“LOVE” is at the same time one of the most universally recognized and least understood concepts in our culture. Love is widely regarded as a powerful motivator of human endeavor and as an acceptable excuse for human frailty. But how often do we inquire into the nature of love in general, or of one person’s love for another in particular? Rarely. We accept love, and yet we misunderstand it as much as we recognize its influence. The following is a list and brief description of what I consider to be six components of romantic love. I hope that reading, considering, and talking about these six components will be helpful to couples who are considering making a commitment to one another, and to couples who are experiencing problems and trying to decide whether and how to stay together.
6 Components of Romantic Love
- The Greeks called this “Agape,” or friendship love. Couples would do well to ask one another, “If attraction and romance were not present, would we choose one another as friends?” The ability to share at least some interests, activities, and pastimes is an important part of an enduring romantic love. Although it is important to enjoy time spent together, balance is also important. While it is not important, or even desirable, for persons to give up or de-emphasize interests that are not shared by their partner, at least some shared pastimes is crucial.
- Another critical factor is appreciation for one another’s skills, abilities, and personal characteristics. We can refer to this as respect. Although an over-idealized view of the partner’s abilities is dangerous, it is still important for romantic lovers to appreciate to a reasonable degree one another’s abilities. These abilities include good judgment and resourcefulness. If we are going to take the journey through life with a loved one at our side, we probably need to have confidence in that partner’s ability to be a resource during that journey.
- Physical attraction and mutual sensual pleasure. This is the play and pleasure aspect of love. Early in a love relationship, this aspect, when powerful and delightful enough, can be solely responsible for passion. However, without the other components, this type of passion will turn out to have been more accurately defined as “infatuation” than as “love.”
- Pragmatic love. This includes both a rational assessment of one another’s assets and liabilities, and a sharing of goals, dreams and lifestyle considerations. Discussing this aspect of love can seem in a sense distasteful, but it is a reality. If you are going to buy a house, and you have $200,000 to spend, you will want to go into the housing market and get the best house $200,000 can buy. When we go out into “the relationship market,” we do not go out with a dollar amount. Rather we go out with our intelligence, education, appearance, sexual attractiveness, personality, family connections, material resources, sense of humor, and all our other attributes. And we want to find the most desirable partner that our attributes can attract. Again, it does not seem “nice” or in good taste to talk about it in these terms, but to ignore it is to ignore reality. Rather than ignore it, we are better served by analyzing which of a potential partner’s attributes will make us happiest in the long run. For instance, while physical attractiveness is obvious and may be immediately pleasing, many personality factors may maintain love and affection better in the long term. The sharing of goals, dreams and lifestyle considerations is the other part of pragmatic love. Do you want to make your education and profession a central feature of your life? Or would you prefer to leave work at work and emphasize your recreational, social or cultural lives. Do you want to establish a home and remain there? Or would you be happier relocating on occasion so as to expose yourself to new settings? On vacations and holidays do you want to get together with family, or do you prefer to travel? Agreement on at least a majority of these lifestyle considerations is crucial for a couple to remain happy with one another in the long run. 5. Appreciation of, or even sharing of, values, philosophy, and view-of-the-world. This encompasses the deeper intellectual, or even spiritual, aspects of love. For a passionate love to endure, it is probably essential that partners mutually respect one another’s values and worldview. 6. Good faith/good will/no “put downs”/genuine desire to enhance the happiness and selfesteem of the partner. Over the long haul, this is probably the most important component of romantic love if that love is truly to be passionate and enduring. Essentially, your partner’s self-esteem needs to be among your highest priorities. As powerful as love can feel when it is working, love can be fragile. This is partly because we really do not understand the nature of love. We all live our lives within our own skin and we experience life from our own perspective. The feeling of love we have for another person arises to a significant extent from the degree to which our loved one makes us feel good about ourselves. This idea may not be consistent with common myths about love, but understanding it will serve you better than the myths.
How many of these components describe deep friendship?
If you subtract components 3 and 4 (physical attraction and mutual sensual pleasure, and pragmatic love), you probably have the components of an intimate and lasting friendship). How many components does it take for people to experience “falling in love”? If component 3 (physical attraction and mutual sensual pleasure) and one other component, such as # 1 (mutual interests) are present; it is typical for persons to “fall in love.” However, without the strong presence of other components, the “love” will probably turn out to have been infatuation, and an enduring, passionate love is unlikely.
How will I know the difference between infatuation and love?
Will it “feel” different? Infatuation and love “feel” the same. The sense of desire and longing, the excitement, and the sense of being enraptured are the same. Recognizing the difference is a matter of thought and analysis, not a matter of feeling. Components 2, 4, and 5, in particular – which are important for a continuing romance – will be recognized by thinking, not feeling.