There are as many ways to define love as there are people who love. For some, it’s an intense and deep affection for someone, which can range from a romantic partner to a friend or even a pet. Others see love as a fundamental human emotion, akin to happiness or anger. And still others posit that it’s not an emotion at all, but more of a physiological motivation.
Regardless of how we might define it, the idea that love can transform us is an essential part of our human experience. Love is what makes us willing to put ourselves in danger, or make sacrifices for those we care about. It’s what gives our lives meaning and allows us to persevere through the difficult times. It’s the reason we get up in the morning, why we work so hard to take care of our loved ones, and why we spend our free time catching up with our friends. It’s the reason we share T-shirts and playlists and appetizers. It’s the reason we stay with our spouses when they have a health crisis or why we buy our kids gifts even though we know they will probably forget them in a few weeks. It’s the reason we play a song over and over again or rewatch a movie for the hundredth time. And it’s the reason we feel so much joy and relief when we finally find the person who is our one true match, and then feel so crushed when they break our hearts.
While some scientists and psychologists argue that love isn’t a real emotion at all, others think it is a fundamental human drive that can be understood in the same way as other primary emotions like hunger or anger. In fact, some researchers have classified love as a secondary emotion that stems from a combination of primary emotions.
Psychologist Robert Sternberg has created a theory of different types of love, which he believes are rooted in three domains: physical, emotional, and spiritual. He calls these three types of love “love as union, love as robust concern, and love as valuing.”
Sternberg believes that when we fall in love, it corresponds with the release of certain brain chemicals. These chemicals include dopamine and oxytocin, which promote bonding. He says that oxytocin also helps the brain distinguish between “romantic” and “familial” love.
Sternberg believes that our experiences in childhood shape what kind of love we seek later in life. He argues that when we look for a partner, we often create an unconscious list of characteristics that they need to possess in order to satisfy our feelings of passion and intimacy. However, he concedes that the cultural notion of happily ever after may be unrealistic. This doesn’t mean that we should give up on the search for love, but that we should recognize that it isn’t easy to find and maintain. It’s a long process that requires patience and trust.