Last updated on April 20, 2022

Average reading time: 4 minutes.

Love is THE most valued thing in our societies. However, what is the definition of love? 

Because when you say you love someone, it can actually encompass different things. Loving a romantic partner is different from loving your parents. 

Remember George Orwell, 1984, the simplification of language to control the people? We are in kind of the same anomy about feelings, and especially “Love”. “Love” in our languages is the same word for many different things: in fact, the ancient greeks had more than 10 different words, for different kinds of relationships.

But, in my analysis, all of those are different "blends" of a few components they all share. 

It seems to me that understanding the different components of our feelings is most useful. I have simplified the idea in 5 different dimensions, that usually come together, but in different proportions:

1 – Unconditional benevolence and acceptance of someone.

That is the kind of feeling parents are supposed to have for their children — the saintly "agape" of the ancient greeks.

Actually, acceptance and benevolence are two different things. Parents usually wish the best for their children but they do not accept everything and anything from them, and they have strong projections… But ideally, those two should come together. They are the selfless, unconditional part of love.

If someone says “I love her, but I wish she were more (…)”, it means their love is not “pure” in that sense — which is usually the case, don't worry, but you should check the importance of such projections, because they may make you miserable. It is the most common mistake. If you need someone to change their daily behaviour, you should probably make everyone a favour and check out. Anyone can acquire a new skill, or modify one superficial behaviour, but even that takes a lot of motivation (and you have to want it for yourself for it to happen). The happiest relationships are those in which each one accepts the other as they are, and want them to be happy.  

2 – Appreciation of time spent together.

Getting along. We could call that “friendship”, but is also expected in couples or families. When it is the main component of your feelings, Homer would call it "filia", though it is present in most feelings of "love". There are variations, including can you spend long periods of time together, or only a couple of hours at a time? 

3 – Respect, trust, and esteem.

These are 3 different things, which I put together for simplicity. Respect is the mutual acceptation of the other’s rules, wishes and boundaries. Trust, confidence, mutual understanding usually come together with respect... and time.

Esteem can be a feeling of regard or admiration, basically looking up to someone. This latter emotion is usually both a motivator for building respect, and also, a foundation for the other components of love (benevolence, friendship, desire… usually stem from a form of admiration or regard). 

4 – Strong, uncontrollable Desire.

We could call it "passion". That is the part of “love” that romantic movies and novels and drama plays tend to exemplify to its extreme. Often, in those, it is somehow dissociated from previous components, which can induce... disturbing behaviours. 

Romeo “loves” Juliet, but he does not know her, he just desires to be with her. In older times, this "lust without bounds" was presented as toxic and tragic. In modern romantic comedies, it is taught as commendable. However, often times the partners make each other miserable. Sometimes, in order to make the other comply to their obsessive (selfish) desire, some characters will lie, blackmail, stalk the other person… those are psychopathic behaviours! More often than not, if you remove the Hollywood glamour, it seems the characters have no real benevolence and don’t respect the other’s wishes: they just want the other to sleep with them, whatever the cost. 

Anyway, this "passion" or "lust" is the specific component of what is called “falling in love”, the "romantic" attraction. However, it is the most selfish part. 

In real life, when you're no longer a teenager, it seldom comes without a blend of the other components — except during breakups. Anyway, when it takes control over the first 3 components, it seldom ends well.

However, when combined with the first 3, this desires makes romantic stories passionate and exciting. 

5 – Attachment to one person, and expectations of reciprocity, trust and stability.

You miss them because of the intimacy you share, when you are with this person, you feel better than usual. In some romantic bonds, it can go to the point that you feel that the person “makes you whole”, and you are empty without them. Attachment is a form of dependency, more or less healthy. That is what you find in long-term relationships, including marriage, but, to another extent, it exists in parent / children, or best friends. 

Number 5 is usually related to 4 and 2 to build what we call “romantic love”. It's exhilarating, and not very sane — but no human being is completely sane. Being crazy is OK as long as you realise it.

All of those are not mutually exclusive, on the contrary. 

All the bonds we call "love" are a mix of those 5 building blocks.

But you can have some of them without some of the others (for instance, #4, is so full of expectations and wish for satisfaction, that it can conflict with #1…) 

And, any blend of those 5 feelings is called “love”.

Hence, a big, enormous confusion in our societies. Because someone who has a reasonable amount of #4 and a lot of #1 and #3, will have a very different behaviour than someone who has a lot of #4, but little of #2 and #1.

Plus, you can add the fact that men and women are taught to expect very different things from romantic “love”.

And then, there are rules (mostly cultural), about what kind of “contract” you expect from certain types of relationships (for example with romantic love, many people expect sexual exchanges, fidelity, living together, good communication, sharing things together, respect, etc.)

What you cannot name, you cannot think, and that is one thing that culture imprints on us. Just knowing what the word “love” can mean, for you, and for the other person, is invaluable. And then, you can figure out what your current feelings are, and what you expect from this relationship. 

  • What do YOU feel for your partner / lover? What does she feel? What parts of desire, benevolence, attachment, friendship?
  • What do you want and expect from a romantic bond?
  • Have you ever felt conflicted between your feelings and your expectations or desires? 

Let me know in the comments. 

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