What is Love?
William Cottringer, Ph.D.

I have studied the "love phenomenon" personally and professionally for over 40 years now and would like to share a few things I have discovered in my studies. First, it may be that we are being artificial and limiting in trying to describe and explain something in a generalized way, that is really more of a highly personal experience. Love may be slightly different each time it is experienced. However, I know from a personal standpoint that there are several different and distinct kinds of love and that even the same kind of love isn't exactly the same each time it occurs.

Here are the different kinds of love that I have seen and experienced:

Parental Love

This love is designed to allow us to fulfill our innate nurturing/teaching role of taking care of more vulnerable people to help them grow. It incorporates other types of the higher loves, like altruism. Their aren't any utilitarian concerns in this type of love, it just is, without much thought or effort. When a person's nurturing needs go unmet and have to be transferred a marital type relationship, this love becomes unhealthy and unproductive.

Puppy Love

This is a pre-romantic type of love that we start feeling from an immature, rose-colored glasses stage of early development. It is much like what we feel for a brand new puppy before we have to get in the routine of feeding, bathing and cleaning up after the grown-up dog. We are infatuated by the other person and are slightly overwhelmed by a few points of attraction, missing the other two-thirds of reality. This type of love is usually short-lived and can occur frequently throughout our lives.

Platonic Love

This is a mental love we think we have for another person, devoid of strong emotional or physical attraction, or at least a need to act on those levels. We are in love with the other person's personality, intellect or position in life as more than just friends. Our platonic love of another can often be a defense mechanism to protect us against emotional vulnerability and be miscued and not returned as the same kind of love by the other person.

Romantic Love

This is the idealized powerful type of "Romeo & Juliet" love that everyone has a preconceived, vivid image of in his or her mind. This is being in love with love. It comes with total preoccupation with the other person, an overwhelming feeling of completeness, unbridled inspiration to be your best, extreme hypersensitivity and blissful timelessness. This type of love suddenly hits you on the head like a ton of bricks and keeps getting stronger and more intense until you feel as though you are going to explode. However, it comes straight from the heart and denies any and all mental red flags. It can often show as a war between your head and heart, in which there are no winners. Unfortunately, sooner or later reality does kick in with romantic love to lessen its glamour, intensity and joy, but with concerted effort this type of love can be rekindled in a healthy relationship. It can also open doors ahead to higher forms of live like true love and spiritual love.

Addictive Love

This is an unhealthy destructive type of love, which, like any other addiction, you don't seem to have any control over. The epitome of addictive love is a love-hate relationship, which dominates the participants in a vicious circle of kissing and yelling. Usually something very drastic has to happen to break the hold of addictive love, as it has the power of heroin, alcohol, coffee, sex and cigarettes all combined. The dynamics of addictive love involve powerlessness and over-dependence. The cure is getting to know what you are trying to run from.

Lusty Love

This is the type of love that is based solely on a high degree of physical attraction that can be just as compelling as addictive love. Lusty lovers do not need to be attracted to anything else other than the lust they feel for each other. Lusty love is often a moral test that few survive, but it eventually fizzles out no matter what the starting temperature. This type of love is not likely to develop into a healthier one, although it can be a legitimate part of one.

Chemical Love

I've never been able to figure out this type of love but I do know for sure that it exists. In any social situation there is a high chance that you will make intimate eye contact with someone and then your entire being is pulled to that person like an electronic magnet. Your "chemical" attraction is beyond understanding. Most often, the feelings are there, but neither party acts on them out of fear of the unknown or possible rejection. Sometimes the pull is merely a meaningful coincidence aimed at providing you with some important "higher" information to grow, which may be interpreted wrongly as sexual in nature. Chemical love is probably the most uncertain kind of "love" there is, with no guarantees as to the outcome of following it up. It can end up as many of these other types of love.

Utilitarian Love

This kind of love is an unwritten "contract" implying the love between two people is mutual so long as each gets something useful from the relationship. When the utility of the relationship stops paying dividends to the participants, such as important needs not getting met, the love feelings fade and the relationship is in serious jeopardy. Too many unhappy marriages are based on this type of love. It is not likely that this kind of love will evolve into a higher, healthier one within the present relationship. There is a certain amount of selfishness that is keeping both people from growing.

