The Tiers of Love

“You can’t ask for what you want unless you know what it is . . . First you have figure out what you want. Second, you have to decide that you deserve it. Third, you have to believe you can get it. And, fourth, you have to have the guts to ask for it.” -Barbara De Angelis

The Third Tier

A Third Tier relationship is practical, it makes sense.  This person may not make you swoon, but he or she may make a good spouse and/or parent.  You share goals, values and interests.  On paper, you were meant to be together.  Read More

The Tier Trifecta

How many loved your moments of glad grace, and loved your beauty with love false or true; but one man loved the pilgrim soul in you, and loved the sorrows of your changing face. -William Butler Yeats, “When you are Old” 


Lifelong happiness, fulfillment, passion, stability, mutual admiration and soul satisfaction wrapped into one describes the rarest of all connections; the Tier Trifecta.

“Sexiness wears thin after a while and beauty fades, but to be married to a man who makes you laugh every day, ah, now that’s a real treat.”

-Joanne Woodward on being married to Paul Newman for 50 years.

The Tier Trifecta must begin with the First Tier.  The other Tiers, unlike the First, can develop over time or come about as the result of commitment, respect and patience.  The bad news is that meeting your First Tier is a toss of the dice, the good news is that with every First Tier relationship, there is the seed planted that can grow into the Tier Trifecta.

Many people who find themselves in a First Tier relationship make the mistake of thinking that, now that they have what they’ve always wanted, they can rest. If it were that simple, every First Tier relationship would be guaranteed to be a Tier Trifecta. However, the necessity of valuing all of the Tiers becomes apparent when you think about how powerful the love is between two First Tiers, yet, the majority of First Tier relationships do not last.

The Tier Anomolies

The Phantom First Tier


When you aren’t sure how the person you love really feels about you, then it is not a genuine First Tier connection.  Instead, what you are experiencing is what is called a Phantom First Tier — “phantom” because the feelings mimic the First Tier experience.  You feel  very connected to that person, like they understand you and share your world view.  However, the key is always in the reciprocity.  If it is not going two ways, then it cannot be First Tier love.

The First Tier Runner

Unlike the Phantom First Tier, the Runner does feel the exact same way you do but is incapable of having or sustaining a relationship.  When a First Tier runs, it’s akin to spitting  in the eye of God or fate.


Not surprisingly, runners often end up in a Second or Third Tier relationship because those relationships are less challenging or threatening to their sense of safety. The Runner may believe that the First Tier experience is not “mature” love because it is not based on realistic things such as common goals or the desire to raise a family.  This belief leads them to run from First Tier passion into the only type of relationship that they think can last, or form the basis of a family.  Few people deal well with uncertainty or loss of control.  Being in First Tier love can be frighteningly unpredictable.  You don’t get to say who or when or how long with a First Tier.

Runners often want to hide parts of themselves from everyone but realize they cannot do this with a First Tier.  In another Tier, they can still give and receive love and comfort with out revealing their whole selves.  

No matter how deep down the runner tries to push his or her feelings for you, those feelings will remain a part of their psyche forever.  This is not to advocate staying stuck or fixated on a person who has left you.  Rather, it’s a small respite from the pain of separation from a First Tier, a reassurance that you did not just imagine it all, you really did love each other that much. 

The First Tier Blocker

Sadly, the First Tier Blocker may have never known — and may never know — First Tier love.  It can pass him or her by without recognition.  There are several reasons that someone becomes a Blocker. The Blocker may have been hurt by a First Tier in the past and has shuttered their heart.  Childhood abandonment may have caused theme to “wall up” to protect themselves. This “Defensive Blocker” may need to engage in intensive therapy in order to become unblocked.  The “Apathetic Blocker” simply lacks the desire for the intensity of a First Tier connection. If this is the case, it is unlikely that the person will ever be open to First Tier Love because they just don’t care enough to give or receive it.   The “Priority Blocker” has never allowed themselves to make passionate encompassing love a priority in his or her life.  They may have been taught that the most important thing is to establish a career, have a family, create the right “image” or look out for “number one.”  In the case of a Priority Blocker, there is a good chance he or she can open themselves up to First Tier love if they have the desire to change their priorities in order to let a First Tier in.

