What does love mean to you?
Some people say it’s a simplistic emotion, similar to anger, or sadness, or joy. Others perceive it as a commandment from God, and they prescribe some deeper, more profound meaning to it.
For me, love is a complex set of sentiments that can be motionless as a glass lake on a windless day one day and divinely powerful as a tsunami that eradicates, annihilates, and crumples everything around it the next.
In short, love is an ever-shifting and vacillating emotional current.
But one might ask, is there a more sciency answer to the question of what is love? Something more specific, perhaps? Something grounded in a bit more research?
Well, I believe there is one answer like that – one who Helen Fisher and her team of scientists came to.
Helen’s study of romantic love began by researching buttloads of scientific literature on people’s mental and physical traits when they were madly in love.
Her next step was to observe and analyze the actual individuals who represented those traits, all from ancient Sumerians and contemporary Tanzanians to Chinese and Arab people. In general, Helen and her team observed and studied people from all backgrounds.
Ultimately, Helen discovered that romantic love is a universal experience deeply embedded in all of humanity. Meaning we all feel and experience it.
She also proved that there are three stages or categories of love: lust, attraction, and attachment. She calls these categories emotional-system-stages, but let’s just refer to them as stages in this article since that’s more reader-friendly.
Now here’s the cool part about these stages.
Knowing in which stage you are when in a relationship helps you understand many of the behaviors you’re displaying and your thoughts. It also allows you to become more aware of the reasons why your past relationships didn’t work out.
So in this article, I will describe each stage in turn and warn you of the relationship sabotaging pitfalls that occur in it. By doing so, I hope that you can get a broader understanding of what behaviors you have to watch out for in your current relationship to avoid another breakup.
At the end of the article, I will also present you with a viewpoint on love that will probably disturb some of you – why love itself is commonly overrated and the root cause of heartbreak or perpetual suffering in one’s love life.
What does love mean to helen: The three stages of love
Before we start, It’s worth noting that various overlaps occur in-between Helen’s three stages of love. This means that each one of us experiences them differently. So, please keep in mind that you can always find yourself in between any of these three stages.
Think back on all the times you’ve seen a hot girl or guy walk by who instantly turned you on. That was pure lust. It’s our sex drive. It’s the answer to questions like, “do I want to fuck this person or not, smash or pass, swipe left or swipe that ass?”
Virtually any person who meets our minimal psychical standards is subjected to our lust when we encounter them. And it doesn’t matter if we’re in a relationship or if we’re single. We are all subjected to feel lust for someone. Be that a random pedestrian, coworker, or our boss.
Now don’t be upset if you feel lust for someone other than your partner. It’s a healthy human experience. However, what is not healthy or ethical, for that matter, is succumbing to this lust, a.k.a, cheating on your partner.
So stay wary of this fact.
Value loyalty, and don’t succumb to lust. Oh, and hope that you found someone who has the same wholesome mindset.
Note: make sure you don’t mix the attraction stage with actual attraction – one that can, for example, be raised or lowered with the amount of neediness you display.
The Attraction stage is also called passionate love or obsessive love and is closely related to lust and similar in many ways, but it lasts much longer. The duration varies from person to person, but most people will likely stay in this stage for about three weeks to one year.
When submerged in obsessive love, two people can’t have enough of each other. They will want to talk for hours and will crave to kiss, hug, hold hands, and cuddle intensely, virtually all the time.
These people will also feel hours go by like seconds and often overlook most of their partners’ or potential partners’ flaws and greatly exaggerate their positive features.
When you’re in the attractions stage, you’re naturally going to feel an increase in your overall energy. Meaning, you’re going to feel euphoric, hyped up, and a bunch of little thoughts about your sweetheart will keep feverishly bouncing around the walls of your mind.
These reactions occur due to a remarkable amount of dopamine that gets released in your brain. Sometimes, the discharge is so severe that you begin to feel dizzy throughout the day and may even lose your appetite and your ability to get a good night’s rest.
Think of it as being high on love.
But despite all the glee that this stage wraps you in, there’s also a dark side to it. Some people begin to develop codependency at this time. Consequently, codependency compels them to become jealous, possessive, controlling, and neurotically preoccupied with their new romantic interest. Sadly, this addiction or obsession can get to a point where people can’t focus on their daily activities anymore.
In fact, obsessive love can become so powerful that it overwrites and scrambles your logical thinking. That’s when the swift and foolish decisions come to life – like deciding to visit your lover in the middle of the night because you’ve got a message from them saying how they miss you.
However, those rash decisions can quickly begin to pile up and cause dire consequences to your life. Consequences that are not easily reversible.
For instance, you could abruptly declare your new partner as the “love of your life,” and merely in weeks of being exclusive, move in with them and marry them.
