to further their career or personal interests, they are not authentic because they are not forthcoming in their intent.
An authentic friend who truly loves you as a friend is happy to spend time with you anytime, anywhere, no matter who will (or won’t) be there.
What it means to be a genuine friend
Similar to authenticity, genuity is crucial to a true friendship. Being genuine means that your friend means what they say and says what they mean.
They are earnest and straightforward. There is no guile or deceit in their actions and words.
For example, if a friend seems like they’re trying to manipulate you, that is not genuine. And that is not a true friend.
If they try to catch you in a lie or gaslight you to make you feel like you are in the wrong, this person does not have your best interest at heart.
A genuine friend, like an authentic friend, is just happy to be your friend.
A friendship with a genuine person is healthy, honest, and easy.
There is no drama, and you know they are always going to behave in a consistent manner because they have the confidence to always be themselves.
Loyalty in brotherly love or philia
Loyalty is one of the highest forms of love because it requires total fidelity to the other person.
While many think loyalty is reserved for more romantic relationships, loyalty is actually a major part of philia or true friendship.
You know you have a loyal friend when they speak highly of you even if you aren’t in the room.
When they defend you behind your back and give you the benefit of the doubt, they are showing loyalty.
Loyalty also shows itself in the way they support you through conflicts or hard times.
To be loyal means being there, no matter what, and no matter what judgments may come from supporting you.
Now, of course, you don’t want someone who is blindly loyal and cannot think for themselves, but you do want a friend who will be right there with you, saying, “I’ve got your back. We’ll get through this together.”
They prioritize your friendship over any other outside influence, and you can always count on them to maintain confidentiality and respect your privacy.
It can be tempting to gossip, especially when other friends don’t know the full story like you might but being loyal means keeping your mouth shut when it matters most. That is philia because that is true friendship.
True friendship is a delight
Delight comes from one of the kinds of true friendship Aristotle identified – friendships of pleasure.
These friendships are based on pure delight in the company of others.
Think of friends who you can just relax and have fun with no matter what else is going on in your lives.
Who doesn’t want that in a true, brotherly love kind of friendship? Delight is easy to see in a relationship when you have a shared hobby you both enjoy.
If you are looking for more delight in your friendships, consider joining a local sports league or a Facebook group for others in your community who are interested in the same thing as you.
Whether it’s pickleball or volleyball, shopping, antiquing, or cooking new recipes, you’re bound to find someone with whom you can delight in shared interests.
Selflessness in true friendship
Perhaps, above all the qualities I’ve listed, selflessness may just be the most important quality in true friendship.
Aristotle noted that friendships that embody philia are those where each friend enjoys the other’s character and is motivated to care for the other person.
We’re sure as you’re reading this you have a certain friend coming to mind.
The friend who always checks in and reaches out just to tell you that you’ve been on their mind. Stay close to these kinds of people!
If someone in your life is motivated to care for you and to make sure that your well-being is prioritized, they are definitely someone you can count on as a true friend.
You may think that only a romantic partner, or even a parent or immediate family member, would be the only one who can show selflessness towards you, but friends can do this too. Especially true friends.
Selflessness in a true friendship may look like bringing you groceries when you’re sick, giving you a ride to the airport, mailing you a card just because, or doing you a favor without expecting anything in return.
Now that you’ve read through some of the main characteristics of true friendship, what other qualities come to mind?