What is Love?

By Samantha Wang 21’

Last month, Rev. Talcott gave a chapel talk to the whole St. Mark’s community about relationships between individuals. Rev. Talcott introduced two ways of how we connect with others: the I-Thou and I-It relationship. These relationship models are proposed by Martin Buber, an Austrian born Jewish philosopher. In the I-Thou encounter, we relate to each other as authentic beings, without judgment, qualification, or objectification. We are open-minded and truthful towards each other, and our authentic heart and mind make this relationship truly valuable. The I-It encounter, however, is the opposite, in which one would treat another person as an object, which completely deviates from our good morals. This kind of profit-driven relationship is usually harmful and transient. The founder of this idea, Martin Buber, once stated that “I believe that the key to creating society that is nourishing, empowering and healing for everyone lies in how we relate to one another.” This displays Buber’s love and hope for humanity and society, where people are bonded together through the I-Thou relationship.

We just celebrated Valentine’s Day. All the high school romance around us—— the love like pure space filled with bright lights, or the bud’s unveiled scent in the early spring—— is so unrequited and desirable. As you are wondering how you could better implement the positive and loving I-Thou relationships in your daily lives with our families, lovers, and friends, the following two models can help you see your love more clearly and rationally. These models introduce two mainstream psychological theories and expand on the composition and mechanism of love from the emotional and physiological perspective.

  1. The Triangular Theory of Love (see picture below)

According to Robert Sternberg, a professor from the Psychology department at Yale University, love consists of three components: passion, intimacy, and commitment. Among these elements, passion is the emotional component of love, which refers to an emotional fascination. This mainly includes deep emotions and sexual desire. Intimacy is the motive of love, referring to the psychological feeling of “like”. It mainly includes the senses of connection, tightness, and love. Commitment is the cognitive component of love that refers to verbal or imaginative expectations. Commitment is also crucial for an individual in whether or not to establish a long-term relationship with another person. The combination of these three components constitutes eight types of love, ranging from Non-Love to Consummate Love.

  • No Love is when intimacy, passion, and commitment are all missing. This relationship might be arbitrary, superficial, and unconstrained.

  • Liking, such as friendship, is a relationship that is mainly intimate but lacks passion and commitment. However, if a friend evoked your passion when you first meet him or her and left you a profound impression, then the relationship between the two of you is transcends “liking”.

  • Infatuation is a relationship that includes mainly passion but lacks intimacy and commitment. For example, many first-love relationships are infatuations.

  • Empty Love is a relationship with commitment to responsibility but lacks intimacy and passion. In this relationship, there is neither warmth nor passion; most of the time, two individuals just live together.

  • Romantic Love is passionate and intimate but lacks commitment. This describes the relationships in which individuals only value relishing the moment.

  • Companionate Love includes intimacy and commitment ut lacks passion. They have a deep emotional attachment, which is warm and interdependent.

  • Fatuous Love is a relationship involving passion and commitment but lacks intimacy. For instance, when two individuals fell in love at first sight, their relationship is often accompanied by a whirlwind of courtship and a lightning-like marriage.

  • Finally, Consummate Love is the most valuable relationship in which passion, commitment, and intimacy are all present.

Passion, intimacy, and commitment together make up love. Without any of these elements, we cannot attain the perfect consummate love. This is like how necessary every point is for establishing a plane; otherwise, this unique plane would collapse easily.

2. Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love

In the view presented by Helen Fisher, love is composed of three components that are controlled by interconnected but distinct biological systems, and these components have evolutionary significance.

The first is Lust, or a sexual desire, which is regulated by sex hormones. It motivates people to interact with others and encourages people to reproduce for an eternality of life.

Second, Attraction, which is regulated by dopamine and serotonin, motivates people to form stable relationships with their lover. When we fall in love, our dopamine levels rise, causing excitement and joy. Also, our serotonin levels drop, giving us enough energy to tirelessly love our sweetheart.

The last is Attachment, which is regulated by the neuropeptide oxytocin. This refers to the comfortable and safe feelings that are brought up by long-term relationships. This emotion allows couples to stay together, protect, and support each other for years, which also enables them to take great care of the next generation. The longer the time that two people are attached, the higher their oxytocin levels could be.

Therefore, humans are born with three different physiological systems that have evolved over time, each of which promotes the process of successful reproduction. It also shows that passion, intimacy, and commitment are independent of each other and can change individually. However, the emotional experiences of passion, intimacy, and commitment are clearly related to each other in other love relationships. A typical example is the excitement transfer process, in which an emotional excitement induced by stimuli can be transferred to the object of love. In short, high arousal, or strong feelings, amplifies the emotional response. What’s also interesting is that the effect of arousal on attraction does not depend on the type of arousals—— both positive and negative arousal can enhance attractiveness. Perhaps the effect of high arousal explains why in the movie, male and female protagonists often fall in love after bungee jumping.

Which point of view do you agree with? What are your interpretations of love?

The Triangular Theory of Love

The Triangular Theory of Love