Chapter 05 - Love and Intimacy
This book has been updated. The new version of this chapter is located at FreeSociologyBooks.com
Love and intimacy go hand in hand. Love is the physical, emotional, sexual, intellectual, or social affection one person holds for another. Concepts related to love include adore, desire, prefer, possess, care for, serve, and even worship. Intimacy, on the other hand, is a close relationship where mutual acceptance, nurturing, and trust are shared at some level. In order to understand love in human relationships, you must first understand how the self either enhances or inhibits your capacity to love.
You self developed under the watchful eyes of your caregiver or parents. When you were a newborn you were totally dependent upon the adults in your life to take care of your needs and raise you in a safe environment. You had to be fed and clothed, bathed and held, and loved and appreciated. While your caregivers provided for those basic needs in your life, you attached to them and they attached to you. An attachment is an emotional and social bind that forms between one person and another. Humans are considered highly motivated to form attachments through their lives.
Attachments are crucial to human existence and are essentially the emotional context of those relationships we all have in life. As an infant you learned to trust those who cared for you. You learned that they return after they leave your view and that they can be depended upon. Eventually your brain allows you to love the person you are attached to and to care for them whether or not they are giving care to you. You learn then that your attachments facilitate your needs and wants being met. How you attached as an infant and young child shapes (at least in theory) how you will likely attach as an adult. If you had strong attachments in childhood, then forming adult relationships should be easier for you. If you had weak or interrupted attachments in childhood, then forming adult relationships -- especially loving ones -- will be more difficult for you.
As adults, one of the very first symptoms that you are falling in love is that you begin to feel better about yourself when you are with the other person. One of my students commented in class, “That's true for my boyfriend and me. We started off just hanging out with mutual friends. Then we were talking a lot on the phone. Both of us felt that feeling of wanting to be together more often and feeling good, you know, safe together.”
It can be argued that you can only be in love as much as your self will allow you to be. Why? Because intimacy develops along with love and intimacy requires that you have the ability to be your true self with the other person. Figure 1 shows what I call the “Zone of Vulnerability,” or the birthplace of intimacy. The photos of the young man and woman in this figure represent you and your other and how you traverse the dangers of getting to know someone while you enter and reside in the Zone of Vulnerability. The guy and gal in this figure, as total strangers to one another, enjoy a certain safety that comes from keeping safely away from relationships, away from personal conversations, and away from any risks of being hurt (or hurt again).
Figure 1. The Zone of Vulnerability -- The Birthplace of Intimacy
A person can go to classes, to work, to social events, even on dates and never leave her or his private comfort zone. It doesn't take much to mask the fact that you are hiding safely away from risks even when outwardly you appear to be very confident and socially skilled (watch the movie Hitch, 2005, with Will Smith, Eva Mendes, and Kevin James, to see what I'm talking about). But, if and when intimacy and love enter the equation, you have to leave your safety zone. Typically when two strangers meet they self-disclose. Self-disclosure is the process of revealing the true nature of oneself to another person. Once you or the other person opens up and shares something vulnerable (see the blue arrows in the diagram), you enter an emotional minefield of sorts. You become at risk. Your fears and pains from past relationships, your feelings of being emotionally vulnerable or naked, and especially your fears of being exposed as a flawed individual all influence the process of you letting the other person sneak a peek into the nature of your true self.
This sifting through fears is shaped by countless interactions with others that preceded this moment in time. The sifting through past experiences can make it very risky for some. But, once you self-disclose, the potential for intimacy and love can be realized. There is a greater chance of intimacy developing when the other person self-discloses back to you, or reciprocates your efforts to connect. For example, let's say that the guy and gal in this figure had their pictures taken so that they could submit them to the university cheer squad tryouts. On the day of tryouts they meet one another for the first time and make casual conversation in the registration line.
During tryouts they are assigned to team up to perform a series of lifts. Circumstances have brought them together, but intimacy is typically more deliberate. He might ask, “Where did you cheer in high school?”
She might tell him the school name and place and then ask, “What about you?” At this level of questioning, just talking is mildly risky, but they are only talking at a level called Shop Talk, which is safe conversation about superficial things (places, time, weather, etc.). If she came back with a question of her own such as, “What do you think the chances are we make the team?” she has begun a conversation about opinions and feelings.
