Travis Sky Ingersoll, PH.D., MSW, M.ED. - Social Work & Sexual Health Education/Consulting/Research
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Do you think there is true love in the real world?

Absolutely!  As someone who has spent the last 15 years with my partner Mindy, who I consider my "true love" and soul-mate, I know for a fact that true love is as real as it is common.  When someone says that they are looking for, or have found, their soul-mate, what they are actually saying is that they've found someone whom they feel so intimately, spiritually, and physically connected to, that they feel the only explanation for having found such a "perfect" and complimentary partner, is through some kind of divine or cosmic intervention.  In other words, they and their romantic partner were meant to be; that their relationship is a product of fate and/or destiny.  

However, within this line of thinking, the other assumption is that we all only have one soul-mate; we only have one chance in life to meet that special someone, the person who "completes us."  I don't believe that's the case.  I feel that we all have multiple soul-mates out there.  Before meeting my wife Mindy, I had been in love with other women; some who I also considered my soul-mates.  Even though I'm no longer with them, our time spent together was deeply meaningful to me.  They all helped me mature into the man I am today, and I still feel a connection to them; I still have love for them in my heart.   So what exactly is love?  And how does love differ from lust or deep friendship?  There have been a number of researchers and theorists who have addressed such questions.  

Passionate vs. Compassionate Love 

According to psychologist Elaine Hatfield the two basic types of love are compassionate love and passionate love.  Compassionate love is characterized by attachment, trust, affection and mutual respect.  It is a form of love that typically develops out of feelings of shared respect and mutual understanding for one another.  Passionate love on the other hand, is characterized by sexual attraction, emotions, anxiety and affection.  When such intense emotions are reciprocated, a sense of elation and fulfillment results.  When one's object of affection does not feel the same way, despondence and despair is experienced. Hatfield suggests that passionate love is fleeting (temporary), usually only lasting between 6 months to 3 years. 

Hatfield also suggests that the experience of passionate love is influenced by whether or not your culture encourages falling in love, whether the person meets your preconceived ideas of what an ideal love looks and feels like, and if you experience physiological arousal when the other person is near (i.e., quickened heart beat, flushed cheeks and chest, increased blood flow to the genitals, etc.).  In the ideal situation, over time, passionate love will mature by including elements of compassionate love.  Conversely, especially in the case of an arranged marriage, it is hoped that compassionate love will eventually incorporate elements of passionate love as well.  

The Color Wheel Model of Love 

John Lee compared styles of love to the color wheel in his 1973 book The Colors of Love. Lee suggested that just as there are three primary colors, there are also three primary styles of love: (1) Eros, (2) Ludos and (3) Storge.  Using the color wheel analogy, Lee proposed that just as primary colors can be combined and mixed to create complementary colors, the three primary love styles can be combined to create nine unique secondary love styles.  For example, a combination of Eros and Ludos results in Mania, or obsessive love.  

Lee's 6 styles of loving include three primary styles and three secondary styles.  The primary styles are (1) Eros = Loving an ideal person (seen as a perfect complimentary match), (2) Ludos = Seeing love as a game to play, and (3) Storge = Love as friendship (i.e., platonic love).  The three secondary styles are (1) Mania (Eros + Ludos) = Obsessive and/or manic love, (2) Pragma (Ludos + Storge) = Realistic and practical love, and (3) Agape (Eros + Storge) = Selfless and devoted love.  

Triangular Theory of Love 

Psychologist Robert Sternberg proposed a triangular theory of love that suggests the existence of three components of love: intimacy, passion and commitment.  These three love components are visually represented as the points of a triangle.  Different combination of these three components results in different types of love, representing the three sides of the triangle.  For example, when you combine intimacy and commitment, the result is compassionate love, while combining passion and intimacy leads to passionate love.   Sternberg argues that relationships built on two or more components of love are more enduring than those based on a single component (ex., intimacy alone). 

