While we can feel different types of love for different partners, they all deserve the same respect and honesty.
I had always thought it was a series of emotions, from very high to very low. But actually, it’s a drive. It comes from the motor of the mind, the wanting part of the mind, the craving part of the mind.
In a Ted Talk, with the misleading title of Why We Love, Why We Cheat, Helen Fisher explores the three brain systems that are sometimes mistaken as one:
- Lust: the sex drive, the craving for sexual gratification;
- Romantic love: the elation, the obsession of early love;
- Attachment: “that sense of calm and security you can feel for a long-term partner”.
This three brain systems, as Fisher points out, can co-exist and “that’s why casual sex isn’t so casual.” But in most occasions they exist by themselves and, for me, most of the time people mistake lust with love.
The main characteristics of romantic love are craving: an intense craving to be with a particular person, not just sexually, but emotionally.
It would be nice to go to bed with them, but you want them to call you on the telephone, to invite you out, etc., to tell you that they love you.
The other main characteristic is motivation. The motor in the brain begins to crank, and you want this person.
It’s the carving for romantic love that everybody searches for. It’s the type of love that people most desire and it’s also the one that is hard to find. There’s this tendency to talk about love like it’s as always the same sentiment, when it isn’t. While society has a tendency to value more the romantic love, it doesn’t mean that it’s more meaningful that the other types.
The case for Polyamory
I consider the talk title misleading because it barely explores the cheating aspect. It’s only mentioned when it makes an involuntary case for polyamory.
These three brain systems: lust, romantic love and attachment, aren’t always connected to each other.
You can feel deep attachment to a long-term partner while you feel intense romantic love for somebody else, while you feel the sex drive for people unrelated to these other partners.
In short, we’re capable of loving more than one person at a time.
In fact, you can lie in bed at night and swing from deep feelings of attachment for one person to deep feelings of romantic love for somebody else.
This is why I’m an apologist of non-monogamy. Well, apologist it’s not the best term, I think it’s better to say that I don’t see a problem with no-monogamy. Although I have no problem in accepting that some people prefer monogamous relationship. It’s a question of choices, of what we need in our relationship to feel comfortable and happy.
In part, it’s also because I subscribe to this view – of love as three brain systems, which can be independent – that I prefer hierarchic relationships. This is also the reason why I have some problems with the concept of loving all partners in the same way. But, emphasize that loving people in different ways doesn’t mean, for me, that someone is less than another one.
It only means that there are different types of love, different types of feelings. This fact is not a justification to mistreat any partner.
Love is an emotional felling; it isn’t a choice unlike respect and honesty which are intellectual and rational choices. And those are the aspect that we control, and where all partners should be equal.
It’s a question of balancing emotion and rationality, in a way that allows us to meet our needs and the ones of our partners.
There’s many kinds of cheating
Fisher’s approaches love from a monogamous point of view, which causes it’s major flaw. It explains why people cheat in monogamous relationship but not in a non-monogamous relationship. While most people equate cheating with sex, but cheating is more than that. And it’s something that also happens in non-monogamous relationships.
Even with this caveat, Why We Love, Why We Cheat, it’s one of the most assertive and rational talks I’ve seen about love. It’s worth watching and thinking about.