People often ask about the difference between loving someone and being in love or how can they know for sure that they are truly in love with someone. However, rather than asking about the difference between loving someone and being in love with someone, they should seek to discover what it actually means to love someone and find out if the state of “being in love” actually exists. From a theological perspective, there are three main dimensions of love: philio, eros, and agape. Philio love is a brotherly love generally shared between families, friends, and significant others i.e. husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend. Eros love is an erotic love of a romantic or sexual nature. Finally, agape love is an unconditional, sacrificial, and enduring love, typical of the love God has for His people.
Amazingly, it is possible to have any of the three types of love (philio, eros, or agape) without actually being “in love.” However, if it is assumed that being in love exists (philosophically) and is attainable, it would likely be defined as the convergence of philio, eros, and agape within the context of a committed relationship, reflecting three-element model of love. However, much of what is called “being in love” is probably more of an infatuation, obsession, or good ole fashioned lust.
Another problem is that “being in love” must be reciprocal in order to be beneficial; otherwise, it is futile. To illustrate the point, if a person has all three dimensions, feelings, or capacities of love towards someone who does not share the same feelings, they are wasting their time, primarily because they will never get from the relationship what they deserve or what God wants them to have. Therefore, it is important to know exactly how a person feels about before making the declaration of being “in love.”
To go a little deeper, the concept of “being in love” from a socio-psychological perspective only exists when three essential elements are present in both parties of the relationship. More specifically, Sternberg (1998) demonstrates that the taxonomy of love exists within seven kinds of love with three essential elements: intimacy, passion, and a decision/commitment. This concept will be developed later in the discussion.
Intimacy is not sex; on the contrary, it involves a desire to promote the welfare of the loved one, sharing experiences of happiness, holding the loved one in high regard, being able to count on the loved one in times of need, sharing a mutual understanding about each other and the relationship, sharing oneself and one’s passions with the loved one, giving and receiving emotional support, communicating intimately with the loved one, and valuing them as a partner and a friend (Sternberg, 1998). Intimacy corresponds with philio love in the three-element model proposed in this article for “being in love.”
Passion describes the state of intense longing for union with someone, which is largely the expression of desires and needs, such as self-esteem, nurturance, affiliation, dominance, submission, and most importantly, sexual fulfillment (Sternberg, 1998). Sexual intimacy and desire are one of the most common manifestations of passion in a relationship, although both desire and attraction can exist without couples actually engaging in sexual activity. Additionally, these needs generally manifest themselves through an often inseparable psychological and physiological arousal (Sternberg, 1998). This certainly corresponds with eros (erotic) love, which is more than just sex.
The decision/commitment component consists of both short-term and long-term aspects; the short-term aspect is the decision to love someone and the long-term aspect is the decision to maintain the love in the relationship (Sternberg, 1998). Many people have the short-term aspect, but lack the decision to maintain love through adversity. This is an unconditional commitment to sustain the love in the relationship for all time…or until death ends the relationship, which is certainly a good depiction of agape love within a relationship.
Again, Sternberg (1998) introduced a taxonomy of love that included seven different kinds: non-love, liking, infatuated love, empty love, romantic love, compassionate love, fatuous love, and consummate love. Non-love is missing all three elements. Liking has intimacy (philio), but lacks passion (eros) and commitment (agape). Infatuated love lacks intimacy (philio) and commitment (agape) and only has passion (eros). Empty love has commitment (agape), but lacks intimacy (philio) and passion (eros). Romantic love has both intimacy (philio) and passion (eros), but lacks commitment – notice the difference between infatuated love and romantic love.
Compassionate love has intimacy (philio) and commitment (agape), but lacks passion (eros), making it similar to liking, but adds the short and long-term commitments. Fatuous (foolish, unreal, silly, illusory) love has passion (eros) and commitment (agape), but lacks intimacy, which is the glue that holds the relationship together. Most people mistake this kind of love for “being in love” because they have great sexual connections and a willingness to be with each other; yet, they lack a level of intimacy that transcends sexual connectedness. Finally, consummate (complete) love includes all three elements: intimacy (philio), passion (eros), and commitment (agape).
Now, with all this information is mind, evaluate whether or not you are truly in love or determine if you are in love by yourself in your relationship. Although it is possible for people in a relationship to have two different types of love for each other (i.e. he has consummate love, but she only has romantic love), no one should waste their time loving someone who loves them to a lesser degree. It is better to reserve that love for someone who is willing to reciprocate it. Otherwise, you might find yourself holding back one or more elements of love in your future relationships.
Sternberg, R. (1998). Cupid’s arrow: the course of love through time (1st ed.). New York, NY:
Cambridge University Press.