If I had a dollar for every time I heard the phrase, “When you’re in love, you’ll just know…” I’d be pretty close to buying a new yoga mat (or at least putting down a small deposit on one).
But if it was that simple, we wouldn’t be reading (or writing) so many articles on the complexities of love. Love may sometimes be complicated but, like most things, there is a science to it.
According to Sternberg’s Triangular Theory, there are six distinct types of love (plus friendship). Each type of love is characterised by a combination of three variables: Intimacy, passion and commitment. The infographic below gives you a rough idea of how it all works.
Consummate Love is only experienced when intimacy, passion and commitment are all present.
The other types have only one or two of these components, which makes them far less stable and prone to fading.
In this article, I focus on one of the most common types of love: Infatuation.
When we are infatuated with someone, we experience extremely high levels of arousal. We are physically drawn to the person and often find it hard to stop thinking about them. In fact, we experience such a chemical high that some studies have shown infatuation to be addictive.
Author Jon Elster believes that infatuation can be more addictive than amphetamines. Since our infatuation chemicals are released based on our thoughts and beliefs, they fluctuate much more rapidly than the chemicals of drug users.
While drug users experience the gradual onset of a come-down (as their drugs wear off), infatuated people come down much more rapidly. Elster states, “the euphoria and dysphoria (highs and lows) can arise virtually instantly.” This roller-coaster of emotions is known as limerence.
Limerence has many of the same characteristics as addiction. Apart from the chemical fluctuations, it increases impulsivity, alters decision making and dismisses the importance of long-term consequences.
Essentially, even if we know that the person is “bad for us,” the chemical balances in our brain make us continue to want to see them. This might offer some explanation for the recent proliferation of the hook-up culture. Once we experience the blinding chemical highs of infatuation, it is hard to go back to the steady, gradual satisfaction built through commitment and intimacy.
Ultimately, the chemical high of infatuation doesn’t last. While they usually fizzle out around six to eight months, they have been shown to stick around for up to three years. In any case, when they do wear off, the lack of intimacy and commitment is likely to eventually undo our relationships.
So what can we take from all of this?
Enjoy the highs of infatuation, but be mindful of the importance of intimacy and commitment. There are three components of consummate love, and each is as important as the other.
Author: Garrick Transell
Editor: Caroline Beaton
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