Most people have experienced the overwhelming sensation of weak knees, shallow breathing, and butterflies in their stomachs that come with being infatuated or falling in love with someone.
Or, they’ve at least felt a deep sense of caring and compassion for a loved one, like a family member, a close friend, or even an animal companion. But there’s been an age-long debate on what love really is and what it means to us.
According to the American Psychological Association, love is what’s known as a complex emotion that involves plenty of very strong feelings and involves making various decisions or choices on how the relationship proceeds.
So, if you’re wondering which one it is, it really is all of the above and so much more. However, though love is all of these things, that doesn’t mean all these terms are interchangeable, and there are a lot of big differences in the ways you can describe love.
A lot of people would use the words ‘emotions; and ‘feelings’ as though they were the same. However, there is a big difference between the two. Emotions are defined as a ‘multi-faceted experience’ and are a mishmash of subjective perspectives, expressions, and physical reactions towards different situations.
While feelings are a conscious experience, and you’re aware that you feel something, like hunger and pain, emotions are mainly subconscious. You don’t choose to have emotions when you’re experiencing them.
You just do. That’s why it can often be difficult to control yourself or rationalize the love you feel because you can’t just make a decision to reign it in. However, just because it’s unconscious doesn’t mean you can’t discover or know about it. Love, especially, manifests as an emotion through our thoughts, beliefs, and actions.
You can’t think of love as simply being one feeling but as a collection of many, often contrasting, feelings that contribute to the intensity and strength of the love you feel towards another person. For one, the most prominent feeling would be tenderness and affection towards the subject or object of your love.
You also begin to feel devoted to their health, life, and overall well-being while also being sensitive to their physical and emotional state. Because feelings come from our thoughts and cognition, it is actually easier for us to change the way we feel about someone rather than the emotions that spring up without warning.
Though we can have strong emotions for someone who can’t be helped, we can still reframe the way we feel about them by working through and vocalizing these feelings.
Even though emotions come as they please and, in turn, influence your feelings, love is still a choice to be made every day.
As people, we can tell when something is good or bad for us and have the power to decide whether we want to keep someone in our lives or not. If you want to make a long-term relationship work, more than just how you think and feel, there needs to be a conscious commitment towards the other person.
As most of us know, love isn’t just sunshine and rainbows. In the honeymoon phase, it can be easy to overlook small problems and your partner’s quirks because of the rush of feel-good chemicals from the passion. But, once trials and tribulations come along, it gets harder to stay together unless a commitment is forged between the two of you.
Surprisingly, a lot of science goes into love. Love is so complex and intense that it’s been found to cause immune function suppression because of an increase in your stress hormones. This means that while love doesn’t make you cause you to become sick, per se, it can actually contribute to stuff like tummy troubles. Love involves several different other hormones as well.
You’ve probably heard of dopamine, the “pleasure” neurotransmitter that gives you the intense and honestly obsessive sensations that you have when you’re infatuated with someone else. This is usually the dominant hormone that in the beginning phases when love hasn’t fully cemented and matured yet.
Within the first year, serotonin, another well-known hormone that is able to regulate moods, stave off depression, and create a feeling of euphoria, is also high. But eventually, this tapers off and normalizes in levels as you continue to get to know your special someone.
It is then replaced more often with oxytocin, which is associated with mature and deeper bonds. Married couples who have strong and loving relationships were found to live longer, and healthier lives because of the immunity boost that oxytocin release gives us.
Aside from all the different brain processes that make you feel gooey inside, a popular and well-respected theory called the Triangular Theory of Love explains why people experience love in various ways and why there are several types of love. For example, the way you feel love for a romantic partner differs from the way you would show love for a friend or your parent.
According to Dr. Sternberg, the one who concocted the theory, love involves varying degrees of passion, intimacy, and commitment. Passion is the most recognizable component, and it involves the romantic subtext, physical attraction, and related phenomena of being fired up toward your loved one.
Intimacy is related to the closeness, connection, and bonding that gives you the warm and comforting feelings experienced in love. Finally, commitment is the cognitive part of love that involves the decision-making and responsibilities or obligations associated with having a relationship.
So, if you feel intimacy toward someone but have no sense of commitment or passion, you refer to this type of love as “liking” or friendship. Infatuation, which is described as a crush or puppy love, is when there is plenty of passion but without the accompanying intimacy or commitment.
It doesn’t seem that love can be experienced without any feelings at all, and for good reason. Some scholars argue that love is just like other physiological drives, such as hunger, thirst, and sleep. All of us need these to survive. Thus it’s important for us to meet love as a need within our limits and the consent of our loved ones.
Despite how much we may try, the feeling of love we have just won’t go away, and it’s essential to our well-being to see it through. It takes time for us to process how we feel when we love because of how complex and confusing it can be to feel both bad and good at the same time. But, with enough self-reflection and communication, love can be a feeling, an emotion, and a choice all at once.