Love is a familiar word. Everyone would say that they know what love is, but do they? Do you? What is love? How do we define it? Where does it come from? Does it mean the same thing for everyone?
In the survey portion of this website, we can look at the ways in which participants answered questions both about their opinions on love in general, and their personal experiences. (See survey questions 8-10.) The answers to these questions show us that there are some ideas about love that many agree upon, and there are other ideas that have more of a spread in the responses. Why are the results like this? What forms our opinions on these topics? As it turns out, there are several contributing factors.
In psychology, a schema refers to an internal cognitive model having to do with a specific situation or theme. This model helps us know what to expect in these various situations or themes. Therefore, a love schema is an internal working model of what love looks and feels like to one individual person. There are both similarities and differences between a given person’s own love schema and another person’s love schema, and there are many reasons as to why this is the case (Choo, Levine & Hatfield, 145). There are countless expectations about love that people learn from their culture, taught to them from the moment they can understand words. There are aspects of love that are socially acceptable, and those that are not. Love is in movies and it is in books. All of this exposure to love helps us to form our own schema. However, there are variables that exist and that contribute to one person’s love schema that may not be relevant for others. It is important to consider a person’s first-hand perceptions of love, both witnessed and what they have experienced for themselves.
As children, we see and learn about love through watching our parents’ relationships. Whether or not their relationship is a healthy or accurate model of love does not matter, since we still will absorb and apply the experiences we witness as what it means to be in love. As children grow into adolescents, we begin to witness love again in a different context. Dating often begins in the early teen years, and to see a friend in a relationship is another contributing experience to a person’s schema (Collins 1).
Any time we see a relationship, firsthand or otherwise, our schema comes into play. It is altered when new information is introduced, and it applies itself when we are thinking about or looking for love for ourselves. These preexisting expectations are so strong an influence, that if the love we experience for ourselves does not fit our schema of how it should be, the relationship will more than likely end.
Types of Love
Despite differences in schemas due to our first hand experience of love, the overarching concept of what an “ideal love” is tends to be consistent. The social factors that contribute to everyone’s schemas are so far-reaching, that in our culture, there tends to be a type of love that we all look for, that qualifies as perfect. The problem is that “perfect love” does not exist. Studies suggest that there are two types of love, which occur at different times in a relationship. What is commonly known as the puppy love, honeymoon period at the beginning of a new relationship is technically referred to as passionate love (Hatfield, Bensman & Rapson, 145). This is a short stretch of time during which the physical chemistry and desire to be together tend to both be heightened. After the phase of passionate love, however, comes a different type of love. The increased trust and openness we feel after the period of passion is called compassionate love. This type is more long term, and while the incredible physical and proximal desire of passionate love is dulled, compassionate love means a closer emotional relationship where the two parties involved feel as though they know a great deal about each other.
The idea of an “ideal love” that is seen frequently in the media, tends to look a lot like passionate and compassionate love existing at the same time, both to their fullest extent. The problem with this image is that the two tend not to coexist like this. While it’s true that a person may feel emotionally close to someone during the phase of passionate love, or may feel very physically attracted to someone during the phase of compassionate love, the two phases tend not to be equally strong at the same time.
The inability to achieve, to many people, what is considered this “ideal love” makes our love schemas unrealistic. If we expect this type of love, then anything less will feel like a compromise, when really, what we have found is perfectly functional and normal. If our society is to overcome this problem, it is important that first we recognize how we are set up for disappointment due to our unrealistic expectations of what love should be.
Choo, Patricia, Timothy Levine, and Elaine Hatfield. “Gender, Love Schemas, And Reactions To Romantic Break-Ups.” Journal Of Social Behavior & Personality 11.5 (1996): 143-160. Academic Search Complete. Web. 3 Oct. 2013.
Collins, Andrew. “More Than Myth: The Developmental Significance Of Romantic Relationships During Adolescence.” Journal Of Research On Adolescence (Wiley-Blackwell) 13.1 (2003): 1-24. Academic Search Complete. Web. 3 Nov. 2013.
Hatfield, Elaine, Lisamarie Bensman, and Richard L. Rapson. “A Brief History Of Social Scientists’ Attempts To Measure Passionate Love.” Journal Of Social & Personal Relationships 29.2 (2012): 143-164. Academic Search Complete. Web. 10 Oct. 2013.