He might reply, “I think we have as good a chance as the others. I hope we both make it. Hey, uh, you sound like you really need this to happen.”
“Yeah, I need the scholarship, and I'm majoring in dance, so it will help me keep in shape. What about you?”
“Oh, I'm majoring in pre-law. The scholarship would be great for me too. Hey, would you like to go get a juice or something . . . ?”
In this example, their shop talk quickly transformed into the mutual sharing of personal information. This is essential for intimacy to have a chance to form. Perhaps, if they feel safe enough, over time and with a number of interactions they can become very close and trusting of one another as friends or lovers. Nice that it works that way sometimes, but truth be known we more often miss than hit when forming intimate relationships. Consider what might have happened if the conversation went like this: He might ask, “Where did you cheer in high school?” She might tell him the school name and place, then she might continue packing her things, making no more comments. “My name is Jeff. What's yours?” he might ask, extending his hand to shake. “Melisa. Good luck with the tryouts,” she might say as she walks away, not shaking his hand nor making eye contact. Because mutual involvement did not occur, intimacy stopped before it ever really had a chance.
Remember, once self-disclosure takes place, the risk factor comes into play. If self-disclosure is mutually reciprocated, then intimacy may begin. If it is not reciprocated, then intimacy typically will not develop. We are built to experience love. Psychologists and biologists will tell you that best friends or not, chemicals either reinforce feelings of love or inhibit them. Our attractions are connected to our testosterone, oxytocin, luteinizing hormones, estrogen, serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and other chemicals and hormone levels in our bodies. Sociologists will tell you that the need for social relationships, especially attachments, drives much of our daily social interactions with others. Theologians will tell you that love is divine and is part of our eternal natures.
Psychologists have taken a variety of approaches in the study of love. John Lee is perhaps the most quoted researcher on love with his six love types. Lee assumed that we all share six core components of love and that our current loving relationship can be assessed and measured. Lee also claimed that there are qualities of love types -- some more long-lasting and supportive of relationships and some pathological and defective, which inhibit relationships (see John A. Lee, 1988, "Love Styles," in The Psychology of Love, R. Sternberg & M. Barnes, eds., New Haven CT: Yale Univ. Press). Lee's love types are widely used to help people understand their love styles. Lee claimed that six types of love comprise our loving experiences. Eros is the love of sensuality, sex, taste, touch, sight, hearing, and smell. Eros love is often what we feel when turned on. Eros love is neither good nor bad. It is simply part of the overall love composite we experience with another person.
Storgé love is the love of your best friend in a normal, casual context of life. Storgé is calm and peaceful, and it is surprising to some who might have simply hung out together at one point but suddenly discovered that their friendship deepened and became more important than other friendships. “We started needing to be together, talking on the phone for hours, and missing each other when apart,” are common descriptions of Storgé love. Many believe that most young couples marry with Storgé relationships in the U.S. today.
Pragma love is the love of details and qualities in the other person. Pragma lovers are satisfied and attracted by the other because of their characteristics (e.g., athleticism, intelligence, wealth). Pragma lovers feel love at a rational level -- thinking to a certain degree about the good deal they are getting in the relationship.
Agapé love is the love that is selfless, other-focused, and seeks to serve others rather than receive from others. Lee referred to a Christian love when he originally wrote the chapter cited above. Since then, this type of love has been identified across cultures and religions.
In addition to describing these positive types of love, Lee also identified two defective love types that come from a damaged sense of self: Ludis and Mania. Ludis is an immature love that is more of a tease than a legitimate loving relationship. Ludic lovers trick their mates into believing that they are sincerely in love, but secretly they are grooming one, two, or even three other lovers at the same time. Ludic lovers artificially stroke their sense of self-worth by playing a cruel game on their lovers, who end up feeling used and betrayed. Mania is an insecure love that is a mixture of conflict and artificially romantic Eros expressions. Manic lovers are horrified of being abandoned and simultaneously terrified by the vulnerabilities they feel when intimate with their lover. Thus, their daily routines are typically make out . . . argue . . . sweet talk . . . slap fight . . . make out . . . have a yell fest . . . make love . . . stop talking . . . sweet talk . . . break up . . . make out . . .
