Theories of Love

I can’t remember how and why this idea got brought to my attention (maybe it was the Poly Forum), but I find it so thought-provoking: defining love and finding different ways of conceptualizing it. In one of the articles I stumbled upon (and I can’t find it now), the author mentions that there are x number of words for snow in different Eskimo languages, and so of course it makes sense we get confused when we only have one word (love) to describe a vast array of feelings toward others. 

I know for myself, I use the word love in relation to: my parents and sister and other family members, my primary partner, really close platonic friends, other partners that I feel especially connected to (and I may or may not have romantic feelings as well for those other partners), our pup, and my favorites (weather, movies, books, music, colors, scenery, activities, hobbies, clothes, etc), as well as many other things I am sure. When I took German in high school and college, I recall all of my teachers discussing with my classes that in Germany, you simply do not use the word “love” (“liebe”) in reference to anything other than people. To convey how much you dig an inanimate object, you use the various words for “like.” I remember that struck me, since I grew up using the word love for everything that struck my fancy. For me, the word love encompasses a wide continuum of positive, caring, and loving feelings toward something or someone.

So, I decided to investigate popular ways within psychology of thinking about love. This was my favorite article, and since it did such an awesome job of summarizing the main ideas, I wanted to just include it here:

“My Favorite Unromantic Theories of Love

Do psychological theories of love leave something to be desired?

Why are we drawn to certain people and not others? What makes us fall in love–and stay in love? Poets delve into the mystery of love with beautiful sonnets, musicians seek to capture its subtle essence in song, and many others feel that their love is divinely inspired. Social and personality psychologists, on the other hand, break love down into simple shapes, colors, and equations, the most popular of which are described below. These theories may seem to reduce love to something more mundane and unexciting, but they also have a certain elegance of their own. 

1. The love triangle. According to Robert Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love (2004), love consists of three components, intimacy (emotional closeness), passion (sexual and romantic attraction), and commitment. The ideal form of love for a romantic couple (Consummate love) involves all three components, but it is not easy to maintain, as the passionate spark tends to fade over time. Sternberg also describes six other combinations. Romantic love involves intimacy and passion without commitment and is more common in the teenage and young adult years. Companionate love involves intimacy and commitment without passion and is typical of close friends, and sometimes long-term marriages. Infatuated love involves passion only and often occurs at the very beginning of a relationship. Empty love involves commitment with no intimacy or passion, as in an arranged marriage—but it may grow into other forms of love over time. Finally, Fatuous love is like getting engaged after dating for three weeks— it involves passion and commitment, but no deeper intimacy.

2. The color wheel. John Lee (1973) identified six styles of love and referred to them as the “colors of love,” although they are do not correspond to actual colors. The first style, Eros, is characterized by idealization of one’s partner and strong romantic feelings. Ludus is characterized by a need for excitement and a view of love as a game—research suggests that men are more likely than women to be ludic. Storge is characterized by stability and friendship, similar to Sternberg’s companionate love. Pragma is characterized by practical considerations, such as looking for a “checklist” of traits. Storge and pragma are more common among women. Mania involves obsession, jealousy, and extreme ups and downs. Agape refers to selflessness and unconditional compassion. To find out your love style, you can take a test here. 
3. The mere exposure effect. This is one of the most memorable concepts from my first psychology class and is probably the most unromantic theory of all. The mere exposure effect, discovered by Robert Zajonc (1968), refers to our tendency to like things that are familiar to us—that is, those things and people that we are exposed to most often. The mere exposure effect helps to explain propinquity, the idea that one of the main determinants of interpersonal attraction is physical proximity. In one famous series of studies conducted by Leon Festinger and others (1950), the development of friendships in an apartment complex was directly related to the distance between apartments—people were more likely to become friends with neighbors who lived even just slightly closer, and those who they happened to pass more often on the way down the stairs or to the mailbox. While there may be some degree of randomness and luck in the attachments we form, this doesn’t mean that relationships based on proximity are any less genuine and meaningful. But it does suggest that we might have a whole different life if we’d just happened to live on a different hall in college.
4. The clone attraction. Do opposites attract, or do birds of a feather flock together? Research suggests that the latter is more often true. People are more attracted to those who are similar to themselves in pretty much every way, ranging from personality to religious beliefs to physical appearance, and more similar couples tend to be happier. In one study, participants reported being most attracted to morphed versions of their own faces (though the interpretation of this finding is controversial). Although there are advantages to genetic diversity, there may be social and practical disadvantages. The more similar a couple looks, the easier it could be for the father to recognize if a child is not his own, which could support an evolutionary argument for attraction to physically similar others. To see the effects of similarity in action, the following website contains a slideshow of clone-like celebrity couples. (Even Heidi Klum and Seal, whose ethnic backgrounds are different, share surprisingly similar facial structure—their marriage recently ended, but it lasted longer than most celebrity couples’ marriages do). You can also just open any newspaper to the nuptials page.  5. The commitment equation. How committed are you to your partner? Research suggests that it depends on three main factors: 1) how invested you are in the relationship (i.e., what you’ve sacrificed/costs of leaving the relationship), 2) how much you get out of the relationship, and 3) whether there are attractive alternatives. Caryl Rusbult developed the Investment Model by studying college students’ relationship trajectories—in statistical analyses, these three variables emerged as the strongest unique predictors of commitment. Here is the equation: 
Commitment = investment + (rewards – costs) – attractive alternatives
The investment model helps to explain why people might stay in an abusive or unhappy relationship—there may be children involved, financial dependence, or a lack of external social support. It may also explain why people who have too many attractive alternatives available sometimes have trouble settling down. 
Although it is unlikely that any single account will fully capture what for most of us is a very personal and complex experience, the scientific study of love need not diminish its magic. If anything, it might help us love more wisely, with greater appreciation for the social, biological, and cultural forces that shape the choices we make.”