Ah yes, attachment.
This stage is the make it or break it point for countless couples. You see, most relationships fall apart amid the transition from the attraction to the attachment stage. This happens because, at this point, the newness of your partner wears off, and their flaws begin to reveal themselves.
The only way you’re going to have a successful transition from the attraction to the attachment stage is if you and your partner are truly compatible, meaning that you share similar values and beliefs and simultaneously tolerate and accept your conflicting ones.
Here’s another interesting fact about the attachment stage. While attachment needs lust and attraction to develop before it, they are no longer necessary once you’re in it.
Now the only thing required for love in your relationship to last is that you and your partner keep accumulating new meaningful experiences and continue growing in the same direction.
If those criteria are not met, your relationship quickly begins to fall apart.
For example, if two people in the relationship want kids and are dedicated Christians and they keep valuing those things, their relationship will hold (generally speaking). However, if one partner gets a change of heart, becomes a Muslim, and begins to despise the idea of having kids, there will probably be friction.
Don’t get me wrong, a relationship can still work in the above case, but both partners have to be damn good at communicating boundaries and making compromises.
Anyhow, let’s pretend that you are compatible with your partner, and you’ve successfully transitioned into attached love.
This is where the fun begins. This is where the love between two people most often becomes unconditional. Meaning, you don’t need your partner to act or be a particular way to love them. In other words, you start to accept them for who they are.
What’s even cooler is that couples in this stage begin to form a rock hard emotional bond, which can keep them together despite merciless circumstances: like the kind where one partner must move to another country, go to war or overcome all sorts of mental illnesses, weight issues, or addictions.
Ultimately, as attachment takes center stage, obsessive love begins to wither away, and your partner starts becoming a part of you, that is, a part of your identity. And that fusion becomes a great source of one’s life meaning and fulfillment.
The startling and unconventional truth behind love
Despite the emphasis we put on love as a value and all the research surrounding the phenomena, there is one problem we usually grapple with when discussing it; It’s often over-idealized and overhyped.
Now, don’t get me wrong, love is useful and necessary, but prioritizing it as a “God value” will make you do some astonishingly fucked up shit.
Let me paint a picture for you.
Let’s say that your ex-girlfriend/boyfriend cheated on you with your best friend. Now you probably value loyalty to some degree, but you value love way more. So in the name of love, you will give this person one more chance, and after they cheat on you again next week, you provide them with another one. The cycle keeps repeating over and over and over.
Each time you give your ex another chance to rekindle things, you lose another shard of respect, but hey, you love them, so you stay stuck in a toxic relationship and think that if you just keep loving them, their behavior will change someday.
Here’s a personal example of mine on how love can kill a relationship.
Once upon a time, I was in a long-distance relationship. I spurred a lot of conflict and chaos in it, and despite my ex wanting to work our differences out, I thought it was unnecessary. I basically thought to myself, “hell, I love her, and love penetrates everything, so our relationship is going to work out no matter what I do.”
But what do you know! It didn’t.
Ultimately, we can easily get swallowed up by love, especially in the obsessive love stage, hence the name. To avoid this trap, we need to put other healthy values on top of love – values like loyalty, respect, humility, honesty, and trust.
In other words, we shouldn’t take love so damn seriously, build unrealistic outlooks and expectations around it, or entirely sacrifice ourselves, that is, our identity, for it.
Does that mean you should never sacrifice yourself or your time for your lover?
Of course not.
We should sacrifice our wants, desires, and needs in any healthy relationship to a degree. It’s normal, and if you ask me, it’s necessary.
The problem is when people allow themselves to be disrespected or verbally, emotionally, or physically abused by their partners because of love. Or they begin to sacrifice things that make them who they are – things like self-respect, dreams, and their hobbies.
The bottom line is that love between two people can be magical and should be savored. So let its syrupy juices flow over and through you once you find it. Seriously, let yourself get intoxicated. Let it blanket you with its soft and delicate strokes. But always make sure that while you’re relaxing in its presence, you don’t drown in its comfort.
Because in the end, love does not fix every relationship problem, nor does it penetrate everything. Betting on it to take care of all your love life challenges is wasted hope.
Many people keep emotionally torturing themselves by chasing after their ex or staying in a loveless relationship, ‘just cuz of love.’
Don’t be like that.
Save yourself from another heartbreak by understanding what love actually is, what it means, and why you shouldn’t idolize it but instead put healthier values on top of it.
Receive a free copy of my popular breakup survival guide, 56 Tips To Heal A Broken Heart, with three bonus exercises on how to stop obsessing over your ex. Remember: whether you want to get over or re-attract your ex, recovery is always the first step.
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