Another psychologists named Abraham Maslow addressed love in terms of how our needs are met by the other person. His basic premise was that we pair of with those whose love style fills an unmet childhood need. In other words, Maslow said that if our childhood needs were not met in the basics of survival, safety, food, shelter, love, belonging, and even self-esteem, then we look for an adult companion who can fill those needs for us. It's like we have an empty cup from our childhood that our adult partner fills for us. Maslow also said that when all those basic needs are met in childhood, then we are attracted to an adult partner who complements our full development into our psychological potential (Google "Maslow's pyramid of Hierarchy of Needs," "Being and Deficiency love"). If in your childhood your survival, safety, food, shelter, love, belonging, and even self-esteem needs were unmet, then you will be attracted to a Deficiency Lover. A Deficiency Lover is a lover who provides the basic level of needs for their partner while having their needs reciprocally met in a similar way. A Being Lover meets your aesthetic, intellectual, and full actualization or human capacity needs while you reciprocally meet theirs in a similar way.
Robert Sternberg was the first of the Geometry of Love psychologists, who triangulate love using intimacy, passion, and commitment on the three corners of a triangle and by measuring the intensity of each for the two people in a loving relationship. To Sternberg it was important to consider how each partner's triangle matched the other partner's. He said that a couple with all three types of love, balanced and in sufficient magnitude, would have a rare yet rewarding type of love that encompassed much of what couples seek for in a loving relationship (Google "Robert Sternberg," "Triangular Theory of Love," "Consummate Love"). Sternberg's Consummate Love is a love type that has equal measures of passion, intimacy, and commitment that is satisfactory to both lovers.
A popular psychologist named Gary Chapman spoke of the culture of our love and addressed love the same way you or I might address how you'd prepare to travel to or live in another country. You wouldn't just up and go to Mexico without first familiarizing yourself with the language, customs, and traditions. In the same line of reasoning, you would be wise when you fall in love to study the other person's culture of expressing love and then study your own. Chapman spoke of how we express verbal love, love in physical touch, love through service, love by spending quality time together, and love by receiving gifts given to us by those who love us (see Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate).
In a less modern and scientific approach to love, philosophers and writers have addressed love and its origins over the millennia. The ancient Greeks spoke of a few types of love that we define similarly in our society today. Eros is the love of the body, touch, senses, and sexual pleasuring. Eros proves in our culture to be a significant part of a long-term relationship. Eros in combination with other love types can be very satisfying to those in intimate relationships. Agape love is a pure love felt at the soul level, where one person loves another at a profound level. Agape love may be what we feel for others when we hear about their tragedies, when we hear about their accomplishments, or when we hear about positive, normal life events. John Lee drew upon these love types for his work in the 1970s.
Philia is often referred to as brotherly love (e.g., Philadelphia = city of brotherly love) or love without passion. It addresses the component of love between family members, where needs are mutually met by members of the family. Plato's definition of love (often called Platonic Love) included a nonsexual relationship, which could include deep levels of trust and intimacy and could be found in many types of relationships (couples, families, friends, even strangers; for more information, Google "Greek love types," "Platonic Love," "philosophy of love"). Plato gave a test for true love when he claimed that true love will endure over space and time, or when two people are not together for a while.
In modern day applications of love, various components have been found as the ingredients of love: commitment, passion, friendship, trust, loyalty, affection, intimacy, acceptance, caring, concern, care, selflessness, infatuation, and romance. A love type identified that many people are aware of is called Unconditional Love. Unconditional love is the sincere love that does not vary regardless of the actions of the person who is loved. Unconditional love is so deep and profound that it lets us forgive and still love. Some of this love type is found in almost all relationships. You often hear it expressed in greater measure among parents of children whose misbehaviors embarrass or make them ashamed.
The love types and patterns discussed below are taken from many sources, but they fit neatly into the Lee, Maslow, Sternberg, or Chapman paradigms. I urge you to study their original works if you are interested in understanding how love is measured and studied.
