Sternberg’s Love Theory

freedom fighter posted this image a while ago, and I bookmarked it because it makes me think. It makes me think deeply and a lot. It makes me contemplate my relationships and my choices and my definitions of things and it makes me ask myself what I’m looking for in my life. It’s rare that I come across an image that seems to actually be worth a thousand words, but this one warrants deep exploration.

Love is a word I have so much trouble with. I want to use it in relation to so many things, but sometimes saying it is incredibly serious and sometimes it’s not. I don’t always know what kind of love I think I feel or am definitely feeling or want to feel. But this might be a helpful (if somewhat problematic in its own ways) way to conceptualize it.  The triangles don’t have to be equilateral–the length corresponds to how important that concept is in the relationship.

Nonlove doesn’t register on any of these three axes. That seems fair. I don’t think you can have something worthy of the word “love” in any form that doesn’t have any of these features.

Romantic love is defined as featuring intimacy and passion, which also seems fair to me. I can imagine that many of my friends would balk at commitment not being included in that model, but I for one am perfectly (in fact, perhaps even more) comfortable with romantic love outside of long-term commitment. JB would argue that monogamy is in and of itself a commitment, which I suppose is true in the most basic of senses. I, for one, have never been one to need to fight potential suitors (and/or…suitresses?) off with a stick, which results in monogamy as a general condition of my life even when the situation does not call for it. I have at this point always been functionally monogamous, if not ideologically monogamous, so I guess I don’t really see the ability to hook up with other people as this significant thing I’m giving up when I get into a relationship. Regardless of any level of mutual ownership (or partnership if that construction bothers you) engendered by monogamy, however, I don’t think it implies any sort of longevity in terms of the commitment by definition. It’s a fragile commitment, one that exists between individuals temporally but which is not committed to itself–it’s almost an obligation rather than a commitment, and to me, that’s why commitment isn’t on the triangle for romantic love. 

Friendship is intimacy without passion or commitment. This makes sense too–our friends are among the persons we’re most intimate with, but most of the friendships we make throughout our lives are temporary. They exist in certain times and/or places, and while their memory is carried with us and they may be rekindled briefly or for a substantial period of time, we are not committed to actively building them every day of our lives. 

Fatuous love seems like “dating just to date” to me. Like the first relationship I was in, which was based more on my desire to revel in his desire for me than in anything else. We were giving to each other, but not of one another. 

Infatuation is pure passion. Again, a no-brainer. No actual relationship is involved in situations of infatuation, so intimacy and commitment are impossible.

Companionate love might be the most interesting to me. I think that this is most clearly where friendship and love overlap. These are the friends you consider family. The kind of friends you say, “I love you” to. The kind of friends you don’t have to say you love for them (and everyone else) to know. These are the kind of friends you know you’ll have forever, even when that means actual phone calls and trips to see one another–that’s where the commitment comes in. Friendships you will actively work at despite adverse circumstances fall under companionate love, in my mind. This is what I feel for TN, KS, SP, SH, EY, etc. I can also see this describing love between old people, who are completely devote to each other but past most/all forms of sexual desire. Hmm–this might be why really close friends are so often compared to old married couples.

Empty love makes me sad inside. It makes me think of people who are trapped in loveless marriages or who are too scared of starting over again to get out of a relationship they no longer want to be in. I want to banish it.

And finally we’ve reached consummate love. To me, this is conventional Love-with-a-capital-L love. It’s a The Notebook kind of love. If I’ve ever come close to this triangle, it was a weird scalene version with intimacy being the shortest end, passion the longest, and commitment somewhere in the middle, but honestly I don’t think the sides actually touched in the situation to which I’m referring. This is love after the romancing bit is over. When approaching equilateral-ness, this is a “real love”, whole satisfaction embodied in one other individual. This is the kind of love for which I’ve been told sacrifices don’t feel like sacrifices and obligations to the other resemble obligations to the self. This is the deep kind of love that mostly terrifies me, though a small part of me wants it at some point in the future.

An excerpt from a recent Thought Catalog article that really resonated with me:

I’ve been raised in a society that both exalts love and fears it. A society that tells me love is rare and experienced only under particular circumstances; beginning with family and radiating outward to long term relationships and close, time-worn friendships. To love too quickly is deemed foolish. To love too many, is superficial. Our tragedy is that we believe something can only be beautiful when it is rare. We exist in a society that dismisses the beauty in everyday life. We overlook the small, fleeting moments that make up our day, because we’ve become jaded to the heaviness of a cat sleeping on our lap; the warmth of someone else’s fingers filling the space between our own… Sometimes it’s okay to abandon caution and open yourself up to the possibility of a connection with another human being. It’s okay to be vulnerable. We were born with an incredible capacity for love…The English language doesn’t contain the vocabulary to express different levels of love—instead using one abstract word to encompass the entire complicated spectrum of human emotion. In Spanish, love between family is separated from love between spouses. In Greek, there are four distinct terms, each with its own meaning. Working with such a limited capacity for expression, it’s no wonder our society as a whole appears to perpetually be in turmoil over the concept of love. We’re in constant pursuit of it, yet question it when we experience it; herald it’s beauty, yet fear that we will be left broken in its wake. Love becomes a contradiction. It simultaneously becomes the root of our joys and our woes.”

I have been told before that I say those words too easily. I’ve had friends freak out when I drop it in casual conversation. I’ve gotten raised eyebrows from others when I direct it towards a friend. I’ve even had people criticize my and my ex’s use of the phrase during our relationship. …Such interactions confuse and annoy me. There are so many kinds of love. I’m sick of everyone privileging romantic and consummate love over all of the other loves. And then next time someone suggests that I’m wrong in my usage, I’ma direct them here, to what I think is a comprehensive guide to all the ways you can love someone who isn’t family. 

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About alaiyo0685

I'm a kind of quirky, pretty stubborn, way too opinionated, twenty-something, intellectual, introspective, queer, Black, female, in a polyamorous relationship, and this is where I try to figure out my life.

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