The Anatomy of Love

"Whoever loves becomes humble. Those who love have, so to speak, pawned a part of their narcissism." 
-Sigmund Freud

"How does it feel when it's love?
It's just something you feel together."
Van Halen

I score that: Psychologists 1, rock stars 0.

In May of 2000 a virus spread around the world. It infected 1200 computers within three hours, and was rattling around machines at the CIA, FBI, and Pentagon within a day. It shut down servers at The British House of Commons while the American Department of State was forced to temporarily disconnect its computers from the internet (BBC, 2000). Did some malevolent genius unravel the inner secrets of network crypto architecture? Was it a terrorist plot? No, actually, just a small virus tossed off by a Fillipino student disgruntled at having being kicked out of his computer science program.

The secret to its success was that upon infecting a machine it emailed itself out using the subject line "ILOVEYOU." This moved people, by the thousand, to open its attachment - even people at the Pentagon 1 - thus apparently confirming The Beatles dictum that "love is all you need." Score one for the rock stars.

They would score more, but they were off by a little. According to a very prominent psychology theory, having a sense of relatedness with others is one of the three most fundamental human motivations, along
with having a sense of competence and authenticity 2(Deci & Ryan, 2000). Of course, lyrics like "love is maybe 33 percent of all you need" are one reason that psychologists don't pack stadiums. Suffice it to say that love is important. Very important. It's not a
coincidence that several major world religions are built around it.

Love is one of those things we’ve all had a lot of practice at recognizing - at least, in other people. We all know, for example, that love is the bit in the movie where a sudden outbreak of string music makes two characters stare at each other intently (and you can tell its true love if they’re both pretty). But that’s not all there is to it. The line “I’m marrying my best friend” is to weddings what triple lutzes are to figure skating competitions – pretty much a required element. On top of all that, musicians have been telling us that “love is forever” since the lyre was de rigueur for rocking out.

Psychologists have boiled these observations down, and sliced them up a number of ways, but one of the most enduringly popular, at least with the makers of textbooks, has been Robert Sternberg’s “triangle” theory of love (Sternberg, 1986). Think of a special someone for a moment, and play along with this at home: Love, says the triangle theory, is made of some combination of  passionintimacy, and  commitment.

Passion is the heady feeling that all those parts of the planet not immediately connected to the loved one just aren’t very important.  Intimacy is a sense that the other person knows you in a deep way, and likes you3Commitment is the belief that you want to keep seeing this person past, say, breakfast tomorrow. Those aren’t the word-for-word the official definitions, but close enough.

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