When you say “I love you,” what do you mean? Perhaps you’re a hopeless romantic and think that love “awakens the soul and makes us reach for more, plants a fire in our hearts and brings peace to our minds” (anyone else reach for Ben & Jerry’s just reading this quote from The Notebook? Just me?). Or maybe you’re angsty and think that love is “just a shout into the void and that oblivion is inevitable and that we’re all doomed” (depressing, yes, but like, where are all the brooding men like Augustus in The Fault in Our Stars on Bumble?).
There are many ways to determine compatibility–love languages, personality types, whether someone’s a dog person or a cat person–but all of these things come down to the way we define love and what we really mean when we say “I love you.” While you may think everyone has the same definition of love, the feeling of being in love means and feels differently to all of us.
You form your definition based on childhood experiences (like what your parents had or didn’t have), movies or other cultural expressions (I would like someone like Jude Law in The Holiday, please), or even based past experiences (i.e. you were cheated on once, so loyalty became the most significant trait to you in determining “true love”).
Terry Hatkoff, a sociologist from California State University, created a 50-question quiz to identify where individuals place on a scale of six different types of love found in our closest relationships. Researchers have found that romantic love is typically a combination of two or three types.
The Love Styles
Romantic love is based on passion and sexual attraction. You feel most in love when you’re being wooed with romantic gestures, both big and small. The love you want is the rom-com type of love, complete with declarations of love, devout loyalty, and maybe a song break or two (is it really too much for a girl to ask?).
2. Best Friends
When you feel the “best friend” type, you define love as fondness and deep affection. You want to be able to count on and laugh with your partner more than you care about the passion. You see your romantic relationships going deeper than physical connections, and value trust, security, and vulnerability over butterflies and hearts skipping beats.
The logical love type means that practical feelings based on shared values (like financial goals, religion, background, etc.) are most important to you in a relationship. You won’t bother dating someone you don’t see a serious future with, and you wouldn’t fall in love with someone who doesn’t share the same goals or family plan as you do.
Playful love means feelings evoked by flirtation or feeling challenged. While dating, you probably search for enjoyment over passion (so you have never gone for dramatic relationships). Friendly competition like playing a card game or working out together makes you feel connected, and your partner flirting with you through playful compliments or raunchy texts is how you feel most loved.
Possessive love looks like jealousy and obsession. While it sounds negative, defining love in a possessive way is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s simply most important to you to know that your partner has your back. You think about your relationship like the two of you against the world, and believe that loyalty is the most important quality in a partner.
If you’re the “unselfish type,” this means that you identify love as nurturing, kindness, and sacrifice. To you, love means putting your partner’s needs before your own and foregoing your individual identity to become a greater team. You might have even been accused of changing to be more like your partner, but as long as it’s coming from a place of love instead of seeking approval (and your partner is equally willing to put you first), it simply means you care more about your partner’s happiness than you do your own. To you, that’s what love means.
How is your love style affecting your love life?
If you’re single…
The way you define love might be preventing you from finding the right person (if that’s what you’re looking for. If you’re loving single life, you go girl!). Perhaps you’re the “unselfish type,” but consistently date people who take advantage of your selflessness or call you “clingy.” You might even feel like you’ve never been truly loved since no one has put you first (without knowing that other people define and show love in different ways).
For more examples, if you’re the logical type, you might not be considering people who could be good matches for you because they come from different backgrounds or have different interests. If you define love as possessiveness, you might have trust issues and see small disagreements or mistakes as disloyalty.
Your love style shows you how “love” is different to you than potential partners you might be dating. Is the way you think of love holding you back from actually finding it? Do you have unrealistic expectations or unhelpful anxieties around relationships that come from what you think love should be? Use the insights about your love style to determine what would really make you happy, while finding the ways your love style might be holding you back in your love life.
If you’re in a LTR…
Falling in love is the easy part; people with different styles fall in love all the time (everything feels like love in the beginning, right?). The hard part is staying in love and achieving the much sought after “forever.” The key to achieving a lasting relationship just might be understanding your partner’s style and acting on it. Similar to love languages, knowing the way your partner defines love means you can have the power to help them feel both in love and loved.
If your partner is the romantic type, bringing flowers home or leaving a post-it with a compliment on the bathroom mirror goes a long way. If your partner is more the possessive type, calling later than you said you would or taking someone else’s side in an argument is a big deal for them. Follow through on your word, and don’t let them question your loyalty to avoid bigger problems in the future.
Knowing your love style can also clarify areas where you’re not feeling satisfied. You might feel unvalued because your partner doesn’t get jealous when other people flirt with you or annoyed when your partner brings up getting the oil in your car changed for the third time today. However, you’ll at least be able to understand that while you think love looks like jealousy and obsession, your partner does not think of love as possession, and rather shows his love by taking care of you through logical expressions.
At the end of the day (and the end of our lifetimes), all we want is to feel really, truly loved. The ultimate life hack: whether the greatest love you have is your husband, wife, parent, child, best friend, or sister, feel their love the way they give it, and you’ll feel loved every day for the rest of your life.