5 Experts Weigh In On What Love Means — And How You Can Get More
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Falling in love is something that some men fear, some men do once a week and some aren’t sure is even possible. Love is a physiological reality as old as time itself — but it means different things to different people, and it’s never a one-size-fits-all state of being.
By expanding their consideration of what love is, men can gain self-assurance, relationship security and become better able to satisfy their partner’s needs. We talked to experts in five fields about how they define love — and how you can use these definitions to get a lot more love in your life.
The Dictionary Definition Of Love
Looking at how dictionaries describe love shows just how many different ways there are to think about the subject. Merriam-Webster Unabridged is currently undergoing revisions; a new definition of the word love will be introduced in a few months.
“Love is perennially one of the most commonly looked-up words, so it recently got a thorough going-over,” explains Emily Brewster, the lexicographer charged with redefining love. “It is one of the English language’s oldest words and it traces back to a Sanskrit word meaning ‘he desires,’ and it is used to refer to both the most powerful and the most mundane of emotions.”
The meaning of love is tricky to condense because there are many kinds. “There is the love a parent feels for a child which is different from romantic/sexual love, which is different from the love fans show an athlete or performer, which is different from the tennis score of zero, which is different from love of chocolate or a favorite song, and so on,” she says.
She says the romantic form is most likely to come to mind, “the one that has to do with quickened pulses and candy hearts that say ‘Be Mine’ and that sense is currently worded as ‘the attraction based on sexual desire: the affection and tenderness felt by lovers.’”
The Biochemistry Of Love
The euphoria that accompanies being in love doesn’t just happen. Love triggers a biochemical response in the brain, in which the hypothalamus releases dopamine, which creates feelings of pleasure, reward, desire, and arousal. The hypothalamus is also responsible for producing oxytocin and vasopressin, both associated with bonding and attachment. Vasopressin is a hormone released after sex and plays a role in long-term commitment. The National Institute of Health supported scientists who found that people who have a more positive relationship with their partner have higher levels of oxytocin, sometimes called the cuddling hormone, which is affected by physical contact. If the sheer presence or thought of your partner makes your heart pound or your hands sweat, epinephrine is to blame. Epinephrine is basically an adrenaline rush.
Guys who want to use the biochemistry of love to boost their relationships should try increasing the production of oxytocin: Try giving your partner a hug, sitting a little closer or holding hands. A massage will surely set things in motion.
Defining The Stages Of Love
For psychologists, love changes and grows over time — depending on how you cultivate it.
“The initial loving feeling comes from the chemistry, attraction and shared interest, but sustaining and building love comes from commitment and showing your best of self in the relationship,” says Dr. Megan Fleming, certified sex and relationship expert with New York-based Great Life Great Sex. “It is knowing that someone has your back and that you keep growing together and learning from one another.”
The first phase is romantic love — the dopamine-rich, high chemistry and heavy-attraction part that ushers in new relationships. But eventually, this phase ends. “The next phase is the power struggle, where once you get to know the person, the quality that drew you to them, like ‘being laid-back,’ becomes ‘lazy,’” Fleming explains. Next comes mature love, which is conscious loving. “Mature is not a sexy word, but it is that adult consciousness where you are not just being reactive but you are really choosing how you show up in your relationship, your behaviours and how you are caring and loving for your partner,” says Fleming.