Romantic Love is based on continual courtship and physical intimacy. Romantic lovers continue to date long after they marry or move in together. They often express the strong sexual attraction to the other, which attraction was there from the beginning. Romantic lovers are idealistic about their relationship and often feel that it was destined to be. They often define mundane activities such as grocery shopping or commuting to work as escapades of two lovers.
What happens when very young people feel love for the first time? What is puppy love or infatuation? Infatuation is a temporary state of love where the other person is overly idealized and seen in narrow and extremely positive terms. An infatuated person my think obsessively about the other, may feel a strong emotional response when they are together, may see their entire world as revolving around the other, may see them being together for the rest of their lives, may find one or two qualities of the other as being near perfect, or may be seen by others as having a crush on the other person. Regardless of the details, infatuations rarely last very long. This love develops quickly, much like a firework launches quickly into the night sky, puts on an emotional light show, then burns out quickly. Many define puppy love or infatuation as an immature love experienced by those who are young and perhaps a bit gullible.
Committed love is a love that is loyal and devoted. Two lovers may share committed love with or without physical affection, romance, friendship, trust, loyalty, acceptance, caring, concern, care, selflessness, and or infatuation. Committed lovers have a long-term history with one another and typically combine caregiving, concern for one another's well-being, and spending much time thinking of the other. Committed lovers are there when needed by the other person.
Altruism is a selfless type of love that serves others while not serving the one who is altruistic. according to some, true altruism is hard to find. Many find similarities between the Greek Agapé and altruism. The world's major religions each have a version of altruism in their doctrines. Mothers who tend the sick child throughout the night, fathers who work three to four decades in the harsh marketplace to provide for the family, and even firefighters who sacrifice their safety to save the lives of others are all considered to be altruistic in their actions. Because so much of what we do in our relationships is considered in the larger overall equation of the fairness in a relationship, selfless acts can be seen as acts that either build a reservoir of goodwill which will later be repaid or create a debt of sorts in which the other person owes you some selfless service in return.
One elderly woman told me that when she was younger you never could have convinced her that the flu could help build her loving relationship with her husband. She said that when she was in her fifties she caught a really bad version of the flu and was nearly hospitalized during the worst part of it. She said one night her husband spent the entire night taking care of her needs. “He stood in front of me while I was on the toilet and held me up, even though I was vomiting. He did this so that I could hold on to what little dignity I had left. After each episode, he carefully bathed me and helped me get some sleep. When I finally recovered, I realized that my love for him grew dramatically during this illness, because he took care of me and never asked for so much as a thank-you for having done it.” Her husband expressed that his love grew even more than hers during this illness.
Sexual or Passionate Lovers are focused on the intensely sensual pleasures that are found with the senses of taste, smell, touch, feelings, hearing, and sight. Sexual lovers lust for one another and feel closest when they are together and being physical. Sexual lovers can be together for five minutes, five days, five weeks, or five years, but sexual love by itself is typically short-lived. There is closeness during sex and activities leading up to sex, but not much thereafter. Sexual love when combined with other love types can be very beneficial to the couple. Sexual love is almost always the love type experienced by those having an extra-marital affair.
Friendship Love includes intimacy and trust between close friends. In our day, most long-burning or enduring love types form between people who were first close friends. Friendship lovers tend to enjoy each other's company, conversation, and daily interactions. They consider one another to be “go-to” friends when advice is needed or when problems need to be talked about together. Not all friendship lovers become a couple. Many are just close or best friends. Yet, many who spend the rest of their lives together will start out their relationship as friends.
Criteria or Realistic Love is the love feelings you have when your list of a potential mate's personal traits is met in the other person. Women often desire their man to be taller. Men and women often desire to find a partner with homogeneous traits (e.g., same religion, political leanings, hobbies). I personally had a friend who always said he would marry a redhead. He did. I have another friend who said he'd never marry a thin woman, and he didn't. Each of us has an ideal for a partner, and we tend to get some of those characteristics with people we become intimate with and eventually marry.
