Passion, Intimacy, and Commitment: How to Write About Love
Love. That universal feeling that brings us all together. It’s an emotion that can destroy us or uplift us. Make us feel safe or make us feel lonely. It can give us the highest highs and the lowest lows. Love can bring down empires and love can overcome evil to save the world.
Wow. That’s a lot for one little four-letter word to handle.
Thankfully, it’s up to the task.
If you’re writing a novel, you’re going to be writing about love. I don’t care what kind of book it is, your characters are going to love something. Love often gets associated with romance, and of course, that’s one kind of love.
But there are so many other types of love we experience. You can feel love for your friends, children, family, country, home, gods, pets, and more.
So just because you’re not a romance author doesn’t mean you’re not writing about love.
If you’re going to develop a character with strong goals and motivations, there’s a very good chance (an almost guaranteed chance) your protagonist is driven by their love of something. Heck, even your villains are going to be driven by love (if you created an awesome one, of course).
In this article, we’ll talk about:
- The triangular theory of love
- The Five Love Languages
- How to show love in your writing
The Triangular Theory of Love
So what is love, anyway? Let’s look at it from a more clinical point of view and explore the triangular theory of love.
(Not to be confused with a love triangle in which one teenage girl must choose between two nearly identical teenage boys. I kid. I love a good love triangle. Wow, that was a lot of loves.)
Posited by Robert J. Sternberg, the triangular theory of love is defined as:
Love can be understood in terms of three components that together can be viewed as forming the vertices of a triangle. These three components are intimacy, passion, and decision/commitment.
It’s important to note that you don’t need all three of these components for love to exist. But rather, the amount of each in any given relationship defines what the relationship is.
Hmm. Okay. Let’s look at the three components a little closer.
- Passion: This relates to sexual attraction, arousal, and the desire to act upon it. In a romantic relationship, this component will usually have a more dominant presence.
- Intimacy: This is the feeling of bonding and closeness we feel in loving relationships. It’s what connects you to the other party or parties.
- Decision/commitment: A decision is the short-term choice to engage in a loving relationship with another, while commitment is one’s desire to maintain that connection. Obviously, these don’t always exist together. One can choose to love someone or something without wanting to make a lifelong commitment.
Coming out of these three components, we get eight different types of relationships.
- Non love: This is a situation where none of the above factors are present.
- Like: This is where you’ll only have the intimacy and decision portions present. This is the kind of relationship you might experience with a pet or a friend for whom you have no romantic feelings.
- Infatuation: This is where you’ve got just passion and none of the other components.This is your one-night stand or when your character fulfills their immediate desires.
- Empty or unrequited love: This is where one party is all-in on the decision and commitment portions, but the intimacy and passion aren’t reciprocated.
- Romantic: This is where you have the passion and intimacy, but not the commitment just yet. Think the early chapters of a romance novel where things are moving, but the declaration of love hasn’t happened.
- Compassion: In this situation, you have intimacy and commitment. Relationships with your child or a long-life friend would fall into this category.
- Fatuous: This results in a combination of passion and commitment, but lacks intimacy. This would be a good example of where the love of your country might fall–in this case, the passion would be more about laying down your life or championing a cause, instead of the more literal definition, but those feelings aren’t really reciprocated..
- Consummate or complete: When you have all three components existing in balance. This is often the kind of love you have with your spouse or life partner.
How to Write About Love
Okay, so now that you understand the types of love you can include in your books, let’s talk about how you write them. To do that, let’s look at the five love languages.
- Words of affirmation: People who prefer this love language like to hear the words “I love you.” They want to be told, regularly and often, how you feel about them. They like compliments, words of appreciation, encouragement, and reminders of how awesome you think they are. This can be verbal or written, including texts and emails. Hearing these words makes your loved one feel understood and appreciated.
- Quality time: People who like this language feel loved when you want to spend as much time with them as possible. They crave active listening, eye contact, and your undivided attention. This includes having long and meaningful conversations and doing things together.
