What is Love?

Many of us are still grappling with the question: What is love? It seems as though love is a feeling that varies from person to person and also differs from culture to culture. Some psychologists believe that love is a primary emotion, while others argue that it’s a complex mix of primary emotions. Whatever the case, love is a powerful force that influences all of our lives in one way or another.

Whether we love our children, our partners or our creative projects, love can motivate us to give it our all and to persevere in the face of challenges. It’s the reason we forgive our partner for always being late, put in the extra effort at work to achieve our goals or feel devastated when our favorite team loses a game. Love is why we want to see our partner succeed, why we push ourselves to complete our creative visions and why we prioritize spending time together over other activities.

Although there is no definitive answer as to what love is, research points to several key factors. Some scientists believe that humans love in order to survive and thrive as a species. Others point to the importance of a loving relationship in fostering healthy development during childhood, when offspring are highly dependent on adults for guidance and nurturing. And others believe that it’s a complex mix of primary emotions, including happiness, affection and trust.

Researchers have found that when we fall in love, brain areas associated with reward and pleasure are activated. In addition, the frontal cortex, which helps us to judge and evaluate others, is deactivated. This explains why we tend to overlook faults in our loved ones in the early stages of a relationship. In addition, the release of dopamine, adrenaline and norepinephrine can cause those butterflies in your stomach, flushed cheeks and sweaty palms that are characteristic of falling in love.

When the chemistry of love wears off, your mind may shift from obsession to disappointment and disillusionment. This can be especially difficult for people who are infatuated with someone and find that the attraction is no longer there. But remember, that’s okay! Those days or weeks or months when you’re not all mushy-gushy are normal and will pass.

There are also times when you will look at your partner and be overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude, awe and respect for that person. That’s when you are experiencing what is known as “compassionate/companionate love,” which is often a precursor to a long-term committed relationship.

Other types of love include romantic love, which is characterized by feelings of intense longing and an idealization of the other person; passionate love, which involves closeness and attachment; and unrequited love. Sternberg broke these down further into three primary and nine tertiary love styles. Love is a powerful and complicated emotion that varies from person to person and from culture to culture. It’s not easy to consistently define, but it is a necessary part of life.