Love and Intimacy



Love is a deep feeling of connection with and affection for another person.

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Sexual development

While no one has ever made a scientific count, it is probably true that more songs, books, and poems have been written about love than about any other subject. Most of the world's religions place a high value on the experience and expression of love. Over the centuries, many philosophers have argued that love is the most powerful force in the universe. Without love, people can be lonely, disconnected, sad, or angry. With love, people feel happiness and security.

Kinds of Love

Every time Jason saw Mrs. Smith with her new baby, the infant was crying. Jason could not understand why the endless crying did not annoy Mrs. Smith. "How can she be smiling and cooing at that noisy little thing?" he wondered. The more he thought about it, the more Jason realized that his mother probably had felt the same way about him when he was a crying baby.

The love parents feel for their babies is one of the deepest emotional connections. Parental love grows and changes over time. At first, babies are totally dependent on their parents or other caregivers to take care of them, feed them, and clothe them. Parents are very attached to their children and want to help them feel loved and secure. Children begin to rely less on their parents as they grow up. Yet the more children are loved, the more they later learn to love others as they form relationships and have families of their own. Children's experiences with love can influence their relationships for the rest of their lives. Trusting, close, safe relationships with parents help establish the foundations of good relationships with friends and loved ones. When their relationships with their parents are not loving, children may grow up less able to trust others. They may even have trouble establishing loving or intimate relationships as adults.

Most psychologists (sy-KOL-o-jists) and researchers believe that love is a combination of three things:

  • Intimacy: a feeling of ease, honesty, and emotional closeness between people
  • Commitment: devotion or faithfulness
  • Passion: an excitement and desire to be together.

This is true of all kinds of love, whether it is parental love, friends' affection and loyalty, lovers' romance and attraction, or warm feelings for a pet. Whether they are relationships that involve being "in love" or ones that involve the love of friendship, they bring warmth, connection, and a sense of belonging to people's lives.

Showing Love

How do people show their love to others? When people are close, or "emotionally intimate," they have feelings of warmth, caring, and familiarity. They might do things together, such as go to the movies or visit each other's houses. Close friends have private experiences, personal conversations, and deep feelings of trust. Helping people, doing them favors, and listening to their troubles are all ways to show love. As people grow older and mature, they have love relationships that involve deepening feelings of caring, tenderness, sacrifice, and an ability to accept the other person's limitations or weaknesses.

Why Do We Love Movie Stars
and Rock Singers?

The Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung believed that everyone has an unconscious inner male spirit (which he called the "animus") or an unconscious inner female spirit (the "anima") that remains hidden. According to Jung, a woman has an unconscious male spirit, and a man has an unconscious female spirit. Jung believed that often the people with whom we fall in love are representations of our own inner male or female spirit. Jung thought that people could get in touch with their inner male or female side by studying their dreams.

In 1926, when the popular silent film star Rudolph Valentino died at an early age, Jung observed that thousands of women all over the world wept as if they had lost their own lovers. Jung believed that the women really must have been weeping over the loss of their inner male spirits that seemed to have died. The rock singer Elvis Presley and the actress Marilyn Monroe also captured the hearts of millions of people. When they died, many people felt brokenhearted. Did they symbolize America's inner male and female spirits too?

Love, however, does not always feel warm and comfortable. Loving someone may mean that a person has to say or do difficult things. For example, a parent who says no to a child's request may seem strict or unfair. But the parent may be acting out of love by protecting the child from something dangerous or hurtful. Sometimes people show their love through physical intimacy. Friends might hug each other or hold hands, a grandchild might snuggle in the arms of a grandparent, or a parent might give a child a backrub. The most mature relationships, such as that between a married couple, are physically and emotionally intimate. The most intense form of physical intimacy is a sexual relationship.

Sexual Attraction

Young children begin to understand the concept of "being in love" when they are 4 or 5 years old, but it is not until the time of puberty, at about the age of 12 or 13, that people begin to have feelings of romantic love. Early on, a young person might have a "crush" on someone or an attraction to someone. This is possible even when people do not know each other well or at all. Girls and boys both have crushes. With a crush, a person might be preoccupied by thoughts of the other person and may even think that he or she is in love.

Young people may develop sexual feelings or desires to be physically close to someone. Usually sexual attraction, a feeling of being drawn or attracted to another person, is accompanied by love, but not always. Most people have sexual feelings and desire for someone of the opposite sex, but some people are attracted romantically and physically to someone of the same sex.

Most adults discourage young people from acting on their feelings of sexual attraction ("making love," or having sex) and encourage them to wait until they are older and more mature, or even until they are married. This is because the most complete kind of love involves deep emotional feelings of caring, responsibility, openness, respect, and affection as well as sexual attraction. For people of all ages, sexual relationships produce complicated feelings and involve a lot of responsibility.

See also
Emotions
Families
Sexual Development

Resource

Book

Harris, Robie H. Its Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 1994.

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