All human beings give and receive affection throughout their lives, although the forms of this affection can vary greatly. While we have feelings like fondness, caring, and love for our family and friends, other relationships might elicit other feelings. Forms of affection also change as we develop, sometimes making it difficult to interpret how other people feel about us or how we should respond to affection in different contexts.

Familial Affection

Most of us are lucky enough to have experienced some form of affection from our family members and returned that love and affection in kind. This is an important part of human development and provides numerous health benefits to both the receiver and the giver of the affection, according to professor of health and family communication at Arizona State University, Kory Floyd. People who experience affection from their parents are also more likely to show affection as adults and raise their own healthy, affectionate children.

Platonic Affection

Named after the philosopher Plato, platonic affection is the type of friendly, nonsexual affection we have with our friends, teachers and most other people in our lives. Unfortunately, with some people, it is not always clear whether their affection is platonic or romantic, and sometimes your own expressions of affection may be misinterpreted. While almost all human relationships have some level of intimacy and commitment, passion and physical attraction are not elements of pure platonic love and help differentiate platonic affection from romantic affection.

Romantic Affection

Romantic affection is usually identified by feelings of passion, physical attraction and a more intense longing than simply missing someone's company. Romantic affection also involves many other feelings that evolve as we mature, like increased emotional intimacy and a more deliberate long-term commitment. According to psychologist Jennifer Connolly and her colleagues in The Journal of Youth and Adolescence article, "Conceptions of Cross-Sex Friendships and Romantic Relationships in Early Adolescence," romantic intimacy and commitment increase with age and experience.

Agape: Universal Affection

Often considered the most spiritual form of affection, agape is defined by its selflessness and altruism. People who feel and express agape generally gain more pleasure from giving than receiving and place the other person's needs and desires above their own. One way to express agape is through empathic listening, because it requires that you withhold judgement about what the other person is saying and unconditionally accept and respect that person. This can be especially difficult when someone is talking about something disturbing, making empathic listening one of the most profound ways to express affection for other people.