Obsessive Love is an unhealthy love type in which conflict and dramatic extremes in the relationship are both the goal and the theme of the couple's love. Obsessive lovers live for storms and find peace while they rage. They are often violent or overly aggressive at different levels. A few couples bring complementary traits to the relationship, which light the other's fire of madness if you will. In other words, she may be angry and violent with him, but not with some other guys. He may feel simultaneously drawn to her and repulsed, but not with other gals. Their personality chemistry contributes to the insanity and lack of peace. Please note, these couples most likely need professional counseling and would probably be better off if they broke up immediately and never saw one another again. At the same time, why would they seek help or leave the person whose entanglements bring them such an occupation with drama and conflict that they are freed from their boredom and entertained at the same time?
Finally there is deceptive love. Deceptive Love is formed when one or both partners either consciously or unconsciously mislead the other in an effort to dishonestly establish trust and intimacy. This love type follows a “catch-and-release” or a “black widow/widower” mode. In the Catch-and-Release Mode, one partner lures the other in by pretending to experience all the romance and trappings of falling in love when in reality he or she is tricking the other person. The trickery is done in a never-ending pursuit of many relationships, all of which are initially established and most of which are ultimately not maintained. In other words, he is more interested in falling in love and catching more fish (lovers) than in staying in love and maintaining a long-term relationship. The catch-and-release lover may not be aware of the unhealthy nature of his or her antics.
In the Black Widow/Widower Mode, there is calculated and precise deception designed to lure the other into a relationship for ulterior motives. The deceiver tricks the other in order to gain access to wealth, property, or even power. The victim in this relationship often discovers too late that he or she was taken advantage of and that he or she has been deceived. The catch-and-release lover sometimes deceives him or herself, whereas the black widow/widower lover is fully aware of his or her deception and ultimate goals.
Among all these love types lies an underlying truth mentioned before -- loving is a risky business where hurt feelings and pain are far too common and wounds and scars from past relationships haunt some long after they form a permanent relationship. Part of that haunting past for lovers is unrequited love. Unrequited Love is the result of one person deeply wanting an intimate relationship with another who simply is not interested and does not reciprocate. Unrequited love is common among younger lovers, who misread verbal and nonverbal cues and who often have yet to learn about their own love needs and wants.
Understanding love is crucial in the United States because the majority of our population needs to fall in love before they marry. In other words, love precedes marriage. Outside of the U.S., in India, China, Africa, and other regions of the world, love is hoped for after a couple marries but not considered as a prerequisite to marriage. In the U.S. we fall in love then marry and conversely fall out of love then divorce. I would argue that falling into love is truly about falling into the Zone of Vulnerability and a safe sense of self in that intimacy. Falling out of love is truly about lost trust, lost safety, and lost self once the relationship has reached a point of trouble.
For very young couples, falling into love and finding that safe place for both selves is easy and is often based on fantasy rather than reason and logic. Teens often have mutually self-serving motivations that make their love feel very real and powerful at the time. Look at Figure 2 below. For many teens who form intimate relationships, the girls are seeking social status and maturity by having a complex relationship with a boy and by demonstrating to their girlfriends their social capabilities. Typically, teen girls seek after love, closeness, intimacy, and the status of being a girlfriend, going steady, or even being engaged. That works conveniently for boys, who are seeking physical affection and social status.
Figure 2. Adolescent Intimacy -- Sex and Love Matrix
Take a hypothetical example of Dave, who is on the high school basketball team. He notices that Shiree has been hanging out with his buddies and has asked them details about his availability. His buddies reveal Shiree's interest in him, and they eventually sit next to one another at lunch. Eventually Dave and Shiree are “a thing” and they date exclusively. Dave pressures Shiree for more sexual expression together. Shiree is not very interested because she really wants the love and all the relationship benefits that come with it.
Dave becomes more and more interested in sex and soon learns that if he makes gestures toward Shiree and their devotion to one another, then Shiree allows physical things to go further and further. After the prom, flowers, Dave letting Shiree wear his varsity jacket, and a promise ring and guarantee, Shiree and Dave become sexually active. Shiree shows up at Dave's house unannounced and tells Dave's father that she is going to be his daughter-in-law. Dave's father invites her in and brings Dave downstairs for a visit. Shiree reveals to them that she is pregnant and that Dave has promised/guaranteed her if they got pregnant then they would get married. Dave, upon hearing the news of the pregnancy, blurts out, “You are putting that baby up for adoption. I'm too young to be a father!”
