Emotions and love

Over at Evolving Thoughts, one of the many blogs that I read, John S. Wilkens posted about emotions.  I know, the post is nearly a week old, but I’ve been busy this last week and I’m catching up today.

In any case, the starts with an eye-raising question as the title; “Are emotions 2D?” What on Earth can that mean?

Well, it’s really about how he categorize the basic emotions into a 2 or 3 dimensional model.  From the post:

Paul Ekman, who works as a human ethologist of the emotions, has devised a scheme in which there are six “basic” emotions:  anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise. Evolutionary psychologists like Cosmides and Tooby have extended this further, arguing that guilt, fear, jealousy, etc., are adaptive responses that increase fitness in our ancestral state.

emotion map

It’s a model I’ve seen before, and since emotions have been a particular lay interest of mine, I think about things like this sometimes.

Now, much of the analysis is way outside of my area of expertise (and as John says in the post, his as well), so I will leave most of the content without comment.  Read the post (it’s not long, but there are links!) if you are interested in the subject at all.

But what I found interesting is where he starts talking about love.  Love, in the model here, is not really its own emotion.  Further, love is not necessarily tied to sex.  Both ideas I agree with, and I think there is good support for that view.

Then, he says the following:

If sex and the value we take from others is separate from the positive regard we have for others, then to my mind, there’s just love. Love for partners, family members (particularly children), and friends is all of a muchness, and the differences are just socially constructed.


For various, and complicated, historical, cultural, and religious reasons we have created boundaries around difference expressions of care we have for others.  As a result, we often distinguish, in our culture, between (for example) romantic love and friendship.  But many see this differently.  For example, Wes wrote yesterday about Relationship Anarchy, and I agree that for many people, including myself, the barriers between different kinds of relationships fall away when examined.  For me at least, part of the reason for this is that the cultural and social distinctions between love itself fall away, in a similar fashion.  The cultural walls and definitions which seem to differentiate between relationships and types of love are mostly illusory, conventional, and in some cases simply wrong and ultimately harmful.

A 3D model of emotion categorization
A 3D model of emotion categorization

Yes, there will be differing levels of intensity of the “love” feelings I have for people in my life.  There will also be subtleties in the differing emotional recipes which we call love (a little more serotonin here, a little less dopamine there…).

I can say, without any contradiction, that I love some people more, or at least for more reasons and with greater frequency, but the same basic feeling of caring I have for those closest to me is present with people I really like, whether I have sexual interest in them or not.

And while sexual intimacy is often (but certainly not always) a cauldron where those feelings may brew with greater intensity and speed, those feelings can exist with or without said intimacy.  It is true that I have friends whom I love.  Some of them are sexy as Hell (Hell is, after all, just an eternal orgy, right?) and would hop in the sack with in a second, and others I get no pants feelings for at all.  Similarly, there exist some people for whom being in the same room with is sexually intoxicating, and yet I have little to no love feelings for.

In other words, they are truly different things.  But I’m digressing.  The point is that I have differing levels of pants feelings and love feelings for different people.  You know, I’m human.

John Wilkins finishes his post in a way I really appreciated, for reasons that will become obvious.  I don’t know anything about his personal life, so I don’t know where he lies on the monogamy/polyamory question, but he says the following:

We can choose to have relationships that are of varying strength of commitment without needing to meet the expectations of popular psychology or sociology. We might even be able to adopt a plural relationship of sexual partners or a mix of sexual and nonsexual partners in life without prejudicing those relationships by constructed categories derived from past institutions like marriage that rely upon the ideologies of class, religion or economics.


2 thoughts on “Emotions and love

  1. My strange journey has been “how” to get to a place where one feels okay with what seems to be easier to accept intellectually than to adopt emotionally. Great post! Reasoning alone doesn’t help me diminish jealousy in my life or “feel” okay about radical love. It seems our original programming has been in the process of being hijacked since and over the course of 10,000 years when agriculture supplanted hunting-gathering and nomadic practices. The re-programming however is not complete. Program patches seem to barely have a 50% success rate however trying to reboot to our original program systems so to speak can be a painful process and usually is. The results are worth it to me though and I must admit, to see your wonderful family put their thoughts out there, is really helpful. Lots more thoughts but this is your blog;P Many thanks 🙂

  2. Interesting! Using that two-dimensional model, I’d posit that love is composed of some combination of the emotions on that scale, plus attachment and/or sexual arousal. (Neither of which are emotions, though they often come along with many.) I want to think more on that, so maybe I’ll write a follow-up post. (After I write my overdue Masters of Sex review, of course.)

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