Sternberg uses the term consummate love to describe a combination of intimacy, passion and commitment.  One can visualize this type of love as filling the center of the triangle.  While consummate love is viewed at the strongest and most enduring kind of love out there, Sternberg suggests that this type of love is rare.  

Intimacy 

No discussion about love would be complete without the mention of intimacy.  So what exactly is intimacy? Intimacy within relationships has been defined by levels of cognitive and physical closeness, positive affect, commitment, and mutuality, and is viewed as a dynamic and interactive process based on mutual trust and respect. According to Erik Erikson, intimacy is also viewed as encompassing the ability to commit oneself to an emotional partnership while having the strength to face whatever challenges such a pledge entails.  In addition, intimacy has been regarded as the primary method of getting close to another individual; the process by which people explore the differences and similarities in how they and others think, feel and behave.  To gain an even better understanding of intimacy, it is also useful to examine the fear of intimacy.   

Fear of Intimacy 

Being in an intimate relationship is rife with positive possibilities. It can be a source of happiness, intense pleasure, and personal fulfillment.  However, intimate relationships also carry with them the possibility of experiencing intense pain and suffering.  Because of the risks involved within intimate relationships, some individuals become anxious or fearful towards intimacy.  Such anxiety, also referred to as a fear of intimacy, was defined by Descutner and Thelen as “the inhibited capacity of an individual, because of anxiety, to exchange thoughts and feelings of personal significance with another individual who is highly valued."  According to Firestone and Catlett, a fear of intimacy is not simply a fear of closeness to another individual, but is rooted in existential fears related to one’s mortality. Being in a close, loving relationship with another has the ability to remind us of how precious life is, and conversely, how limited it is as well.  

Conclusion 

Returning to the question posed at the beginning, "do you think there is true love in the real world?"  Love, in my experience, is all around us.  Soul-mates and true loves are around every corner.  But in order to experience true love with another, one must feel true love within.  I don't mean to imply that people should be selfish or narcissistic.  Quite the contrary! What I mean is that people need to first learn to truly respect themselves and their bodies, care about their physical and emotional health, as well as their spiritual health (according to their beliefs).  There is an old saying that goes, "people cannot hope to find true love with others, if they do not learn to first love themselves."  What is true love?  I tend to subscribe to Sternberg's concept of consummate love as an apt description of what true love is all about.  But I'd also like to add that you really know you're in love with someone when you care so much about them that you'd do anything to help them realize their hopes and dreams, would never think of intentionally harming them, and being with them inspires you to be the best person you can possibly be.   

References 

Bagarozzi, D. A. (2001). Enhancing Intimacy in Marriage: A Clinician’s Guide. New        
     York, NY: Brunner-Routledge.
Descutner, C. J., & Thelen, M. H. (1991). Development and validation of a fear-of-          
     intimacy scale. Psychological Assessment, 3, 218-225.
Erikson, E. H. (1950). Childhood and Society. New York, NY: Norton.
Firestone, R. W., & Catlett, J. (2000). Fear of Intimacy. Washington, DC: American     
     Psychological Association.
Firestone, R. W., & Firestone, L. (2004). Methods for overcoming the fear of intimacy. In  
     D. J. Mashek & A. Aron (Eds.), Handbook of Closeness and Intimacy, Mahwah, NJ:   
     Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Hatfield, E., & Rapson, L. R. (1993). Love, sex, and intimacy: Their psychology, biology,      and history." New York, NY: Harper Collins.
Hatfield, E., & Rapson, L. R. (1987).  Gender differences in love and intimacy: The     
     fantasy vs. the reality. Journal of Social Work and Human Sexuality, 5, 15-26.
Lee, J. A. (1973). Colours of love: An exploration of the ways of loving. Toronto,     
     Canada: New Press.
Moss, B. F., & Schwebel, A. I. (1993). Defining intimacy in romantic relationships.     
     Family Relations: Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Studies, 42, 31-37. Sternberg, R. J. (1987). Liking versus loving: A comparative evaluation of three theories.     Psychological Bulletin, 102, 331-345.  

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