Love is the most enduring of emotions, a topic that has inspired poets and novelists through the ages. It’s also one of the most common subjects for works of art, from paintings to sculptures to film. It’s even a core concept in our everyday lives, with many of us sharing feelings of love towards family members, friends and even pets. But what is love exactly, and how does it differ between people?
There’s a lot of different types of love, including non-romantic platonic love between friends, intense unconditional love for family members, and of course, romantic love with a partner. There’s also a whole range of sexual preferences, with some people loving multiple partners at the same time (polyamorous), and others preferring to be monogamous. And of course, there’s the LGBTQ+ community, with some people loving other people of different genders and others identifying as pansexual or being asexual.
Romantic love, which involves a strong desire for intimacy and affection, is considered the most important type of love. It’s the foundation of most marriages and is a key component in most romantic relationships. And it’s the type of love that often inspires songs and movies, and that we all probably aspire to feel in our own relationships.
However, research suggests that love is more complex than simply a feeling of attraction and affection. It can have a number of other emotional and cognitive elements such as trust, jealousy, self-esteem, and motivation to commit. These can all vary from person to person and change over time in healthy and unhealthy ways.
Some researchers believe that love is a fundamental human emotion, while others believe that it’s influenced by biology and culture. For example, in a groundbreaking study, scientists at Stony Brook University put 37 people who were madly in love into an MRI scanner and found that when they’re in the throes of passionate love, certain brain areas light up. The same regions are activated when people take cocaine, suggesting that the elation of love is actually a result of dopamine.
The good news is that there are plenty of things we can do to promote a healthier, more resilient form of love in our lives. This includes fostering healthy, secure attachments with loved ones and practicing self-care in our own relationships. It’s also important to remember that healthy love isn’t always a feeling – it can be a choice, as shown by the selfless commitment of people like Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi, Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey.
Scientists have broken love down into three primary, three secondary and nine tertiary components. They’re all connected, but some are more important than others for our well-being. In particular, avoiding toxic and unrequited love can help protect us from the negative impacts of unhealthy relationships, such as insecurities that lead to mental health issues and problems with future relationships. So, whether it’s the love you have for your grandmother or your romantic partner, make sure that you’re nourishing that love with care, patience and respect to foster a healthy version of it in your life.