The most popular theory, from what I have been able to gather, is Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love.

I find this theory quite fascinating. If you read Sternberg’s ideas about “consummate love,” it sounds quite idealized and “perfect,” and like he places quite a value judgement on these different types of love. For example, from the Wikipedia page on the theory, it mentions that:

Consummate love is the complete form of love, representing an ideal relationship which people strive towards. Of the seven varieties of love, consummate love is theorized to be that love associated with the “perfect couple.” According to Sternberg, these couples will continue to have great sex fifteen years or more into the relationship, they cannot imagine themselves happier over the long-term with anyone else, they overcome their few difficulties gracefully, and each delight in the relationship with one other.[7] However, 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.”[8] Thus, consummate love may not be permanent. If passion is lost over time, it may change into companionate love.”

Yikes, I say. J and I talked about this, and he had the great insight that this theory seemed similar to Arianne Cohen’s The Sex Diaries Project, except Cohen’s work doesn’t place a value judgement on the various types of relationships (dalliancing, solo, partners, lovers, aspirers, poly). It seems like if I were to mesh the Triangular Theory and Cohen’s ideas, I would maybe say lovers operate primarily within romantic love and aspirers operate primarily within companionate love. Except I can’t quite see where Cohen’s partners would fit in the triangle. (There is no need to fit these two models together, except it was interesting to try 🙂 ) I am not sold on Sternberg’s model simply because of the value judgement placed on consummate love as the “ideal form” for romantic partners. in addition, I think there are probably degrees of each of his types of love depending on how much of each element is present (in romantic love, for instance, perhaps one at first experiences a lot of passion with some intimacy and then perhaps it shifts to less passion and more intimacy).

However, what does resonate for me with the Triangular Theory is capturing different feelings that I might use the word “love” to capture. For instance, the love I feel for family members and close, long-time friends would probably be captured by companiate love. The love I feel for J is definitely a combination of intimacy, passion, and commitment. The love I feel for other partners may be a deep liking (based on the presence of intimacy) or some kind of romantic love (based on various combinations of intimacy and passion).

Food for thought 🙂

“It is possible for two people to deeply, profoundly love each other but not be good life partners.” ~Franklin Veaux

Safer Sex

I think it’s good (for myself) to check in every so often about safer sex. This post is a bit embarrassing for me to publish, but I figure other people can learn from my mistakes. Or at least have a chance to reflect on their safer sex practices and feel good about themselves. 🙂

I recently posted about my hot experience at work. It was frickin’ hot. But I kept that post positive and happy, because I was so excited to be sexual with a woman. What I did not include was the part of the story that read: I was not good at talking about safer sex. I was so overcome at getting to experience a stage show with a woman I was attracted to, that I skipped out on the most important rule (to me anyway) about our open relationship- talking to other partners about safer sex practices, STIs, and testing. There was not any good excuse on my part for not doing this, but the context was that it all happened really fast, and it was over and done with really fast as well (three minutes or so). To my credit, I at least visually inspected her pussy before I started to do oral, washed my hands after playing with her, and used a couple of baby wipes on my pussy. Afterwards, I went up to my lovely lady friend, and said, “You know, my boyfriend and I have an open relationship, and I really meant to talk to you about STIs before we did anything. I wanted to let you know that I was recently tested and everything came back negative.” Her response: “Oh yeah, I’m good, I wouldn’t have done anything if there was a concern.” Which I interpreted in the moment as, ‘I wouldn’t have been sexual with you if I had recently tested positive for anything,’ but obviously, that is not what she said.

