What Is Love

Many people “in love” are addicted to it, just as people are addicted to alcohol, tobacco or other drugs. Love is difficult and requires work and practice. The number of definitions is almost endless. Poets, novelists, and theologians have struggled to define love, as have psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, family scientists, and journalists. Think about how you define love and how you know when you are “in love”.

Definitions on Love

  • In love, the paradox occurs that two beings become one yet remain two.     -Erich Fromm, Psychiatrist
  • Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.
    -Ursula K. Le Guin, Novelist
  • He, who knows nothing, loves nothing…But he who understands also loves, notices, sees…The greater the love, because of the more knowledge inherent in a thing.   -Paracelsus, Philosopher
  • Being in Love isn’t ever really loved, it’s just wanting. And it isn’t good. It’s all aching and misery.
    -James Leo Herlihy, Novelist
  • Love is the history of a woman’s life; it is an episode in man’s life.      -Madame De Stael, Novelist
  • Love is a state of perpetual anaesthesia.   -H. L. Mencken, Journalist
  • When the satisfaction or the security of another person becomes as significant to one as is one’s own security, and then the state of love exists.   -Harry Stack Sullivan, Psychiatrist

Dimensions of Love

The three dimensions of the love triangle (developed by Robert Sternberg) are

  • Commitment (the cognitive component)
  • Intimacy (the emotional component) and
  • Passion (the motivational component)
  1. Commitment: It is a cognitive attachment to another person. It also develops over time, beginning slowly and increasing at a faster rate if the relationship is positive. If the relationship fails, commitment disappears. People express commitment when they move their relationship to a more advanced stage (from dating to engagement, from engagement to marriage), by being faithful or by staying in the relationship during difficult times.
  2. Intimacy: It involves sharing feelings and providing emotional support. It usually involves high levels of self-disclosures, the sharing of personal information not ordinarily revealed because of the risk involved. Intimacy gradually increases as closeness grows and deepens as a relationship matures. Few couples are likely to share everything with each other. Human beings need some private space, a bit of their world that is closed to everyone else. But in a mature intimate relationship, most areas are open for discussion and sharing. By opening up, by earning each other’s trust and becoming vulnerable to each other, people can build a strong emotional bond of intimacy.
  3. Passion: It is usually expressed by touching, kissing, and being affectionate, which is linked to physiological arousal; it is also expressed through sexual intercourse. Due to its intensity, passion develops quickly but can also fade quickly. Passion is like an addiction; when it ends, a person can experience withdrawal symptoms such as irritability and depression.                

Combining these three dimensions of love in various ways, Sternberg identified eight types of love relationships: non-love, liking, infatuation, empty love, romantic love, fatuous love, companionate love, and consummate love.

  • Non-love occurs when there is no commitment, intimacy or passion.
  • Liking begins when there is just intimacy, but no passion or commitment.
  • When there is just passion, infatuation occurs.
  • Empty love involves commitment, but no passion or intimacy.
  • Romantic love has both intimacy and passion, but it is lacking in commitment.
  • Fatuous love occurs when a person is committed based on passion but has not had the time to develop true intimacy. (For example, a couple falls in love and after seeing each other only on weekends for two months get married).
  • Companionate love is more characteristics of couples who have been married for years. They have both commitment and intimacy, but they lack the passion they had when they were first married.
  • Finally, Consummate love is complete love, containing all three dimensions. it is the goal of most couples.              

Most people have experienced several of these types of love and can recognize that each of them feels rather different. Even within one relationship, it is possible to experience two or more types of love over time. A couple, for example, may start out as close friends (liking) and then two years later become sexually involved a year later they may decide to live together.

The Styles of Love            

John Lee (1988) described six love styles. Similar to a colour wheel, there are three primary love styles (Eros, Ludus and Storage) and three secondary styles (Pragma, Mania and Agape). Each style has a unique character.

Primary Love Styles

  • Eros is romantic and passionate love, with an emphasis on sensuality.
  • Ludus is courtly love, love as a game with little depth or commitment.
  • Storge (pronounced “STOR-gay”) is based on friendship and on growing together.            

The combination of two primary styles, like a chemical reaction, creates the three secondary styles.

Secondary Love Styles

  • Pragma, a combination of Ludus and Storge, produces a practical lover who may “shop around” for a potential partner.
  • Mania, a combination of Eros and Ludus, creates an erotic and game-playing relationship.
  • Agape (pronounced “A-GA-pay”) combines Eros and Storage and results in an intense and committed relationship that is altruistic and caring.         

To validate Lee’s approach, researchers found that

  • People who describe themselves as being religious were more oriented toward friendships (Storge), were practical (Pragma), altruistic (Agape), and not inclined to game playing (Ludus).
  • People who described themselves as having high self-esteem were more romantic (Eros); those with low self-esteem were more likely to be game-players (Mania).
  • Looking at male and female (gender) differences, males tended to be Erotic (Eros) and game playing (Ludus),
  • Whereas females tended to focus on friendship (Storge), practical concerns (Pragma), and altruism (Agape).         

According to Hendrick and Hendrick (1986, 1989), the six love styles can also be related to sexual attitudes and behaviours.

  • Eros lovers are passionate and seek sex as a peak experience. They are not very self-disclosing but encourage self-disclosure in others that is, they encourage others to reveal personal feelings, experiences, hopes and disappointment.
  • Agape lovers are similar to Eros lovers, but they see sex as more functional, something to be enjoyed, like other aspects of life.
  • Ludus lovers are game-playing and casual about sex, not very disclosing, uninhibited sexually, and easily bored.
  • Storage lovers are idealistic about sex, encourage disclosures in others and are easily bored.
  • Manic lovers are also somewhat idealistic about sex and are not easily bored.            

It is unclear whether one’s love style is constant like personality traits, or whether it varies depending on the kind of relationship style a couple develops.