It is perhaps important to differentiate the various meaning that we refer to when we say the word love. Often ‘love’ is used in the place of a more suitable word.
I do love Roger Federer, but it would be more appropriate to say I greatly admire his tennis, respect him for his attitude towards family, his sportsmanship and the charity work he uses his talent and popularity for, am fascinated by the grace of his movements, and because I am an ardent fan, feel great joy when he wins. The word love, when I use it in this context, I believe sums up these feelings, but actually it is quite inadequate.
It is used is also for activities we enjoy. I love singing. I could rephrase this by saying; singing gives me great joy and pleasure and I feel the need for it quite passionately.
Parents love their children. This is a very specific kind of love one feels only for those one would do anything for. It is the kind on which families are built and it results from protectiveness, deep affection and a bond of wanting to give more than one takes. This is a most evolutionarily significant kind of love because it results in altruism and what we call ‘unconditional love’, i.e., parents and children may fight, siblings may bicker and wrestle but eventually the love wins over. Separation from family occurs only in exceptional circumstances and will result in ample grief. And the brain is programmed to react this way so there is enough incentive to keep together as it will aid survival.
And then there is the love of friends. The words ‘care’ and ‘affection’ can also be used here. As the saying goes, ‘Friends are the Family we choose’, so our love for them ranges from mild concern to as much love as we would give our families. It is also characterised by enjoying spending time with them, sharing experiences, being there for them when they need it and being able to trust them when one is in need of help. But with time and distance, friendships may fade. This is less likely with familial love.
Love of pets falls somewhere between love of family and love of friends.
Let us now cautiously approach the most dangerous type of love of all. Romantic love. The word ‘love’ is made for this emotion and it has no possible substitutes. Of course one can respect, admire, trust, care for and enjoy spending time with a romantic partner but there is that strange element to it which all previous words don’t do justice to. Perhaps the name of this element is ‘attraction’. It is a kind of connection unlike all the others.
Within Romantic love I would like to tease apart possible sub-types.
Puppy Love: This occurs in young children, typically pre-pubescent. We may speculate that it is caused by the combination of the need of children to imitate adults and a possible interest in those who look and behave different to those of the same-sex. This hypothesis can be tested by checking the frequency of occurrence of this phenomenon in only children as opposed to those with siblings of the opposite sex and those with siblings of the same-sex.
First Love: This may occur at any time after puberty but it is usually accompanied by physiological changes similar to the fright-fight-flight reaction such as increase of heart rate, dry throat, perhaps sweaty palms and flushing of cheeks. Psychologically at this point it is quite likely that the victim believes in fairy-tale happy endings as portrayed in movies and books. Depending on how long this lasts and whether or not it is reciprocated, the attitude towards love in the future will be altered significantly.
Crushes: These are far milder in nature and may occur in more frequency after one’s first exposure to love. Love is addictive and hence, once exposed to it, the mind, possibly subconsciously, taps other resources to continue feeling it without the heavy load of expectations in tow. They can be compared to environmentally resistant spores of hope. They may float by with no impact except allowing fleeting moments of joy during meaningless moments of eye-contact. But if they find scope for growth, they will land, take root and grow as much as possible. So several following ‘loves’ sprout from crushes.
Sexual Attraction and Long-Term Relationships: This is the next level of complication which accompanies romantic love. It starts at various ages ranging from fifteen (going by teen pregnancies) to early to mid twenties, depending on whether one is male or female, how much exposure to such talk one is given, and the psychological readiness for it. Lust may have nothing to do with love or it can occur between two people because they are in love. There seems to be no predictable correlation between the two, rather, they seem to exist in a dynamic flux.
For a large population, and according to biology, love begins with lust tempered by Testosterone and if there seems to be compatibility in the personal relationship, Oestrogen and Dopamine kick in resulting in the kind of love that features the most irrational sounding song lyrics and poems. At this stage, the two cannot be separated and they feel like they are complete and content only when in the company of one another. If this stage passes through enough time, strong Oxytocin bonds are created between the two sexual, now romantic partners and a child would be welcome. Oxytocin helps read positive social signals hence building trust between people. During intercourse and prolonged hugging and cuddling, oxytocin is released in plenty, forming a deep familial bond between the two. Once in this stage, the relationship is considered permanent and as I said before, any conflict which separates those connected by such a bond will bring misery which would be very difficult to recover from.
Although science outlines these levels, in many societies, pre-marital sex is considered wrong. In those in which pre-marital love is shunned, science will run its course as said above between the newly weds because they will begin their marriage with sex and grow to love each other. In others where love is not controlled, if pre-marital sex is impossible, the order of events will be severely disturbed causing problems. In current western society, post-hippie movement, pre-marital sex and living in is considered acceptable, if not necessary before tying the knot for a long-lasting relationship. Both partners would in this case, be keenly watching the other to keep a balanced pace so that expectations do not exceed possibility.
Unrequited love: This is a sad and impractical kind of love from which people with enough insight will quickly move on. What keeps some people stranded in these doldrums is an unwisely founded belief that at some point the one one loves will reciprocate. Sometimes this is intentionally prolonged by the one who is loved because it suits their ego or because they are emotionally dependent on such adoration and like to take without giving back a justified amount. It is most unsustainable.
Finally, I would like to deal briefly with the attitudes towards love and relationships. There are cynics, die-hard romantics, romantics who mask as cynics and apathetic people.
A cynic will usually refrain from acting on one’s feelings because he/she believes it is mostly impossible that the other person will ever return their love adequately. He/she will constantly find fault with what they have and doom it to an end. Occasionally if their love is returned by a romantic, they may change their minds and make it work.
A die-hard romantic is usually incorrigibly optimistic and possibly irrational in their expectations of the potential of a relationship. These are the kinds of people who fly miles, change the course of their lives and ‘die hard’ for their love as opposed to having a realistic evaluation of the compatibility between themselves and those they fall in love with. If they fall in love with an equally irrational person, they will be most happy.
Romantics with the mask of cynicism usually lie about what they think is realistic. They downplay their true hopes and expectations with what they would like to call a realistic measure. They usually scoff at those who openly talk about their feelings but internally, they feel the same way.
Apathetic people are those who have been through so many relationships that, though they give in to the biological urge to be coupled up, they are quick to fall out of love and simply not care for or value their experiences enough to change their approach in the future. In fact, whereas cynics will believe in love a little less after some negative feedback, an apathetic person is impervious. This will make the partners of such a person strongly question whether or not they are capable of love at all. Perhaps it was real for that moment, but none of their promises can be taken seriously.
Is there any type of love I have not touched upon? Leave a comment.