Am I Really in Love?
As a clinical psychologist, providing mental health services in a public high school, I provided counseling and therapeutic services to a large number of teenagers, mostly girls. (Guys are less willing to acknowledge emotional problems.) They confided a great deal to me, often more than I needed to know. The most common problems among girls involvedtheir relationships with boys. These interactions tended to be intense, often painful, and frequently short-lived. The teens had their own vocabulary for classifying these couplings. When they "hooked up" it meant they have been doing what we, at the same age , called "making out," usually heavy petting. If it goes on over a period of time they refered to the liaison as being "with" someone. If it became exclusive with privileges only then is it dubbed a "relationship."
Guys, like teen aged boys in my time, were generally not interested in a relationship. They were looking for sexual encounters. After a boy has gone through several of these interactions, often switching partners rapidly, they are labeled by the girls as "players." This designation served as a warning to other girls but often did not. Both guys and girls sought these experiences. Many girls became depressed when they were "single." One girl engaged in "cutting" after each breakup and on one occasion needed psychiatric hospitalization. Guys seemed to take it more in stride. Girls at fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen are emotionally more mature than their male counterparts and gradually become wiser and more selective in their choices. Sexual interest starts in the middle school and by ninth grade many of the boys and girls have had some sexual experience. Pregnancies are, fortunately, rare. Hair color changes were frequent in girls. Blue, purple and Raggedy Ann orange hair colorings were routine. I was advised by the girls that dying one's hair jet black is a sign of depression. Romantic pairings were never kept secret. Cell phones, texting, and Facebook announcements kept everyone instantly up-to-date. Facebook,"status" postings, including pictures, can be vicious and destructive.
Psychologists attempt to understand and explain complex human behavior in an orderly manner. Love involves many variations and subtleties. Psychologists have attempted to provide order from chaos by developing systems of classifying loving relationships. Just as color can be reduced to combinations of three primary colors, red, yellow, and blue, Psychologist Robert Sternberg has developed a three factor model of love, which he depicts graphically as the corners of a triangle. Eight possible combinations of these factors, taken singly, in pairs or all together are seen as accounting for eight types of love. The ninth type, when none of the factors operative, is regarded as the absence of love.
The three factors are "intimacy," passion," and "commitment." Intimacy describes a close emotional connection, caring about the welfare, respect, mutual understanding, and support. Passion is the physical attraction between the partners--the driving force that leads to romance. It is often the beginning of a relationship. Commitment is the conscious decision to maintain and build the relationship. Intimacy without passion and commitment is termed a friendship. Intimacy along with passion is the basis of romantic love. When there is intimacy along with commitment there is a desire to maintain the relationship. Passion with commitment refers to a situation in which the two partners really do not know each other well. Complete love, according to this model, requires all three factors.
It takes two to tango
According to Sternberg's model, each person in a relatiionship has a "love triangle" of feelings for his or her partner. Love relationships involve the interactions between the two triangles. The three factors may vary in intensity. In the ideal situation a workable balance is reached. Living happily together will depend upon each person understanding the nature of the relationship and how it affects interactions.