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What Is Love?Essence of love according to the triangular theory of love
Ha He-bin  |
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승인 2013.09.01  21:32:35
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   THE CONCEPT of ‘love’ is very vague and difficult to categorize. The components of love are very ambiguous and hard to define which may be because each person conceptualizes love differently. However, Robert Sternberg, a prominent American psychologist, came up with a theory suggesting that love is not as ambiguous as one might perceive. He argued that love consists of three main elements, and can be divided into eight different types through various combinations of the three elements. Sternberg called this theory, the ‘triangular theory of love’.

Three elements of love

According to Sternberg, the three elements of love are passion, commitment and intimacy. Passion is a kind of a romantic desire towards one’s lover. It usually provokes various sexual and physical behaviors such as a kiss or hug between two people. However, passion also comes from the desire to “own” one’s lover. Sometimes, such desire becomes very similar to obsession, so when the passion between two lovers is strong, it makes the two almost inseparable. This element is usually formed quickly in the early stages of love but goes out rapidly.

The second element of love is intimacy. This element usually takes a long time to form. However, when it is formed, it does not diminish easily. When two people have an intimate relationship, they feel very close and well-connected with each other, believing that they can understand and support each other. Therefore, intimacy functions as the sustenance for love.

The final element of love is commitment. Unlike the other two elements, this element holds two meaning. One is the urge to start a new love with someone else, and is formed over a short period. The other refers to the sense of responsibility and devotion towards one’s lover. This is often formed when someone keeps one’s love for a long time. However, these two meanings of commitment are not always coexistent. Even though someone may decide to love someone else, an act corresponding to the first meaning of commitment, this does not directly mean that he or she will be devoted to his/ her lover, which in turn does not go along with the second meaning of the word. Commitment is often formed in relationships between a husband and wife who spent a long time together and is often expressed through promises such as marriage vows.

What is true love?

According to the triangular theory of love, love can be explained through a triangle. The triangle consists of three vertices, each corresponding to one of the three elements of love: passion, intimacy, and commitment. The distance from the center of the triangle to each vertex represents the degree of each element. Therefore, love can be categorized into different types, each with its own characteristics. For example, if the triangle is close to equilateral, the love is close to consummate love because it means that the three elements of love are balanced.

Many people would wish their love to be perfect. They may want to preserve a passionate or intimate relationship forever. However, according to Sternberg, relationship, especially ‘love’, is very weak and easily broken unless the two lovers find ways to improve their relationship and understand where their love is standing. As such, the triangle is very easily affected, and is prone to change. Due to such vulnerability, many couples face one or more crises in their relationship. These couples are often disillusioned with their relationship because they somehow expect their love to be perfect and thus would hold on to such fantasy for a long time. However, changes in a relationship do not always mean that the couple does not love each other anymore. Therefore, if someone faces a crisis in its love, it is advised that they trust their lover and try their best to understand and improve the relationship, rather than complain or blame the situation.

Eight types of love

1.     Liking - love with intimacy only. It is close to friendship and gives bond or warm feeling to two people.

2.     Infatuated love – love with passion only. It is formed extemporaneously and can be diminished rapidly with a sudden change. It is rather dangerous because one’s lover is too idealized or one can lose willpower and time by being too much captivated by burning passion of love.

3.     Empty love – love with commitment only. It is stagnant love, which is usually found in couples who spent a long time together or met each other through matchmaking. It may be difficult to recover passion and intimacy.

4.     Romantic love – love with intimacy and passion. This love makes couples be physically and emotionally connected. It may change into other types of love.

5.     Companionate love – love with intimacy and commitment. It is often found in husband and wife who do not feel passion with each other anymore because their love is very companionate. ‘Romantic love’ is apt to change into this type of love.

6.     Fatuous love - love with commitment and passion. It is similar to a situation in which two people meet, become engaged and get married rapidly. Commitment in this love is based on passion, not intimacy, so it is immature.

7.     Consummate love - love with intimacy, passion and commitment. It is a fully mature love, so everyone desires this kind of love, but this love is not easy to achieve and much harder to keep.

8.     Nonlove – It is literally not a love because it does not have intimacy, passion and     commitment.

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Many people say that falling in love is one of the most wonderful and memorable things that one can experience, especially for a university student. However, there is not an absolute answer for a ‘perfect love’. Therefore, if you are in love now, it would be worthy for you to contemplate what a true love should be. Yet, at the same time, it would be valuable for you to fully grasp and believe the love you are in.


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