In the future, my interaction would go something like this:
(Before playing)
“Before we play, I just wanted to talk a little bit about STIs. I was recently tested (in December) for HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis and all tests came back negative. I don’t use condoms with my boyfriend, but I use condoms with all other male partners. I talk to other partners about STIs and safer sex practices they use before I play with them. I haven’t ever tested positive for anything in the almost 2 years J and I have been open. When were you last tested and what were you tested for? Do you have other partners? What kinds of safer sex practices do you use?”

I can attest to the fact that this kind of interaction and communication can be quite challenging; obviously, I didn’t do nearly my best in communicating with my friend at work. I went up to her afterward and did not push her to explain more. Not only that, but for some reason (I think I was sort of high from this experience for a good day or two) I failed to talk about this interaction with J until a couple days after it happened. Putting my primary partner at risk is not okay with me and I am pretty darn sure I have learned my lesson. I feel like I should also mention, though, that there are different risks associated with different sexual encounters. Fingering a woman is pretty low risk on the STI risk continuum. (Here is a nice summary chart from SF City Clinic)

It seems like discussing safer sex practices with individuals in the open community is much easier than it is with individuals that you might encounter in the vanilla dating world. (And, I think simply discussing STIs and testing is itself a safer sex practice; communication is so essential.) I think because safer sex is so highly negotiated among open individuals, people are generally better at discussing it because they find it really important and have practiced talking about it. So, here is to me continuing to learn and practice. Whew.

Hitachi Hiatus: Quick Update

J just listened to a recent Dr. Drew podcast. It featured Dr. Andrew Goldstein, a vulvavaginal disorders specialist. In the podcast, Dr. Goldstein discusses the fact that too much of a powerful vibrator can actually damage the clitoral nerve; the nerve can also be damaged though cycling. But Jesus, I guess my concern over my Hitachi use is warranted. If the nerve is damaged badly enough, patients are prescribed a complete sexual hiatus and nerve repairing medication for three months. I better slow down while I’m still ahead (!)

Aahhh :-)

Totally had an amazing girl-girl experience at this new club this past week. It was hot, hot, hot. Can’t wait to do it again.

Mostly fingering, teensy bit of oral. My lady friend is straight, but told me she would rather “kiss a pretty girl than an ugly guy.” And she was totally down to play on stage. It was so much fun! My lady-sex needs have been severely under-met lately, so this was really, really amazing. While a “girlfriend” sounds like an amazing relationship to have in my life at some point, I have been loving the development and maintenance of other emotionally satisfying relationships with other women in my life. And I love that I have some kind of access to sexual relationships (albeit work relationships) with women. Integration will be lovely to have at some point, but for now, I am happy 🙂

This post is just me C e L e B r A t I nG!

Hitachi Hiatus

Oh why oh why must you be so damn good, Hitachi Magic Wand??? So good, that I must now take a hiatus from you?

I have joked around for the past few (longer?) months that I would be doomed if the power went out for an extended period of time or if I was in the woods for a month, because my Hitachi provides me an opportunity for a Hitachi orgasm. Only accessible through the use of a Hitachi, obviously. And with the necessity of a power outlet. (FYI: a Hitachi orgasm is a special kind of orgasm. Like getting shocked and having it shoot through my limbs.)

While J and I were gone over Christmas and New Years, I brought it with me. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. I’m sure plenty of women travel with vibrators, dildos, etc. It was my increasing awareness that my orgasms were getting dependent on the massive vibrations that led me to decide on taking a Hitachi break.

I used to be able to get off within a minute using the Hitachi on “low.” Now, it can take quite a bit longer, and sometimes it takes it being on “high” before I can come. It’s like my clitoris has toughened up from all of the crazy vibes, and now it needs time to rest and soften back up. And, I was noticing that without using it during partnered or solo sex, I was finding it troublesome that it took so much more for me to orgasm. I am a little worried that I really would be doomed if I wanted to masturbate with just my hands.

