A major area in the study of people's relations to each other is interpersonal attraction. This refers to all of the forces that lead people to like each other, establish relationships, and in some cases, fall in love. Several general principles of attraction have been discovered by social psychologists. For example, physical proximity tends to increase attraction, whereas long distances make relationships difficult to form and maintain. Even very small differences in distance—such as the case of a next door neighbor versus someone who lives down the block—can make a significant difference in friendship patterns. Familiarity, or "mere exposure," also increases attraction, influencing people even if the familiarity is not consciously noticed. One of the most important factors in interpersonal attraction is similarity: the more similar two people are in attitudes, background, and other traits, the more probable it is that they will like each other. Contrary to popular belief, opposites do not usually attract. Physical attractiveness is an important element in romantic relationships, particularly in the early stages, which are characterized by high levels of passion. Later on, similarity and other compatibility factors become more important.
Components of Love
Psychologist Robert Sternberg views love as a triangle, whose three sides consist of passion, intimacy, and commitment (Figure 1). When two people experience all three, they are said to be in a state of consummate love; this condition is relatively rare and difficult to maintain for a long period of time. Love can be best described in reference to a relationship between two or more people, and is more evident in relationships that contain a mutual understanding, give and receive support, and enjoy the loved one’s company.
Passionate versus Companionate Love
Passionate love is mostly expressed in a physical manner; it is a love that is shared between people who are intensely enamored with each other. Passionate love is an emotional love that is both exciting and intense, and can be defined as a state of intense longing for union with another.
Companionate love, on the other hand, is best defined as passionate love that has settled to a warm enduring love between partners in a relationship. Often found in long term relationships, the companionate love shared between partners consists of fewer ups and downs than what is found in passionate love. It is more stable and involves a deeper respect and affectionate attachment between partners. While the passion may have died down over time, a deep affection and commitment for the other person still remains.
Love assumes many variations, and time and culture both have an effect on the love formed in a relationship. Time factors include the age or developmental stage of the individuals involved in the relationship, the length of the relationship, or the age difference between the partners. Culture plays a strong role in love and relationships. An individual’s ethnicity, background, religion, or even financial stability can affect the way he or she expresses or receives love in a relationship. From an evolutionary point of view, both passionate and companionate love are adaptive, the former because it increases the likelihood of procreating, and the latter because it increases the likelihood of a long-term relationships and joint-parenting, which historically increased children's chances of survival.