The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







For the 1960s band, see Love (band). The term is also used in tennis.

Love has many meanings in English. It can mean an intense feeling of affection, an emotion or emotional state. In ordinary use, it usually refers to interpersonal love.

Love is one of the most common themes in art. The majority of modern movies have a love story and most pop music is about love.


Defining love

There are as many forms of love as there are lovers. However, all forms of love have some common factors and issues.

Discussions of love are inevitably colored by the language used to describe it. Each language, developing alongside a corresponding culture, has a different set of words to describe love. For this reason, it's difficult to discuss different cultures' views without referencing their language. See the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

Interpersonal love

Interpersonal love is love between human beings and is deeper than merely liking someone a lot. Although feelings are usually reciprocal, there can also be unrequited love. Interpersonal love is usually found in an interpersonal relationship, such as between family members, friends, and couples. However, people often express love for other people outside of these relationships through compassionate outreach and volunteering.

Some elements that are often present in interpersonal love:

Sexual energy can be the most important element in determining the shape of a relationship. While sexual attraction often establishes a new bond, sexual intention is considered undesirable or inappropriate in certain love bonds. In many religions and systems of ethics it is wrong to act on sexual desire for immediate family or outside of a committed relationship. However, there are many ways to express passionate love without sex. Affection, emotional intimacy and shared interests are common in friendships and kinships of all kinds.

Impersonal love

A person can be said to love a country, principle, or goal if they value it greatly and are deeply committed to it. People can also 'love' material objects, animals, or activities if they invest themselves in bonding their identity with that item. In these cases, if sexual passion is actually felt, it is typically considered abnormal or unhealthy, and called paraphilia.

Religious love

Most religions use love to express the devotion the follower has to their deity who may be a living guru or religious teacher. This love can be expressed by putting the love of God above personal needs, prayer, service, good deeds, and personal sacrifice, all done selflessly. Reciprocally, the followers may believe that the deity loves the followers and all of creation. Some traditions encourage the development of passionate love in the believer for the deity. Refer to 'Religious Views' below.

Scientific models

Biological models of love tend to see it as a mammalian drive, just like hunger or thirst. Psychology sees love as more of a social and cultural phenomenon. There are probably elements of truth in both views — certainly love is influenced by hormones and pheromones, and how people think and behave in love is influenced by their conceptions of love.

Attraction and attachment

The conventional view in Biology is that there are two major drives in love — sexual attraction and attachment. Attachment between adults is presumed to work on the same principles that lead an infant to become attached to their mother.

Companionate vs. passionate

The traditional psychological view sees love as being a combination of companionate love and passionate love . Passionate love is intense longing, and is often accompanied by physiological arousal (shortness of breath, rapid heart rate). Companionate love is affection and a feeling of intimacy not accompanied by physiological arousal.

Sternberg's Triangular Theory of Love

In the triangular theory of love, love is characterized by three elements: intimacy, passion and commitment. Each of these elements can be present in a relationship, producing the following combinations:

Combinations of intimacy, passion, and commitment
Liking or friendship intimacy    
Infatuation or limerence   passion  
Empty love     commitment
Romantic love intimacy passion  
Companionate love intimacy   commitment
Fatuous love   passion commitment
Consummate love intimacy passion commitment

1. Liking includes only one of the love components - intimacy. In this case, liking is not used in a trivial sense. Sternberg says that this intimate liking characterizes true friendships, in which a person feels a bondedness, a warmth, and a closeness with another but not intense passion or long-term commitment.

2. Infatuated love consists solely of passion and is often what is felt as "love at first sight." But without the intimacy and the commitment components of love, infatuated love may disappear suddenly.

3. Empty love consists of the commitment component without intimacy or passion. Sometimes, a stronger love deteriorates into empty love, in which the commitment remains, but the intimacy and passion have died. In cultures in which arranged marriages are common, relationships often begin as empty love.

4. Romantic love is a combination of intimacy and passion. Romantic lovers are bonded emotionally (as in liking) and physically through passionate arousal.

5. Fatuous love has the passion and the commitment components but not the intimacy component. This type of love can be exemplified by a whirlwind courtship and marriage in which a commitment is motivated largely by passion, without the stabilizing influence of intimacy.

6. Companionate love consists of intimacy and commitment. This type of love is often found in marriages in which the passion has gone out of the relationship, but a deep affection and commitment remain.

