Do you feel more empathy for the guy who changed his mind, or the girl left trying to reconcile the guy’s words with his actions?
Male or female, you’ve probably been smitten and thought you were in love, only to decide it could never work. Our emotions — which we expect to waver — prioritize different thoughts at different times, sometimes dragging our intellects on an emotional roller coaster.
There’s more to it than that, though. There’s what you mean by “I love you,” and what somebody else thinks you mean.
There are eight types of love, according to Robert J. Sternberg, noted psychologist and Professor of Human Development at Cornell University. Only one of them is perfect, but they’re all formed by the following three dimensions of love:
Intimacy: Psychological knowledge of each other and connection based on that knowledge
Passion: Erotic attraction
Commitment: The decision that a person loves another person and the commitment to maintain that love
The classic misunderstanding immediately jumps out at us: He gets caught up in erotic attraction and says, “I love you”; she thinks somebody finally understands her and wants to spend the rest of his life with her. Better to ask, “What do you mean by love?” than to assume you know.
You might shy away from spoiling the moment or, worse yet, embarrassing yourself, but you need not be embarrassed about being secure enough to ask. You don’t have to be invested in one particular meaning of love to care what somebody’s feeling and want to understand it!
Sternberg’s eight types of love can serve as a foundation for a candid exploration of what you each feel (no, you’re not necessarily feeling the same thing).
Type of “Love” — Level of Intimacy — Passion — Commitment:
Perfect — high — high — high
Shallow — low — high — high
Companionate — high — low — high
Romantic — high — high — low
Empty — low — low — high
Infatuated — low — high — low
Liking — high — low — low
Non-love — low — low — low
Just reading the list can be enlightening — no wonder your first marriage fell apart, right? Maybe that summer romance was just a fling for her (despite your marriage proposal). And what about your current relationship?
Finding perfect love is just the beginning; the real challenge is maintaining it. You have to continually get to know each other and nurture your connection. Even then, you’re likely to hit some tough spots. Don’t panic, but don’t ignore them and jeopardize your relationship.
If you’re still looking for perfect love, the eight types help you to recognize it when you find it. They also help you to recognize the other types — and walk away from them with fewer tears.
Let’s look at the three dimensions. Don’t be overly concerned about commitment; it naturally follows a high level of intimacy and passion. And you probably won’t have much difficulty recognizing passion. Intimacy, though, can be tough to evaluate, especially in the heat of passion.
The key to intimacy is authenticity. Avoid the temptation to cover up those pieces of yourself that you’re afraid will be rejected. You can’t truly connect with all your defenses up anymore than you can have sex through a chastity belt.
Get an accurate picture of intimacy with honest answers to questions like: Do you have similar values and priorities? Do you enjoy similar environments and activities? Do you relate well intellectually? Do you feel known and understood by each other?
If you know what type of love you’re feeling — based on intimacy, passion and commitment — you’re less apt to run away or be left crying.