Will you be my Valentine — Heart Throb, Heart Ache, or Heart Break?

In my introduction to ethics course, the students process in groups an exercise on the 14 different styles of love, and how these styles can potentially enhance or hinder their personal growth, character development, ethical choices, and mental health. In unhealthy relationships students may become depressed, be abused, abuse others, drop out of school, commit suicide,  act out their pain with lethal weapons, or bring their heart aches to class (perhaps it is time for a referral to the counseling office.)

Sarah and Sam have been together for many, many years. The porch swing creaked like a cricket as the two of them moved gently back and forth. In their silence, heart spoke to heart until Sarah looked at Sam with loving eyes and said, “Sam, you don’t hold my hand that much anymore.” He looks into her eyes and reaches over and squeezes her hand. There is more silence as heart communicates with heart. She looks over again and says with a gleam in her eye, “Sam, do you remember when you used to hug and hold me close?” Again, Sam reaches over, and Sarah almost disappears in his hearty hug as he protects her from the spring breeze. The silence returns and the dialogue of their hearts continue. Time slips by and again Sarah looks at Sam and says, “Sam, when we were very young you used to nibble at my ear.” Suddenly, Sam springs from the swing and heads for the door. Sarah calls out, “Sam, Sam did I offend you?” As Sam reaches for the door, he turns to her and says, “Hell no, I am going to get my teeth!” This couple’s love didn’t rust out over the years, for it was very much alive and nurtured by their passion, intimacy, and commitment. As someone wrote: “For it was not into my ear that you whispered, but into my heart. It was not my lips you kissed, but my soul.” Most of us have been, are in, or will be in a series of various kinds of relationships. These varied relationships can positively or negatively impact the quality of our emotional and mental lives.

In my introduction to ethics course, the students process in groups an exercise on the 14 different styles of love, and how these styles can potentially enhance or hinder their personal growth, character development, ethical choices, and mental health. In unhealthy relationships, students may become depressed, be abused, abuse others, drop out of school, commit suicide, shoot up the place, or bring their heart aches to class (perhaps it is time for a referral to the counseling office.)

Here are the results of their reflections on the 6 types of love according to the Greeks, and the 8 styles of love according to psychologist Robert Sternberg. The objectives of this exercise are to help students, and hopefully ourselves, “sink our teeth” into these various dimensions of love realizing that some of these styles of love are unhealthy and unethical. Hopefully by processing these types of love by way of self-evaluation, we will be more at peace with ourselves, more fulfilled, more emotionally stable, and ethically responsive. The students’ responses are in parentheses:

Eros – romantic love – similar to passion – earthy and sexy – “love at first sight” “we were attracted to one another immediately.” Sexual arousal and desire may be the strongest components. (Healthy, it is natural, but you can’t build your relationship permanently on this initial attraction which is fueled by one’s sexuality). “Only the united beat of sex and heart together can create ecstasy.” – Anais Nin

Ludus – game-playing love – “I keep my lover up in the air about my commitment.” “I get over love affairs pretty easily.” (Unhealthy, toying with someone’s emotions is ego-centric, cruel, unhealthy, and unethical.) “Millions of people waste vast amounts of energy desperately and futilely attempting to make the reality of their lives conform to the unreality of the myth, that is, learning to go beyond allegiance to our own pleasures and needs.” – M. Scott Peck

Storge – friendship-love – loving attachment, deep friendship, or nonsexual affection. (Healthy, everyone needs good friends to support them; everyone should have at least two or three personal friends as opposed to functional friends). There is no doubt that friends can make us healthier, boost self-esteem, help us through transitions, help us to learn, make us laugh, and help us live longer. “The ideal friendship should result in one person enhancing another’s life.” – Henry David Thoreau

Pragma – pragmatic, logical love. “I consider a lover’s potential in life before committing myself,” or “I consider whether my lover will be a good parent.” (Healthy, it is important to decide if someone has the potential you are looking for in the future; for example, when you decide to have children, you will know that he or she will be a good parent because you have talked about it). “To love is to make one’s heart a swinging door.” – Howard Thurman

