Love is a Triangle
What is love?
Artists and philosophers have debated the question since time immemorial, and today, even scientist have chimed in, contributing their detailed understanding of human hormones, neurotransmission, and neural pathways.
But why do we ask such a question in the first place? Surely love, being such a universal phenomenon, should be easy to define. We all believe we have experienced it.
We say "I love you" or "I love my kids", "I love my friends", "I love this city", and even "I love this show!". That's a broad range of objects to attach to a single verb.
The nearest synonym to "love", it seems to me, is "to value". Substitute the word "value" in the statements above, and the meaning is not lost, although a certain amount of eloquence is.
But that is love, the verb. What about love, the noun? The emotion.
Now, I think we're getting closer to the problem. Emotions are much hard to describe. How would you define "sadness" for example. Here is my first thought:
Sadness (n): the feeling of being sad.
Ha ha, I'm sure you could do better, but you get my drift. You might be able to say what causes sadness, or list some synonyms (loss, unhappiness, melancholy), but these become circular pretty quickly. "Love" is even a bigger problem, because we use it to label many more specific emotions.
All of these can in some way be linked to "love", the verb. They result from placing value on the objects of our love.
Now we turn to science. Psychologists have a pretty handy three-factor model to describe love. I call it "The Love Triangle". It was developed by Robert Sternberg in 1986 and identifies passion, intimacy and commitment as the three components of love. Algebra on these three points of his triangle produce some pretty familiar emotions:
Take some time to study this diagram. I'm sure you can picture a couple for each of the combinations. Firstly, the three factors by themselves:
Of course, most relationships are combinations of these elements, and that's where the model gets interesting. Take a look at the combinations defined by Sternberg. The vocabulary he uses is perfect.
It's not too often that a simple model does well to categorise complex sociological or psychological phenomena. The love triangle does a good job at it though. Can you see you own relationships in there somewhere?Love is a Triangle