I am not sure how regimented I am going to be about not using my Hitachi; in fact, I just used it a few days ago to masturbate right before work. But, at the very least, I think I am going to consider other options before immediately resorting to it like I was. (Gah, sex! Hand me my Hitachi!) ‘

Wish me luck. 

Conflict Resolution Styles

I had this article on conflict resolution styles recommended to me, and I think it can be incredibly useful to consider what style you naturally lean toward, what styles other people naturally use, and steps for moving toward a solution. I copied and pasted the bulk of the article below. I used to be a total accommodator; I now am a solid compromiser or collaborator (I think, anyway 🙂 ) While this article was written for solving conflict within the workplace, I think it could be immensely useful when applied to romantic relationships (I suppose that is also what conflict is in the workplace- interpersonal conflict). (Also, I couldn’t resist posting one of my absolute favorite TV clips from The Office’s “Conflict Resolution” episode. It’s so good, right? Note that the article below does not offer a “win-win-win” solution. Ha.)

“Understanding the Theory: Conflict Styles

In the 1970s Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann identified five main styles of dealing with conflict that vary in their degrees of cooperativeness and assertiveness. They argued that people typically have a preferred conflict resolution style. However they also noted that different styles were most useful in different situations. They developed the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) which helps you to identify which style you tend towards when conflict arises.
Thomas and Kilmann’s styles are:
Competitive: People who tend towards a competitive style take a firm stand, and know what they want. They usually operate from a position of power, drawn from things like position, rank, expertise, or persuasive ability. This style can be useful when there is an emergency and a decision needs to be make fast; when the decision is unpopular; or when defending against someone who is trying to exploit the situation selfishly. However it can leave people feeling bruised, unsatisfied and resentful when used in less urgent situations.
Collaborative: People tending towards a collaborative style try to meet the needs of all people involved. These people can be highly assertive but unlike the competitor, they cooperate effectively and acknowledge that everyone is important. This style is useful when a you need to bring together a variety of viewpoints to get the best solution; when there have been previous conflicts in the group; or when the situation is too important for a simple trade-off.
Compromising: People who prefer a compromising style try to find a solution that will at least partially satisfy everyone. Everyone is expected to give up something, and the compromiser him- or herself also expects to relinquish something. Compromise is useful when the cost of conflict is higher than the cost of losing ground, when equal strength opponents are at a standstill and when there is a deadline looming.
Accommodating: This style indicates a willingness to meet the needs of others at the expense of the person’s own needs. The accommodator often knows when to give in to others, but can be persuaded to surrender a position even when it is not warranted. This person is not assertive but is highly cooperative. Accommodation is appropriate when the issues matter more to the other party, when peace is more valuable than winning, or when you want to be in a position to collect on this “favor” you gave. However people may not return favors, and overall this approach is unlikely to give the best outcomes.
Avoiding: People tending towards this style seek to evade the conflict entirely. This style is typified by delegating controversial decisions, accepting default decisions, and not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings. It can be appropriate when victory is impossible, when the controversy is trivial, or when someone else is in a better position to solve the problem. However in many situations this is a weak and ineffective approach to take.
Once you understand the different styles, you can use them to think about the most appropriate approach (or mixture of approaches) for the situation you’re in. You can also think about your own instinctive approach, and learn how you need to change this if necessary.
Ideally you can adopt an approach that meets the situation, resolves the problem, respects people’s legitimate interests, and mends damaged working relationships.

Understanding The Theory: The “Interest-Based Relational Approach”

The second theory is commonly referred to as the “Interest-Based Relational (IBR) Approach”. This type of conflict resolution respects individual differences while helping people avoid becoming too entrenched in a fixed position.
In resolving conflict using this approach, you follow these rules:

  • Make sure that good relationships are the first priority: As far as possible, make sure that you treat the other calmly and that you try to build mutual respect. Do your best to be courteous to one-another and remain constructive under pressure.
  • Keep people and problems separate: Recognize that in many cases the other person is not just “being difficult” – real and valid differences can lie behind conflictive positions. By separating the problem from the person, real issues can be debated without damaging working relationships.
  • Pay attention to the interests that are being presented: By listening carefully you’ll most-likely understand why the person is adopting his or her position.
  • Listen first; talk second: To solve a problem effectively you have to understand where the other person is coming from before defending your own position.
  • Set out the “Facts”: Agree and establish the objective, observable elements that will have an impact on the decision.
  • Explore options together: Be open to the idea that a third position may exist, and that you can get to this idea jointly.