Mania or possessive, excited love. “I get so excited about my love that I cannot sleep,” or “When my love ignores me I get sick all over.” ( Healthy or/ unhealthy – it depends if the excitement becomes controlling and obsessive in nature). They came to a stream. There the girl unable to cross for fear of ruining her dress. The first monk picked her up and carried her across. The monks continued their journey in silence. After a few hours the second monk asked, “How could you pick her up when we have made vows not to even look at a woman?” The first monk replied, “I left her back at the stream but you seem to be still carrying her.” – Zen story

Agape, or selfless love. “I would do anything I can to help my lover,” “My lover’s needs and wishes are more important than my own.” (Healthy or unhealthy – it depends if one becomes co-dependent or if the happiness of the other is as important or more important than one’s own happiness ). “In real love you want the other person’s good. In romantic love you want the other person.” – Margaret Anderson

Robert Sternberg – Triangular Model of Love – Intimacy, Passion, and Commitment

Nonlove: a relationship in which all three dimensions are absent. Most of our personal relationships are of this type – casual interactions or acquaintances that do not involve any elements of love. ( Healthy, one does not need to love everyone in life; most of our relationships will be functional, and hopefully we respect and wish others well). “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction both are transformed.” – C.G. Jung

Liking: a loving experience with another person or a friendship in which intimacy is present but passion and commitment are lacking. ( Healthy as a causal friend one makes at school or work; you respect and can talk with them, but it does not mean anything sexual ). “A holy relationship is a means of saving time. One instant spent together restores the universe to both of you.” – A Course in Miracles

Infatuation: A kind of “love at first sight” in which one experiences passionate desires for another person in the absence of both intimacy and commitment. (Unhealthy and typically the kind of love that is like “puppy” love or adolescent in nature). As someone once said, “if it is love at first sight, take another look.”

Empty Love: A kind of love characterized by commitment to maintain the relationship in the absence of either passion or intimacy. Stagnant relationships that no longer involve the emotional intimacy or physical attraction that once characterized them are of this type. (Unhealthy, this type of relationship is pointless to carry on; sometimes couples will stay in a relationship for the sake of the children or because of pressure by society or religious institutions). A wife said to her husband, you never say “you love me.” The husband declared, “When we were married, I said ‘I love you,’ and if I ever change my mind, I will let you know.”

Romantic Love: A loving experience characterized by the combination of passion and intimacy, but lacking commitment. (Healthy, for not every relationship necessarily has to involve commitment to be healthy if both people involved agree ). “Romantic love is not a myth waiting to be discarded, but, for most of us, a discovery waiting to be born.” – Nathaniel Branden


Companionate Love: A kind of love that derives from the combination of intimacy and commitment. This kind of love often occurs in marriages in which passionate attraction between the partners has died down and has been replaced by a kind of committed friendship. (Healthy, for this kind of love means that the relationship has matured and morphed into a relationship that is supportive, trustworthy hoping that the passion can be rekindled and generally is ). “Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.” – Antoine De Saint-Exupery

Fatuous Love: The type of love is associated with whirlwind romances and “quicky marriages” in which passion and commitment are present, but intimacy is not. ( Unhealthy, and it is a spur of the passionate moment where reason has been tossed aside – Britney Spears comes to mind). Some love endures a lifetime while others are destined to last only days.

Consummate Love: The full or complete measure of love involving the combination of passion, intimacy, and commitment. Many of us strive to attain this type of complete love in our relationships. Maintaining it is often harder than achieving it. (Healthy and contains all the ingredients of Robert Sternberg’s love triangle – that is, passion, intimacy, and commitment). “Two consciousnesses, each dedicated to a personal evolution, can provide an extraordinary stimulus and challenge to the other. Then ecstasy can become a way of life.” Nathaniel Branden

There is an old Hasidic story about the creation of a man and a woman — the woman was not taken from the head of a man to be told what to do; nor was she taken from the feet of a man to be oppressed and trampled upon; rather, she was taken from the side of a man meaning equality, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be loved.

Almost thirty years ago I proposed to my wife over a hot fudge sundae, and I shared with her a poem entitled, “You and I” that I had written for the occasion:

Your love for me is

humanizing and divinizing.

Our love is spontaneous

and has its own delicate process

of unfolding and flowering.

Your love moves me

to reach out, to touch

and to be with you.

Your love excites and stills

my heart and has taken me

by the hand to discover once again

the surrounding and permeating

presence of your love for me.

Now, it is time for you to write a poem for your loved one.

Will you be my Valentine?

Roger J. Vanden Busch

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