Creative Love

This is the mysterious force of the universe that opens the doors to unlimited worlds and understanding. It is the vague passion of artists, musicians and writers feeling a compelling need to communicate some important aspect of truth and reality that they have intimately experienced, for the benefit of others. We all have varying degrees of these urges, but it takes intense self-discipline to translate them effectively into products. Creative love is problem-solving at its finest. The mind becomes multidimensional and fluid to see things most people miss. All of a sudden there are more answers to questions and what questions there are seem more important than the typical answers.

Brotherly Love

This kind of love is the Golden Rule put into action. We treat our "brothers" as we want to be treated- with genuine respect, dignity, freedom, and caring. Most social problems can be cured with this type of responsible, reverent love. We probably can't develop a capacity for higher love without mastering this one, although it should come naturally.

Best Friend Love

Love of our best friend involves a combination of all these other healthy loves, without the need for a physical/sexual connection, although that aspect could be quite near the surface. This type of love is based on instant liking, peak communication, trust and comfort with another "soul mate." This is the best arena to receive and apply valid and valuable criticism to help each person grow. Although there may not be any phone calls or letters for long periods of time, you are always there for each other. This type of love is more or less permanent.

Normal Love

The best way to describe "normal" love is that it is probably a combination of mild to moderate degrees of all these other kinds of love. This kind of love offers enough of everything in a relationship to make it satisfying. There is good physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual compatibility and there is enough trust to plan a lifetime together. Normal love can sustain a healthy marriage so long as there are no extreme stresses that can break it, such as infidelity, physical illness, unhealthy addictions, chronic unemployment, severe mental illness, or acute financial crises. Of course, growing apart and lack of good communication are the silent killers or normal love.

True Love

This is a once in a lifetime, enduring, unconditional love that everyone should experience, but few actually do. It often occurs in a moment of serendipity and comes with the suspicion of a prior lifetime connection and all sorts of déjà vu sensations. True love is the healthiest of loves for a relationship, based on equality, open communication, tolerance, unqualified giving, respect, trust, value compatibility, and mutual growth. It is probably a merging of romantic, normal and higher love. Very little in this life has the ability to challenge true love. True love grows stronger with reciprocal positive energy.

Altruistic Love

This love is unselfish and unconditional giving to others purely for its inherent value. There are no ulterior motives for doing kind and gracious things for other people. True altruistic love has to evolve gradually, because our egos have a hard time giving up their need for recognition of what we are doing for others. This kind of love does not involve personal relationships as an object, but can certainly be a common behavior of healthy love types.

Higher Love

This is the love of spiritual enlightenment in which the person becomes extremely aware and reverent of all things in the universe. It is a consequence of a conscious search for wisdom, spiritual wholeness, and unity with the divine. This love understands the underlying unity of all opposites and it is very whole, complete and fulfilling. It transcends all the other loves by leaps and bounds. This love is quite compatible with other normal and higher loves, but not unhealthy, destructive, immature ones. It is through this type of love that we make most of our evolutionary gains in self-actualization, finding our true selves, and moving toward our fullest potential as human beings. Higher love has the most positive influence on changing things that need changing in everyday living.

We are blessed with many types of love to experience in this life. The marvelous thing about love is that we really don't have to do something to experience it, other than letting go, giving into it and not trying to control it. Eventually, healthy love will guide us all in the right direction toward the ultimate goal of higher love.

Author's Bio: 

William S. Cottringer, Ph.D. is President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue WA, as well as Success Coach, Sport Psychologist, Photographer and Writer in North Bend, WA.. He is author of several international best-selling books including You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too, The Bow-Wow Secrets, Passwords To The Prosperity Zone, “P” Point Management, Reality Repair RX and Do What Matters Most. Bill can be reached for comments and questions at 425-454-5011 or bcottringer@pssp.net