A high school student e-mailed me asking for a professional opinion about love. I thought it was quite resourceful of her. Here’s what I said:
There are many theories of love and there's been a lot of psychological research on the subject. I think there are different kinds of love.
I like the idea that love has 3 dimensions. One is intimacy. You might be intimate with a close friend. Another is passion. That's a feeling you might have for a potential romantic partner, even one that you've just met. The third is commitment. You might feel a commitment to your child or parent. These three dimensions come together in different ways, which are different kinds of love. For example, you might feel commitment, intimacy and passion for your boyfriend or spouse.
How do you know if you're in love? You ask yourself how you feel about the relationship along those 3 dimensions. It's very subjective. I think the manner in which love affects daily life varies a great deal among people. For some it's all consuming, and people have written about this type of obsessive love. For others, it's part of the fabric of life, like work. In my opinion, a good balance between love relationships and work is very healthy.
It sounds good, doesn’t it? I talk to a lot of people trying to figure out if they’re still in love. Often, they feel the commitment, sometimes the intimacy, but not the passion anymore. You know, I love him but I’m not in love with him. People have also talked about passionate love vs companionate love. The latter being the kind of love you have for someone you feel is a life companion, like a best friend and even more. Sometimes passionate love develops into companionate love. Sometimes vice versa.
Part of what we have to decide is what we need from a relationship at this particular time in our lives. It’s kind of like work. We might not always love our work, but at times we really do. When we love it, we can’t imagine being without it. Another decision facing you is whether you can make the commitment, whether it’s to work, to another person, to a dog even. Why is it we forgive our pets and children so much, but not our partners, whether in love or work relationships?
A final note: we need to decide what makes us happy and how to make that happen in all of our relationships with people, work and dogs.