By following these rules, you can often keep contentious discussions positive and constructive. This helps to prevent the antagonism and dislike which so-often causes conflict to spin out of control.

Using the Tool: A Conflict Resolution Process

Based on these approaches, a starting point for dealing with conflict is to identify the overriding conflict style employed by yourself, your team or your organization.
Over time, people’s conflict management styles tend to mesh, and a “right” way to solve conflict emerges. It’s good to recognize when this style can be used effectively, however make sure that people understand that different styles may suit different situations.
Look at the circumstances, and think about the style that may be appropriate.
Then use the process below to resolve the conflict:

Step One: Set the Scene

If appropriate to the situation, agree the rules of the IBR Approach (or at least consider using the approach yourself.) Make sure that people understand that the conflict may be a mutual problem, which may be best resolved through discussion and negotiation rather than through raw aggression.
If you are involved in the conflict, emphasize the fact that you are presenting your perception of the problem. Use active listening skills to ensure you hear and understand other’s positions and perceptions.

  • Restate.
  • Paraphrase.
  • Summarize.

And make sure that when you talk, you’re using an adult, assertive approach rather than a submissive or aggressive style.

Step Two: Gather Information

Here you are trying to get to the underlying interests, needs, and concerns. Ask for the other person’s viewpoint and confirm that you respect his or her opinion and need his or her cooperation to solve the problem.
Try to understand his or her motivations and goals, and see how your actions may be affecting these.
Also, try to understand the conflict in objective terms: Is it affecting work performance? damaging the delivery to the client? disrupting team work? hampering decision-making? or so on. Be sure to focus on work issues and leave personalities out of the discussion.

  • Listen with empathy and see the conflict from the other person’s point of view.
  • Identify issues clearly and concisely.
  • Use “I” statements.
  • Remain flexible.
  • Clarify feelings.

Step Three: Agree the Problem

This sounds like an obvious step, but often different underlying needs, interests and goals can cause people to perceive problems very differently. You’ll need to agree the problems that you are trying to solve before you’ll find a mutually acceptable solution.
Sometimes different people will see different but interlocking problems – if you can’t reach a common perception of the problem, then at the very least, you need to understand what the other person sees as the problem.

Step Four: Brainstorm Possible Solutions

If everyone is going to feel satisfied with the resolution, it will help if everyone has had fair input in generating solutions. Brainstorm possible solutions, and be open to all ideas, including ones you never considered before.

Step Five: Negotiate a Solution

By this stage, the conflict may be resolved: Both sides may better understand the position of the other, and a mutually satisfactory solution may be clear to all.
However you may also have uncovered real differences between your positions. This is where a technique like win-win negotiation can be useful to find a solution that, at least to some extent, satisfies everyone.
There are three guiding principles here: Be Calm, Be Patient, Have Respect.”

A Compersion Technique

I saw my new friend today for a second date, and we spent another solid chunk of time just talking, comforting each other over various challenges in our lives while eating breakfast, and holding hands. It was really lovely. 

She said one thing that was really helpful for me. She has been in poly relationships for the past seven years, and said that her technique for feeling compersion and letting go of jealousy was this:

Imagine feeling happy for your partner for as long as you can possibly feel it (with regards to a situation that normally causes feelings of jealousy, envy, discomfort, etc). It may only be 3 seconds at first that you genuinely feel happy. Continually and gently push on that boundary of that feeling until you can feel that happiness for your partner for longer periods of time (10 minutes, an hour, etc; this process sounds like a very meditative practice to me). Eventually, happiness will be all that is left. (I think this sounds almost too simple, but why make a difficult internal process more challenging than it needs to be?) This practice reminds me a lot of Anapol’s suggestion of learning to replace feelings of jealousy with feelings of compersion, so that you are replacing an old system with a new one.

I asked my friend how long it took her for her to feel compersion consistently and in a more complete sense, how long it took for that work to have an effect, how long before jealousy was a “funny” emotion to experience. She said about a year and a half.

It is really amazing to talk to people who have practiced polyamory so much longer than me because they can talk about their own difficult times with perspective; they are no longer in the thick of letting go of and reframing societal messages and norms around monogamy, possessiveness, and jealousy. They have moved past it. Knowing that this is possible is really empowering. I know people, like J, who have come into polyamory very naturally and find little difficulty in confronting jealousy, and I think this journey is its own unique and amazing thing to witness. Meeting this women, though, and hearing about how she, too, had a really difficult time with jealousy and now does not is really empowering for me to hear about.