7. Consummate love is the only type of love that includes all three components--intimacy, passion and commitment. Consummate love is the most complete form of love, and it represents the ideal love relationship for which many people strive but which apparently few achieve. Sternberg cautions that maintaining a consummate love may be even harder than achieving it. He stresses the importance of translating the components of love into action. "Without expression," he warns, "even the greatest of loves can die" (1987, p.341).

Love styles

Susan Hendrick and Clyde Hendrick developed a theory called Love styles. They identified six basic theories that people use in their interpersonal relationships:

  • Eros — a passionate physical love based on physical appearance
  • Ludus — love is played as a game; love is playful
  • Storge — an affectionate love that slowly develops, based on similarity
  • Pragma — pragmatic love
  • Mania — highly emotional love; unstable; the stereotype of romantic love
  • Agape — selfless altruistic love; spiritual

Furthermore, they found men tend to be more ludic, whereas women tend to be storgic and pragmatic. Relationships based on similar love styles were found to last longer.


Helen Fisher suggests three main phases of love: lust, attraction and attachment. Generally love will start off in the lust phase, strong in passion but weak in the other elements. The primary motivator at this stage is the basic sexual instinct. Appearance, smells and other similar factors play a decisive role in screening potential mates. However, as time passes, the other elements may grow and passion may shrink — this depends upon the individual. So what starts as Infatuation or Empty love may well develop into one of the fuller types of love. At the attraction stage the person concentrates their affection on a single mate and fidelity becomes important.

Likewise when a person has known a loved one for a long time, they develop a deeper attachment to their partner. According to current scientific understanding of love, this transition from attraction to attachment phase usually happens in about 30 months. After that passion fades, changing love from Consummate to Companionate, or from Romantic love to Liking.

Cultural views



The Chinese philosopher Mo Zi developed ai (爱) in reaction to Confucian lian (恋). Ai is universal love towards all beings, not just towards friends or family, without regard to reciprocation. Extravagance and offensive war are inimical to ai. Although Mo Zi was influential, the Confucian lian is how most modern Chinese conceive of love.


Gănqng (感情), the feeling of a relationship. A person will express love by building good gănqng, accomplished through helping or working for another.

Emotional attachment toward another person or anything.


In Confucianism, lian is a virtuous benevolent love. lian should be pursued by all human beings, and reflects a moral life.


Yuanfen (缘份), a connection of bound destinies. A meaningful relationship is dependent on there being strong yuanfen.



In Japanese Buddhism, ai (愛) is passionate caring love, and a fundamental desire. It can develop towards either selfishness or selflessness and enlightenment.


Amae (甘え), a Japanese word meaning "indulgent dependence" is part of the child rearing culture of Japan. Japanese mothers are expected to hug and indulge their children, and children are expected to reward their mothers by clinging and serving. Sociologists have suggested that Japanese social interactions in later life are modelled on the mother-child amae.

Ancient Greek

Greek distinguishes several different senses in which the word love is used. For example, ancient Greek has the words philia, eros, agape, storge and xenia. However, with Greek as with many other languages, it has been historically difficult to separate the meanings of these words totally, and so we can find examples of agape being used with much the same meaning as eros. At the same time the ancient Greek text of the Bible has examples of the verb agapo being used with the same meaning as phileo.

Agape ( agápē)

Agape means love in modern day Greek. The term S'Agapo means 'I love you' in Greek. The word Agapo is the verb stem, 'I love'.

Eros (ἔρως érōs)

Eros is passionate love, with sensual desire and longing. The Greek word 'erota' means 'in love'

Plato refined his own definition. Although eros is initially felt for a person, with contemplation it becomes an appreciation of the beauty within that person, or even becomes appreciation of beauty itself. Eros helps the soul recall knowledge of beauty, and contributes to an understanding of spiritual truth. Lovers and philosophers are all inspired to seek truth by eros.

Philia (φιλία philía)

The conception of Philia, a dispassionate virtuous love, was developed by Aristotle. It includes loyalty to friends, family, and community, and requires virtue, equality and familiarity. Philia is motivated by practical reasons; one or both of the parties benefit from the relationship.

A friendship type of love.

Storge (στοργή storgē)

Storge is natural affection, like that felt by parents for offspring.

A friendship type of love.


In ancient Greece, the concept of xenia was extremely important. It was an almost ritualized friendship formed between a host and their guest, who could previously be strangers. The host fed and provided quarters for the guest, who was only expected to repay with gratitude. The importance of this can be seen throughout Greek mythology, in particular Homer's Iliad and Odyssey.

