How do you know it’s love? (Part 1)

You are mentally obese if you buy a slice of Mrs. Field’s cookie cake because it looks too good not to buy, and then you leave it sitting in your fridge because you were tempted to have chocolate chip Ego waffles instead for dessert.

I love love. I love being in love, I love reading about love, I love romance novels (as you already know), I love romantic comedies, etc etc. I’m sure that the DSM-5 has a diagnosis for this and the prognosis is probably incurable but can be mitigated with a hard dose of life’s disappointments. So I thought I’d devote a few posts to the major theories of love, well ahead of Valentine’s day. Advanced warning: this will not be pretty; theories of love rarely are. This will not make you feel good. But these theories are informative and revealing about the nature of human attachments and affections nevertheless, and since I have been reading romance novels like I’m being paid to read them, I shall endeavor to address the topic at hand with a measure of alacrity.

1) Zick Rubin’s Scales of Liking and Loving

According to Rubin, romantic love is made up of three elements:

Attachment: The need to be cared for and be with the other person. Physical contact and approval are also important components of attachment.

Caring: Valuing the other person’s happiness and needs as much as your own.

Intimacy: Sharing private thoughts, feelings, and desires with the other person.

Rubin identified 13 questions for “liking” and 13 questions for “loving”. In a study to determine if the scales actually differentiated between liking and loving, he asked a number of participants to fill out his questionnaires based upon how they felt both about their partner and a good friend. The results revealed that good friends scored high on the liking scale, but only significant others rated high on the scales for loving. He scale could also distinguished whether a person was strongly in love or weakly in love. What is strongly in love you ask? Well, for one, if you spend a lot of time fondly gazing into each other’s eyes, you’re more in love than a couple that is not making googly eyes. (Thank you

2) The Triangular Theory of Love

Robert Sternberg explains love on an interpersonal level based on variances in three specific measurements: Intimacy, Passion, and Commitment. Essentially, Sternberg gives you a model so you can answer “Do you like him/her or do you love him/her”? And if you love, is it “My body burns for you” love or “You complete me” love or “I just need someone to me and you’ll do” love? Here’s a handy image of how his theory works.

Triangular theory of loveIt might look confusing at first, but basically it’s friendship or “liking”  if you only have intimacy. It’s romantic love if you have passion and intimacy, and you are one lucky son a a gun if you have “consummate love” (intimacy swirled with passion and covered in a warm, cozy blanket of commitment).  Hofstra University has a great dense but condensed summary of the triangular theory. Here’s an excerpt of what it says about consummate love:

Consummate love is the complete form of love, representing the ideal relationship toward which many people strive but which apparently few achieve. Sternberg cautions that maintaining a consummate love may be even harder than achieving it. He stresses the importance of translating the components of love into action. “Without expression,” he warns, “even the greatest of loves can die.” Consummate love may not be permanent. For example, if passion is lost over time, it may change into companionate love.

It’s written here in black and white: many try but few succeed and of those who do succeed, fewer will maintain. Sigh…one can only hope to be part of the few.


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