Dave was wrong on both claims. Shiree kept the baby, he was the father, and she dumped Dave on the spot. It's been 17 years now that Dave has made monthly child-support payments. Shiree married and started a family with another man. Of course this is a true story with names changed to protect identities. But it is also a very typical story where the girl saw all the trappings of what she thought love was. The guy saw opportunities for pleasure and social status, and each experienced a predictable teen love relationship. This pattern helps to explain in part why teens engage in sex at an early age and why teen pregnancy sometimes occurs from that sex. This pattern in Figure 2 has not been found to apply to adults and has not been found to apply to all teen romances. Adults tend to report more sexual and relational satisfaction when intimacy and friendship are part of the overall relationship.
Love is also a function of our choices and the decisions we make while measuring the “rewards-costs” formula in our lives. Regardless of the love type you experience, you will find some types of the relationship to be rewarding while others appear to be expensive. Understanding how needs and love interact is essential to the study of love. In any relationship, we keep a mental balance sheet where the rewards and costs are measured in an overall evaluation of the worth of that relationship to us. Being in love means that each partner receives safe nurturing acceptance of their sense of self, even if the relationship hits a few bumps in the road.
In the overall evaluation of the relationship, the loss of that safe and nurturing relationship where the self is threatened signals a very high cost to the individual, who must weigh that cost against the rewards and potential outcomes. Again, when people fall out of love, they are essentially falling out of the Zone of Vulnerability and the safety for self that was once enjoyed there by both partners. This is why many short-term relationships end abruptly and why many long-term ones continue on even when things look and feel really bad between lovers. Figure 3 shows the characteristics of short- and long-term relationships.
Figure 3. Comparison of Characteristics of Short-term and Long-term Relationships
Short-term relationships tend to have a relatively brief period of time between acquaintance and the onset of sexual relations. Many short-term relationships have fantasy elements in that one or both partners view the nature of the relationship in unrealistic terms and inflate its good qualities to better match the fantasy. Short-term relationships tend to have more drama, conflict, and infidelity or absence of loyalty, especially when the two people are apart. Short-term relationships have not developed to the degree that exclusiveness is expected or offered. The intensity of the relationship comes with obsession over how the couple appears to others and often a compulsion to keep up appearances even though one or both people know the relationship is not going to lead to anything over time.
There is also an overemphasis on physical and sexual expressions, which often soothe anxious hearts rather than work out problems that need to be addressed. It could be argued that newly formed relationships suffer from sexual “medication” where relational problem-solving would be better suited. Finally, there is a deep need for the other partner to measure up to something he or she is not.
Long-term relationships may have begun with some of the exact same traits that short-term ones have. But somewhere along the way both partners are able to transition out of the newness and superficiality of the relationship into the long-term maintenance of the rapport. Friendships are proven over time, trial, and everyday mundane exposure to one another. Sexual relationship is an adjunct to the overall relationship, not the focus and occupation of it. Intimacy has deepened because it has been tested and sustained by loyalty, devotion, and exclusive fidelity to one another. Forgiveness is possible and often provided because each knows that both are human and prone to make mistakes -- how might one partner demand perfection of the other when he or she cannot offer perfection in return?
In both the early and continuing eras of the relationship, each excludes potential rivals and chooses to remain faithful to the other. Both need each other on a daily basis (interdependence), and both provide the other their space, time alone, and individuality (mutual independence). There is also an element of altruism and nurturing of the other (even when it's not reciprocated all the time). Couples can also procure help in medical, emotional, relational, and familial areas of need. Since sexual intercourse is common and part of everyday life, it requires negotiation and mutual agreement in the relationship.
On this website there are a few love assessments for you to take if you want to learn more about how you love. These are not diagnostic tools -- they are simply tools for personal insight and self-awareness. Take the “Speaking and Hearing Your Love Types” assessment and once you are finished have your partner take it using the partner version. Make sure you don't discuss your findings until BOTH OF YOU HAVE FINISHED THE ASSESSMENT. Then, if you wish, take the “Ideal Versus Practical Love Styles” assessment to see how you are grounded in your love.