Love is one of the most intense feelings that human beings can experience. Although it sounds paradoxical, it is associated with good and bad moments. They have all laughed for love and have also cried for him. Defining what love is not an easy task, although of course we can say a lot about it.
To try to answer the question we will take a walk through science, psychology and philosophy. We will discover the characteristics of this feeling that everyone longs for.
Love from science
Love is a chemical experience. This is something we have known for several decades. Biochemistry and neurobiology, among others, have shed light on the processes that take place in the brain of the lover.
The studies show that people in love develop a physiological response to the release of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin, norepinephrine, testosterone and estrogen. For example, rapid heartbeat, sweaty hands, stuttering, and apparent blockage of thought are directly related to these hormones.
Of course, not all manifestations of love are the same. Does this mean that some hormones are related to each manifestation? You got it right. At least this is what Dr. Helen Fisher, one of the reference authors, proclaims when talking about love. Together with his team, he distinguishes three categories.
Lust is the almost uncontrollable desire to satisfy sexual pleasure. Despite its negative relationships, it is one of the manifestations of love. The term is closely associated with libido and the hormones of sexual desire, such as estrogens and testosterone.
Indeed, when you are sexually attracted to someone, the levels of these hormones in your body are higher. The command center for both is found in the hypothalamus, which orders the ovaries or testes to secrete them, respectively.
Attraction is one of the most powerful parts of falling in love. It is their initial state, which lasts during the first months of a relationship.
It is not strange that it is associated with the hormones that make us feel happy. In part, due to the need to consolidate the union with that special person.
According to the author, the hormones secreted at this stage do so as a reward. They are dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. The overwhelming, euphoric and energetic feeling when being with the other is due to these three substances.
If the secretion of the above hormones only lasts a couple of months, what is it that makes relationships last for years or decades? Well, the answer is found in oxytocin and vasopressin. They are the substances that strengthen the attachment and the bond.
For example, mothers release large amounts of both during labor and breastfeeding. They are also known as hug hormones. The fact that you can maintain friendships and relationships for years is their responsibility.
Love from psychology
There are dozens of theories about love from the point of view of psychology. From Sigmund Freud, through Erick Fromm, to Robert J. Sternberg, there are not few scholars who have been interested in unraveling the peculiarities of this feeling.
Mentioning here all perspectives from this field is impossible. So we’ll focus on one that has resonated with intensity: the triangular theory of love. Proposed by Robert J. Sternberg, it tries to describe the different elements that are part of feeling and relationships.
Intimacy is the feelings of closeness, affection and togetherness that are professed towards another person. It revolves around bonding, proximity and the connection that is established with someone without a very important commitment.
Intimacy is the pillar that is responsible for sowing habits such as respect , communication, well-being, happiness and mutual understanding. Also otherness, trust, acceptance, emotional support and many others. It is closely linked to friendship and affection.
The second pillar of the triangle is found in passion. It is related to romance, sexual consummation, and physical attraction. It is a state of intense desire towards another person that is fed back as it is achieved.
According to the author, passion diminishes as it is repeatedly satisfied. It increases, however, when satisfaction is intermittent.
Finally, Sternberg lists commitment as the third pillar of the triangle. This can be short term or long term. In the first case, it refers to reciprocated love, to the decision to openly love a person. In the long term it is related to the intention to perpetuate that decision.
Faithfulness, loyalty, and responsibility determine whether this relationship will be short-term or long-term. The author points out that the three components of the triangle have different states of evolution. They can grow and decrease as the union is consolidated.
Love from philosophy
As in the previous case, it is a daunting task to summarize all the models of ideas that philosophy has provided when defining what love is and what is its importance. Since we cannot go through more than two thousand years of thought, we summarize below the idea that was maintained in Ancient Greece.
The Greeks of that time did not believe that love was a unitary concept. Rather, they had several words to describe their various manifestations.
A dozen words have been identified to refer to it, although the main ones were the following:
- Agape: refers to unconditional love. That is, one that transcends despite the circumstances. The love of parents for their children or the love that God can feel for man in monotheistic religions.
- Storge: defined as family love. Related to the affection that is perceived in family circles, friends and even animals.
- Philia: for the Greeks it was the highest manifestation of sentiment. Aristotle refers to her in his “Nicomachean Ethics.” It is associated with concepts such as virtue and equality. Although it encompasses several manifestations, generally the most common is the degree of affection you feel for lifelong friends.
- Eros: unlike the previous ones, this concept included components of passion, eroticism, sensuality and desire. It is the opposite of platonic love, that is, love without sexual attraction.
- Xenia: it is said of the love that can be felt towards guests or foreigners. It is linked to generosity and is part of the moral traditions.
- Philautia: it is nothing other than self-love. It is often associated with selfishness, narcissism, or vanity.
What love is depends on the culture
All of the above serves as a basis for proclaiming that love is always linked to culture. The idea that a person can have is conditioned by their training, their country, their religion and their moral customs. This also applies to romantic love, as the evidence points out.
With the latter we close our brief tour of what love is. Far from confusing or overwhelming you, our intention is for you to understand that feeling cannot be encapsulated from one point of view alone. It is part of who we are and is a protagonist when establishing relationships with friends, family and people who attract us.