Imbalances within the Tiers 

Within the Second and Third Tiers (First Tier love always being reciprocal), oftentimes two people are not on equal footing.  For example, if you have a great admiration for your partner (Second Tier), but he or she only sees you as a safe, comfortable alternative (Third Tier), there is an imbalance. Imbalances are not necessarily negative; so long as both people are satisfied with their respective roles,  it can work out fine.  A problem arises when someone is placed in a role that they did not bargain for, and wishes to escape from.  Many times women end up being a Third Tier to a man’s Second Tier.  She represents the home, safety, and consistency, without which, the man would not feel safe to enter the world of aggression and competition.  In an opposite scenario, the man may worship the woman, put her on a pedestal, while she sees him as someone to feed her ego and make her feel special.  There is a definite power differential here.  With those in the Second Tier position having some power or sway over the Third Tiered partner.

Tier Shifting

 Over time, the dynamics of a relationship may shift so that it is not obvious which Tier combination two people began in.  For example, it is common for partners who start out as mutual Second Tiers to,  over the years,  develop a deeper love and affection for each other, causing a natural shift into a Third Tier relationship.  There are several things that can cause this shifting.  Maybe they’ve had children or have committed to spend their lives together.  These things can bind two people in ways they may not have expected to be bound because they saw the other as simply an object of desire or the satisfaction of an emotional need.  

An imbalance between Tiers makes a relationship ripe for shifting.  In the same way that a mutual shift may occur, so too can someone’s place change when they are either a second to someone’s third or a third to someone’s second.  Your spouse, who you saw as comfortable and safe, may suddenly surprise you.  They may take on a new challenge and change into someone who you find yourself desiring in a Second Tier sense.  The opposite is also true.  Something that made your partner admire or need you may be lost, causing him or her to see you in a different light.  Instead of the relationship ending, there may just be a shift in the power dynamic. 

Non-Tiers Scenarios

In order for the Tier System to apply, there must first be a relationship in place. The relationship may only last twenty-four hours, or it may last a lifetime, but there must be a consensual understanding between two people that they are relating on some level other then as acquaintances. People have asked if friends can fall under a First, Second or Third Tier category.  While they can, and often do, that’s a different book altogether. However, the following categories do not fall within the purview of the Tier System.

Unrequited Crushes

What about that crush you had on your seventh grade English teacher? You fantasized about him all day in class and dreamt of him every night. There was even that field trip where he sat next to you in the Planetarium. You could have sworn that your knees almost touched, and that he did it on purpose. By eighth grade you forgot all about Mr. Crush when you met Mr. Junior Varsity Soccer Captain. Mr. Crush does not register on the Tier screen because (a) Mr. Crush probably had no idea how you felt, and (b) even if he did , there was no interaction by which you could learn anything about yourself or Mr. Crush in the context of the Tier System. 

Online Affairs 

You’ve been chatting online with a woman who lives in Venezuela for the last year.  You’ve seen photographs of her in every possible light and scenario. You’ve heard all the stories about her family, and she writes you beautiful love poetry. She’s even sent you an actual hard-copy letter that smells like her perfume. You are madly in love, you’ve found your First Tier. The only hitch is that you have to save enough money to fly to Venezuela to meet her. Maybe when you finally do meet Ms. Virtual Reality you will find that she’s your First Tier. However, until then, Ms. Virtual Reality does not get a Tier designation. Everyone can take a few good pictures, copy a pretty poem or seem like your soul mate when they have the benefit of cyberspace between them and their intended beneficiary. Without the benefit of human interaction, you cannot, and should not, place that person in a certain Tier.