What Is Love?

Sitting in my car the other day in front of a strip mall, I watched people pass by from all paths of life. I saw parents and their children, men dressed up in business suits, and teenagers with clothes way too tight to permit breathing. I started thinking about how different we are from each other and all the unique stories we each have to share. Then I thought of the things we must all have in common. There must be some things we all share besides our species.

And so I thought, what are the things we all want from life?

I decided that besides being happy, there is at least one other thing we all want in life. And that’s to experience love, either by giving it, receiving it, or ideally, both.

Maybe it’s just me—and if so, I give you full permission to tease me mercilessly—but whenever the topic of love comes up it seems that we all think of romance with a beautiful man or woman being swept off their feet in a whirlwind love affair. Maybe this image comes to mind?


We think of Valentine’s Day, chocolates, bouquets of roses and steamy nights spent in bed. We all have an image of what the perfect lover would be like and what they may even look like. It’s no surprise that we think this way though, considering how the media portrays love in movies and television shows and how they market celebrities as the ultimate lovers.But there are so many different types of love. We don’t love our parents the same way we love our partners. We don’t love our friends the same way we love our pets.

According to psychologist Robert Sternberg, there are three components that make up the various forms of love. They are 1) Intimacy, feeling close or attached to someone 2) Passion, sexual attraction to another, and 3) Commitment, the decision to stay with the other person in the short or long term. He calls it the “triangular theory of love”. Using this theory, we can identify all different forms that love takes.

There’s nonlove, which is the absence of all three components, intimacy, passion, and commitment. This is how we may feel toward a stranger on the street. Unless they’re banging’ hot, of course.

In that case, we would experience Infatuated Love, where we have no true attachment or intimacy toward the other and no commitment, but we feel physically attracted to them. It’s hard to admit, but this is how I feel toward Harry Styles. (No shame!)

Then there’s liking/friendship. This is when we feel close to another person but feel no physical attraction or commitment to them. This may be how we feel about an acquaintance at work or school.

Empty Love is when we experience no emotional or physical connection with the other person but remain committed to the other; this may be seen in a marriage that has fizzled but remains together just for the sake of doing so.

Companionate Love (the kind of love I’ve experienced the most) is feeling emotionally close to someone knowing that we will stay committed to the other person but with no physical attraction. This is how most of us feel toward our best friends.

Fatuous Love is how we might feel toward someone we have a committed physical relationship with in the absence of emotional connection.

Romantic love involves being physically and emotionally close with someone but having no commitment to the person. This is what is shown in most movies and therefore what we may yearn for, without knowing that there’s an even better form of love out there.

And that’s what I think is the ultimate form of love that we are really dreaming of, which is Consummate Love. This is the presence of all three components: intimacy, passion, and commitment, where we feel emotionally and physically connected to someone and have committed to staying together.

Here’s a pretty little chart to explain it all:

Intimacy Passion Commitment
Liking/Friendship X
Infatuated Love X
Empty Love X
Romantic Love X X
Companionate Love X X
Fatuous Love X X
Consummate Love X X X

I truly believe in the saying that you have to love yourself before you can love another and after taking the time last year to do just that, I’ve been able to become aware of how to show my love to the people in my life. I may have brought consciousness to this area of my life but I’m no expert on any type of love. Far from it. But there are a few people in my life who have helped me realize what it means to love another. Of course my family has helped teach me this but there are four women in my life that have especially helped teach me what love is, in all of its various forms. And the best part about it is that all of these girls are my dearest friends.

I have been graced with these beautiful people in my life and want to show each of them how much they mean to me and what they’ve taught me, without even knowing it. Each of these women share characteristics that should be celebrated in all people.  They are each intelligent beyond measure in all different subjects. They are all caring, supportive, encouraging, and despite the challenges they have experienced in life, have risen above them to live the lives they each dream of. They are determined and hard-working and most importantly, are wonderful to talk to, have great senses of humor and live life to the fullest.

For the next couple of weeks I’ll be writing stories about each of these women in my life and what they’ve taught me about love.I hope you’ll follow the stories of my friendships with these women as I know that what they’ve taught me are things we can all learn from.