- Acts of service: If someone likes this love language, they think actions speak louder than words. Instead of hearing about how much you love them, they want proof through acts that make their life better or easier. Examples include bringing you medicine or soup when you’re not feeling well or doing a chore that takes something off your plate. This makes them feel cherished and appreciated.
- Gifts: This one is pretty clear, I think. People who value this language want to be cherished through the act of gift giving. And it’s not about the monetary amount, but rather the thought behind it. To buy the perfect gift requires intimate knowledge and a thoughtful process that shows your loved one that you understand their values and needs.
- Physical touch: And finally, those who fall into this category want to experience physical signs of affection. In nonromantic relationships, that might mean hugging or cuddling. In romantic relationships, it might also mean kissing or sex. This serves as the basis for an emotional connection for your loved one, who appreciates the warmth and love that touch signifies.
So why does this matter to your story? You might not know the specific love language of your characters (though there is a test you can do if you’re curious), but I point these out to help you start thinking about how to “show” love between your characters.
You’ve probably heard the rule about “showing versus telling” in your writing, and there might be no better place to use those showing skills than when you’re writing about love. Don’t just tell us that your love interest is desperately in love with your main character. Show us using any of the love languages above, or a combination of them. You can even use these to create conflict.
If character A is all about acts of service but character B keeps buying her flowers to show her he cares, that could lead to her feeling like he doesn’t appreciate her because he’s not speaking the right language.
Maybe he craves physical touch, and she’s constantly signing them up for classes at the local community center, when all he wants to do is watch a movie and cuddle.
You see how this works?
More Ways to Show Love
So now that you’re hopefully thinking about how you can show love between your characters, let’s look at a few more suggestions when it comes to your writing. Below, you’ll find some more specific examples of actions and gestures that can help you demonstrate that loving feeling without coming right out and saying it.
Admiration: a feeling of warmth, approval, and appreciation.
- A genuine smile
- Nodding while grinning
- Relaxed posture
- Leanings towards the person they admire
- Open body language
- Adjusting clothing or hair to make a good impression
- Listening intently
- Offering praise
- Gentle touch on the back or shoulder
- Squeezing their hand at the end of a handshake
Adoration: an act of worship or one viewed as divine.
- Parting of the lips
- A soft expression
- A hand laid over their heart
- Fluttering eyelids
- Pressing palms lightly to cheek or forehead
- Flushed skin
- Stroking either themselves or the other person
- Leaning forward
- Touching one’s mouth or face
- Sighing in appreciation
Desire: a yearning to start or strengthen a relationship with other people.
- Intense eye contact
- Trembling or shivering
- Lowering one’s voice
- Eyes softening or shifting
- Holding in a breath
- Moving closer or touching the person
- Lips parting
- Tongue licking the lips
- Slow smiles that build
- Hands or body becoming hot or flushed
Longing: urgently wanting something or someone yet to be obtained.
- Closing the eyes
- Taking long, deep breaths
- Wistful smile
- Absently toying with a necklace or bracelet
- Rubbing a hand over the heart
- Brightening of facial features in presence of loved one
- An inward gaze
- Staring or gazing into the distance
- Speaking in a soft voice
Love: deep affection, attachment and devotion for someone.
- Moving to get closer
- Smiling at them or at nothing
- Beaming expression
- Bright eyes and glowing cheeks
- Parting of lips
- Silly grin wide grin
- Laughing and talking a lot
- Touching them constantly
- Sitting close enough to touch
- Using pet names or terms of endearment
- Strong eye contact
Lust: intense sexual desire or craving.
- Deep and extended eye contact
- Arching the back
- Licking the lips
- Exposing one’s neck
- A suggestive gaze
- Touching the collar or edge of one’s cleavage
- One’s gaze drawn to the lips
- Tilting one’s head
- Pulling closer
Love is a powerful emotion that drives us all, and it absolutely drives your characters. A story without some kind of love (even if it’s entirely self-serving), is like a story without words. And writing about love doesn’t have to be hard. After all, we all love something.
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