Love is one of the most powerful emotions we can feel. It can make you forgive your partner for their annoying habits, push yourself to finish a creative project that matters to you, or even work hard to earn money to send your children to college. Love can also be the reason you volunteer for your favorite cause, cheer when your team wins, or support a friend through difficult times. Whether you’re the hopelessly romantic sap who watches Disney films and dreams of Prince Charming or the pragmatic realist who believes it’s mostly just instinct and chance, we all buy into the myths and fairy tales about love.
Although scientific research into emotion has increased, it’s still not clear what love is, or how to categorize different types of it. Many different theories have been proposed, ranging from the color wheel theory of three primary, three secondary, and nine tertiary love styles to more specific ideas about intimacy, passion and commitment. Some people have also added religious or spiritual meaning to the concept of love.
While some of these theories have appealed to a more universal approach, the complexity and diversity of love is what makes it difficult to create a consistent characterization that applies across individuals. For example, some studies have found that certain situations can increase the likelihood of falling in love, such as meeting someone attractive for the first time or being in a high-arousal situation (like walking across a suspension bridge). Other factors, like a person’s innate traits and personality, also influence the chances of becoming in love.
In addition, some of the most significant moments in your relationship may trigger a temporary decrease in hormones such as adrenaline and norepinephrine, and a corresponding rise in the release of dopamine and oxytocin (the “cuddle” hormone). This may leave you feeling a rush when you think about your loved one or yearn for their presence in your life. This first phase of the ‘love rush’ is a great time to focus on your strengths and make plans for your future together.
When this initial rush of love dissipates, you might find that you’re no longer as dedicated to your partner or interested in spending time with them. This can be painful or upsetting, but it is also a part of the process that leads to healthy long-term relationships.
Despite the difficulties in defining love, most people can agree that it is important to make sure you’re choosing your partners wisely. If you’re in doubt about what kind of future you have with a person, it might be helpful to talk about it with a counselor or other professional.
While some philosophers have tried to create a more unified account of what love is, it’s likely that it will never be possible to capture the full range of feelings and behaviors associated with this intense emotion. As Pismenny and Prinz (2017) point out, love is too varied both in ground and in the sort of experience it involves to be capturable in any one way.