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Love is an emotion of strong affection and personal attachment. In philosophical context, love is a virtue representing all of human kindness, compassion, and affection. Love is central to many religions, as in the Christian phrase, "God is love" or Agape in the Canonical gospels. Love may also be described as actions towards others (or oneself) based on compassion, or as actions towards others based on affection.
In English, love refers to a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes, ranging from pleasure ("I loved that meal") to interpersonal attraction ("I love my partner"). "Love" may refer specifically to the passionate desire and intimacy of romantic love, to the sexual love of eros, to the emotional closeness of familial love, or the platonic love that defines friendship, to the profound oneness or devotion of religious love. This diversity of uses and meanings, combined with the complexity of the feelings involved, makes love unusually difficult to consistently define, even compared to other emotional states.
Love may be understood a part of the survival instinct, a function keep human beings together against menaces and to facilitate the continuation of the species
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The word "love" can have a variety of related but distinct meanings in different contexts. Often, other languages use multiple words to express some of the different concepts that English relies mainly on "love" to encapsulate; one example is the plurality of Greek words for "love." Cultural differences in conceptualizing love thus make it doubly difficult to establish any universal definition.
Although the nature or essence of love is a subject of frequent debate, different aspects of the word can be clarified by determining what isn't love. As a general expression of positive sentiment (a stronger form of like), love is commonly contrasted with hate (or neutral apathy); as a less sexual and more emotionally intimate form of romantic attachment, love is commonly contrasted with lust; and as an interpersonal relationship with romantic overtones, love is sometimes contrasted with friendship, although the word love is often applied to close friendships.
When discussed in the abstract, love usually refers to interpersonal love, an experience felt by a person for another person. Love often involves caring for or identifying with a person or thing (cf. vulnerability and care theory of love), including oneself (cf. narcissism). In addition to cross-cultural differences in understanding love, ideas about love have also changed greatly over time. Some historians date modern conceptions of romantic love to courtly Europe during or after the Middle Ages, although the prior existence of romantic attachments is attested by ancient love poetry.
Because of the complex and abstract nature of love, discourse on love is commonly reduced to a thought-terminating cliché, and there are a number of common proverbs regarding love, from Virgil's "Love conquers all" to The Beatles' "All You Need Is Love". St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle, defines love as "to will the good of another." Bertrand Russell describes love as a condition of "absolute value," as opposed to relative value. Philosopher Gottfried Leibniz said that love is "to be delighted by the happiness of another."
Love is sometimes referred to as being the "international language", overriding cultural and linguistic divisions.
A person can be said to love an object, principle, or goal if they value it greatly and are deeply committed to it. Similarly, compassionate outreach and volunteer workers' "love" of their cause may sometimes be borne not of interpersonal love, but impersonal love coupled with altruism and strong spiritual or political convictions. People can also "love" material objects, animals, or activities if they invest themselves in bonding or otherwise identifying with those things. If sexual passion is also involved, this condition is called paraphilia.
Interpersonal love refers to love between human beings. It is a more potent sentiment than a simple liking for another. Unrequited love refers to those feelings of love that are not reciprocated. Interpersonal love is most closely associated with interpersonal relationships. Such love might exist between family members, friends, and couples. There are also a number of psychological disorders related to love, such as erotomania.
Throughout history, philosophy and religion have done the most speculation on the phenomenon of love. In the last century, the science of psychology has written a great deal on the subject. In recent years, the sciences of evolutionary psychology, evolutionary biology, anthropology, neuroscience, and biology have added to the understanding of the nature and function of love.
Biological models of sex tend to view love as a mammalian drive, much like hunger or thirst. Helen Fisher, a leading expert in the topic of love, divides the experience of love into three partly overlapping stages: lust, attraction, and attachment. Lust exposes people to others; romantic attraction encourages people to focus their energy on mating; and attachment involves tolerating the spouse (or indeed the child) long enough to rear a child into infancy.
Lust is the initial passionate sexual desire that promotes mating, and involves the increased release of chemicals such as testosterone and estrogen. These effects rarely last more than a few weeks or months. Attraction is the more individualized and romantic desire for a specific candidate for mating, which develops out of lust as commitment to an individual mate forms. Recent studies in neuroscience have indicated that as people fall in love, the brain consistently releases a certain set of chemicals, including pheromones, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which act in a manner similar to amphetamines, stimulating the brain's pleasure center and leading to side effects such as increased heart rate, loss of appetite and sleep, and an intense feeling of excitement. Research has indicated that this stage generally lasts from one and a half to three years.
Since the lust and attraction stages are both considered temporary, a third stage is needed to account for long-term relationships. Attachment is the bonding that promotes relationships lasting for many years and even decades. Attachment is generally based on commitments such as marriage and children, or on mutual friendship based on things like shared interests. It has been linked to higher levels of the chemicals oxytocin and vasopressin to a greater degree than short-term relationships have. Enzo Emanuele and coworkers reported the protein molecule known as the nerve growth factor (NGF) has high levels when people first fall in love, but these return to previous levels after one year.
Psychology depicts love as a cognitive and social phenomenon. Psychologist Robert Sternberg formulated a triangular theory of love and argued that love has three different components: intimacy, commitment, and passion. Intimacy is a form in which two people share confidences and various details of their personal lives, and is usually shown in friendships and romantic love affairs. Commitment, on the other hand, is the expectation that the relationship is permanent. The last and most common form of love is sexual attraction and passion. Passionate love is shown in infatuation as well as romantic love. All forms of love are viewed as varying combinations of these three components. American psychologist Zick Rubin sought to define love by psychometrics in the 1970s. His work states that three factors constitute love: attachment, caring, and intimacy. Coulomb's law, which showed that positive and negative charges attract, analogs in human life were developed, such as "opposites attract." Over the last century, research on the nature of human mating has generally found this not to be true when it comes to character and personality—people tend to like people similar to themselves. However, in a few unusual and specific domains, such as immune systems, it seems that humans prefer others who are unlike themselves (e.g., with an orthogonal immune system), since this will lead to a baby that has the best of both worlds. In recent years, various human bonding theories have been developed, described
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