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Experts tackle the question: What is love?

By PT Staff, published on November 1, 2001 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015


MARY E. HOTVEDT, C.M.F.T., PH.D. President, American Association
for Marriage and Family Therapy

When clients ask, usually with a touch of sarcasm, "What is love?"
I try to understand the underlying circumstances. Have they equated love
with unconditional acceptance and so become paralyzed by feelings of
resentment? Or has love been so highly conditional for them that they are
unable to tolerate another's idiosyncrasies and imperfections, expecting
instead that the perfect person would enable them to open themselves to
love? By contrast, some couples struggle to stay current and honest with
each other. They can trade off on giving and taking, accept their own and
their mate's imperfections even laugh about them--and cherish the
complexity of their lives together. They never ask, "What is love?" I
think they know.

MICHAEL W. ROSS, PH.D., M.P.H., M.H.P.Ed. President, Society for
the Scientific Study of Sexuality

Many psychologists distinguish between "passionate love" (an
intense longing for union and strong physiological arousal) and
"companionate love" (a deep attachment and commitment to an intimate
partner). Sexologist John Money draws the line between love and lust:
"Love exists above the belt, lust below. Love is lyrical. Lust is lewd."
There is general agreement on the intensity of the experience of love and
lust, which often become separate entities about six months into a
relationship. Culture and society, however, provide a heavy overlay, and
definitions can vary across gender, age, culture and class, among other

ELIZABETH S. RADCLIFFE, PH.D. Executive Director, American
Philosophical Association

Love between human beings is the emotional bond of those who find
meaning and value in the same aspects of life. Although one can love
parents and siblings without sharing their perspectives, ideal familial
love is based on common values too. Romantic love can spring from
infatuation and sexual attraction alone, but the deepest love between
partners depends on shared emotional resonance over features of life they
both consider most significant. The irony of this loving
relationship--commonly identified as friendship--is that the two persons
often find their common value while searching for value itself; they
discover themselves in a meeting of minds engaged in the same