Religious views


Christians believe that love to God and to other people (God's creation, as they see it) are the two most important things in life (the greatest commandment of God, according to Jesus. See The Gospel of Mark chapter 12, verses 28-34 in the Bible). Saint Augustine summarised this when he wrote "Love God, and do as thou wilt". Christians also believe in the love of God for man so much that he would sacrifice his son for them. Many Christian theologians see God as the source of love which is mirrored in humans and their relationships.


In the New Testament, Agapē, is charitable, selfless, altruistic, and unconditional. It is fatherly love seen as creating goodness in the world, and is reciprocal between believers and God.


Also used in the New Testament, Phileo is a human response to something that is found to be delightful. Also known as "brotherly love."


Nomos is devotion to God, and the subjugation of the will before Him and His divine law.



In Buddhism, Kāma is sensous, sexual love. It is an obstacle on the path to enlightenment, since it is selfish.


Karuṇā is compassion and mercy which reduces the suffering of others. It is complimentary to wisdom, and is necessary for enlightenment.

Adveṣa, Maitrī

Adveṣa and maitrī are benevolent love. This love is unconditional and requires considerable self-acceptance. This is quite different from the ordinary love, which is usually about attachment and sex, which rarely occur without self-interest. Instead, in Buddhism it refers to detachment and unselfish interest in others' welfare.



In kāma is pleasurable, sexual love, personified by the god Kama. For many Hindu schools it is the third end in life (artha).


In contrast to kāma, prema or prem refers to elevated love.


Karuṇā is compassion and mercy which reduces the suffering of others.


Bhakti is a Sanskrit term from Hinduism meaning loving devotion to the supreme God. A person who practices bhakti is called bhakta.

Hindu writers, theologians and philosophers have distinguished nine forms of devotion that they call bhakti e.g. in the Bhagavatha-Purana and according to Tulsidas. The booklet Narada bhakti sutra written by an unknown author distinguishes eleven forms.



Ishq , or divine love, is the emphasis of Sufism, Sufis believe that love is a projection of the essence of God to the universe. God desires to recognize beauty, and as if one looks at a mirror to see oneself, God "looks" at itself within the dynamics of nature. Since everything is a reflection of God, the school of Sufism practices to see the beauty inside the apparently ugly.


Judaism employs a wide definition of love, both between people and between man and the Deity. As for the former, the Torah states: "Love your neighbor like yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). As for the latter, one is commanded to love God "with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your possessions" (Deuteronomy 6:5), taken by the Mishnah (a central text of the Jewish oral law) to refer to good deeds, willingness to sacrifice one's life rather than commit certain serious transgressions, willingness to sacrifice all one's possessions and being grateful to the Lord despite adversity (tractate Berachoth 9:5). Rabbinic literature differs how this love can be developed, e.g. by contemplating Divine deeds or witnessing the marvels of nature. As for love between marital partners, this is deemed an essential ingredient to life: "See life with the wife you love" (Ecclesiastes 9:9). The Biblical book Song of Songs is a considered a romantically-phrased metaphor of love between God and his people, but in its plain reading reads like a love song. The 20th century Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler is frequently quoted as defining love from the Jewish point-of-view as "giving without expecting to take" (from his Michtav me-Eliyahu, vol. 1). Romantic love per se has few echoes in Jewish literature, although the Medieval Rabbi Judah Halevi wrote romantic poetry in Arabic in his younger years (also he appears to have regretted this later).


Hesed , which basically combines the meaning of 'affection' and 'compassion' and is sometimes rendered in English as 'loving-kindness'. Hesed describes God's mercy.


Ahava for 'affection' or 'favour'. It is not as widely used as 'hesed'.


Different cultures have deified love, typically in both male and female form. Here is a list of the gods and goddesses of love in different mythologies.

See also

Human love

Other types of love (philias)


  • Love
  • "I love you" in various languages


  • R. J. Sternberg. A triangular theory of love. 1986. Psychological Review, 93, 119–135
  • R. J. Sternberg. Liking versus loving: A comparative evaluation of theories. 1987. Psychological Bulletin, 102, 331–345
  • Dorothy Tennov. Love and Limerence: the Experience of Being in Love. New York: Stein and Day, 1979. ISBN 0812861345
  • Helen Fisher. Why We Love: the Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love
  • Wood, Wood and Boyd. The World of Psychology. 5th edition. 2005. Pearson Education, 402–403

External links

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