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The Truth About Love

I was born a romantic. I blame a wandering childhood and too many Disney movies. But life has its way of polishing off the soft edges and I am a lot more sceptical about such things than I used to be. It’s a confusing thing to be raised on fairytales and romantic comedies where the hero rides in on a stallion and saves the (apparently defenseless) girl from the tower, to then grow up and realize that you are more than capable, and indeed should, save yourself or (even better) keep your wits about you so you don’t end up trapped in the tower in the first place. If you do tend to fall hard and fast, and without paying too much heed to common sense, it’s a risky business indeed. Prince Charming could have more than one horse, so to speak, a bucketload of commitment issues and ride off into the sunset leaving you heartbroken and questioning your own stupidity over a large wine with some very supportive girlfriends. Such is the beautiful danger of love.

If we could find out the formula for love, what makes it tick, maybe it would be less risky. Since the beginning of time, humans have been trying to understand love, in all its forms and with all of its facets and complexities. Greek Philosophers categorized it into seven types, with ‘Eros’ (the kind of love that is more like fireworks than a slow burning candle) being the one thought to be the most dangerous (which of course is why it is so alluring). They even went so far as to warn against it. Of all the explanations of love (and there are many), the one I find makes sense of this most complex of emotions is the ‘Triangular Theory of Love’, developed by Psychologist Robert J Sternberg. In his theory, Sternberg lists three main components (passion, intimacy and commitment) to categorize love.

Here are Sternbergs' seven types of love:

  1. Consummate Love: When all three components (passion, love and intimacy) are present, even if those components aren’t in equal measure. The ideal love that has the most longevity, and the holy grail when it comes to relationships.

  2. Passion: Tends be a bit like Eros, fast and furious, but without commitment and intimacy. This kind of love burns out quickly.

  3. Liking (Intimacy):A feeling of closeness with someone, but without passion or commitment, its more likely to survive as a friendship alone.

  4. Empty Love (Commitment):Without passion or intimacy, commitment is empty and often the stage at the end of a marriage, where couples will stay together for family or financial reasons.

  5. Fatuous Love (Commitment and Passion):When the relationship is missing a deeper connection between two people who have for whatever reason committed to each other regardless, and thus becomes unsustainable over time.

  6. Romantic Love (Passion and Intimacy):When people connect both physically and emotionally but haven’t committed to the long game. This can be the early, heady days of love, or the relationship with the commitment phobic who runs for hills at the first signs of something more concrete

  7. Companionate Love (Intimacy + Commitment) : This is a relationship that is comfortable, but lacks the excitement brought by passion. This can sometimes be where love ends up after many years, and may not necessarily signify the end of a relationship.

Each of the three components are necessary for a healthy and long lasting relationship. If we are missing just one element, the relationship will become unbalanced and doomed to fail, at least in the romantic sense. So, if we know what constitutes a good healthy relationship, then we should have no problems maintaining one, right? Oh, if only things were that black and white. Not only is love constructed of different elements, but we also communicate it in different ways. When two people in a relationship communicate love and affection differently, things can go awry. Enter the famous Five Love Languages, championed by author Gary Chapman:

  1. Gifts (flowers, making a fuss of birthdays etc)

  2. Words Of Affirmation (Praise and Verbal Appreciation)

  3. Acts of Service (E.g. cooking dinner, bringing your partner a coffee in bed)

  4. Quality Time : Talking an listening, activates together

  5. Physical Touch: Physical affection and sexual intimacy

Chapman suggests we each have a love language, and problems transpire when we speak a different love language to that of our partner. For example, a spouse may feel unappreciated because his/her partner doesn’t give gifts, whereas her other half shows love by acts of service and can’t understand the problem. In effect, we miss each other. To find the other persons love language, Chapman suggests watching what they do for the other person as a clue. If your partner regularly suggests spending quality time together, for example, that is probably their love language. So if we learn what constitutes a healthy relationship, and how to communicate and express love to our significant other so that they hear and understand, it should be easy, right? Nope. Because, to complicate things further, every person brings with them the scars and experiences of what came before: past relationships, childhood trauma and baggage. Love is not, and never was supposed to be easy. And that’s ok, because the best things in life aren’t. Love survives regardless because somewhere in between all of this research, beneath the mundane and the ordinary, beyond all the burns of whatever life has dealt us, there is still magic, fireworks, soul mates and true love. Despite everything, I remain a (sceptical) romantic.

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