Over the years, social sciences have tried to create theories that explain what love is and how it happens:
First, there’s the Evolutionary Theory, where it is only by our sexual interest that we are drawn to make a meaningful relationship with others – in other words, primal instincts. Similarly, we have the Psychosexual Theory, where love is simply a result of not acting upon a sexual urge or attraction. In the words of Sigmund Feud (1905-1938), love is simply “aim-inhibited sex.” During his era, and sometimes still in our own, people fall in love, get married, and then have sex. Since it was socially unacceptable, a couple could not have sex before marriage, therefore the feeling of love was created. In Feud’s theory, love would then die after marriage. Lastly, we have my personal favorite – the Biochemical Theory. As the title suggests, science has pointed out that love is simply a chemical reaction from an amphetamine-like chemical that gives us that “bubble, happy” feeling when we fall in love. After looking at all these theories out there, is it safe to say that love is much more than what can be explained on paper, or in a lab? I think so, and I know I am not the only one.
Our views on love as human beings have been simplified down into two forms: Romanticism and Realism. Romantic lovers, such as myself, are characterized by such beliefs as “There is only one true love out there for everyone,” and the classic phrase, “Love conquers all.” We hopeless romantics often surrender our entire being, bear all our emotions, and are carried away by love’s passion. By contrast, people who are more realistic about love will focus more on the qualities of their loved one that will make them a secure life-partner and a responsible spouse and parent. According to a research study on American, Turkish, and Indian individuals from 2002, (“Perceived Attitudes Toward Romanticism”, Medora et al.) women had much more or a romantic view than men, reflecting their higher value and desire for marriage, American women scoring the highest.
J.R. Sternberg came up with a theory that is widely used today to explain the process of love, known as the “Triangular Theory of Love.” In this triangle, there are three points:
1. Intimacy – the friendship, compatibility, respect and affection component of love.
2. Passion – the physical attraction and longing for your partner.
3. Commitment – the promise to remain attached and faithful to your partner.
The presence or absence of these three elements creates various types of love experienced.
The first type is the most obvious – non-love. This is when all three elements are missing. What is known as “liking” another person consists of simply the intimacy, the friendship aspect. Similarly, “infatuation” consists of only passion. An “empty love” is what occurs when there is no intimacy or passion in a relationship, yet commitment still is there. We often see this case in people who consider divorce, yet stay together simply because of a promise they made on the day they married, or for the sake of their children. The exact opposite is “romantic love,” where there is no commitment, but the passion and intimacy is very present. “Compassionate love” is a result of a relationship that lacks the passion aspect, while “fatuous love” lacks the intimacy. (Did I lose you yet?) Lastly, we have “consummate love,” which Sternberg refers fondly to as “the ultimate, all consuming love.” As you may have guessed, this type of love contains all three elements of love, and ensures that your relationship will be meaningful and life-long.
Love is one of life’s greatest mysteries, and arguably, perhaps one of life’s greatest gifts. No matter how hard we try to come up with explanations or theories for it, love can never be fully understood. When it happens, you know it – it’s so much more than just a feeling, and words really can’t describe it well enough to match what we feel. We all experience it one way or another, and we all have our own unique way of expressing it. To know more about relationships and how they work can help us understand our own, and make choices that improve our relationships with others. I cannot tell you what type of love you should have with someone. That is solely your decision. But if there are elements of your “love triangle” that are missing, and you want to fill them in, you now have a place to start.