Love- in All its Glorious Forms

Love for a child, is not the same as love for a friend, which is not the same as love for a partner- we all instinctively realize this fact – yet we also admit that there must be something common in our interactions with these people that enables us to label that experience as love, and that relationship as one characterized by love.

Barabara Fredrickson, in her book Love 2.0, defines love as moment to moment connection, felt by two people, as a result of shared positive emotions and positive reciprocity. Being a moment -to-moment fleeting state, Love is conceived of as an emotion  – something that is temporally restricted and energizes certain action tendencies. Love of course can also be construed as a desire to care for and be cared for  – this definition will place Love as a motive. Alternately some people may act more lovingly and compassionately in their day to day interactions and may have high trait Love.

I believe states feed on traits which feed on motives and they are all correlated so we wont be much bothered about those distinctions, when we speak about Love in the following discussion.

One way to think about the various forms of love is to look at their evolutionary origins- if multiple related evolutionary problems were solved by relying on Love, then we can suspect that there would arise slightly different forms of Love too. Some of the interpersonal evolutionary problems that our ancestors had to solve were problems of affiliation (or knowing whom to trust and whom to help) , problems of mate selection (who to reproduce with for maximum reproductive fitness) and problems of mate retention (as humans form pair bonds to care for their offspring, how to best take care of a long term relationship). The giddy feeling of Love/ connection may have arisen to solve these problems.

Consider the problem of affiliation or building coalitions. In one of the earlier posts we saw that humans have a basic need for affiliation, which is of two types- affiliation related to fear of being rejected and affiliation driven by hope of acceptance and intimacy.  The former seems to be a direct result of the fine-tuning of attachment system-  every infant is born helpless and depends on caregivers to take care of her. If such care and nurturance is provided the infant become securely attached, else she may become insecurely attached. I either case these initial attachment relationships form a template for some later adult relationships.

Attachment system is based on a need for security and results in feelings of trust when the need is fulfilled. In adults too, whenever some threat looms, a person may turn towards an attachment figure which she trusts.

This system has evolved in collaboration with the caregiving system. There would be not much use of an attachment system, wherein an infant cried for help, if there was no inborn mechanism to make the mother or the primary caregiver responsive to such cries. This nurturance system is directed towards those vulnerable and requiring help and compassion.

There is a decent article [pdf] that shows that attachment/trust system and nurturance/love system are separate.

On the other hand when it comes to mate selection and mate retention, many people, including Ellen Berscheid have made a distinction, between passionate love and companionate love. While the former feeds off sexual desire / lust , the latter is more commitment driven and long term. For getting people successfully married and reproducing, both are necessary- passionate love makes them fall in love to marry in the first place and then companionate love kicks in. Please note that though the passionate and companionate love might have evolved in the context of mate selection/ retention and paid bonding, they are most likely coopted for other functions and applicable to other relationships too.

Thus, while we have lust driven passion, we also have liking driven milder friendship and companionship.

Overall, I concur with Ellen Berscheid that we have four love subtypes- she calls them attachment love, passionate love, nurturant love and companionate love. I’ll just like to summarize:

  1. Attachment Love: Driven by need for security, feelings of trust are important. The evolutionary function is to get needed care.
  2. Passionate Love: Driven by sexual desire, feelings of lust take center-stage. The evolutionary function is to find a suitable mate and pass ones genes off by mating. Robert Sternberg may have said this as passion corner of his triangle.
  3. Nurturant Love: Driven by intimacy needs, feelings of compassion are important. The evolutionary function is to take care of newborn vulnerable offspring. Robert Sternberg may have said this as intimacy corner of his triangle.
  4. Companionate Love: Driven by need for long term commitment, feelings of liking or friendship are important here. The evolutionary function is to ensure that one remains part of a long term pair bond. Robert Sternberg may have said this as commitment corner of his triangle.

Of course, all the complexities, and beauties,  of Love cannot be reduced to just four types, but this classification is the best classification that I am aware of and which makes a lot of things more easy to comprehend.

As always do comment, whether this classification makes sense,  and also what actions will you take to deepen connections armored with this knowledge?

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