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Triangular Theory of Love: Passion, Intimacy, and Commitment

Yale psychologist Robert Sternberg described consummate love or “true love” as a perfect triad of the following three components- passion, intimacy, and commitment. And any partial components result in different forms of interpersonal relationships. I will convey these examples using my personal experiences as I contemplate on this theory’s level of accuracy and as well, practicality.

Passion: physical arousal or emotional stimulation.

Intimacy: feelings of closeness and attachment to one another.

Commitment: a conscious decision to invest in one another.

Trials and…

*Names are changed for anonymity.

  • Liking (Intimacy)- This is the friend who you are not strongly sexually attracted to. York, my childhood friend, played freeze tag and innocently held hands with me. I was old enough to have crushes, but I did not ever see him that way. To this day, I only have warm, nostalgic feelings towards him- even after reconnecting years after.
  • Romantic (Passion & Intimacy)- This is your whirlwind romantic fantasy. Cory entranced me. His personality, his hobbies, and his face. I was extremely fascinated by the way he perceived the world. His introspections. The physical attraction was mutual, but it never panned out between us because we were complete opposites. Instead, we always ‘exchanged letters’ in the form of texting. The passion was always built on dramatic occurrences, and the intimacy was built on the foiling of our personalities. Desire and fondness fired but somehow, the commitment did not ever arise. It was almost as if it wasn’t extremely necessary.
  • Companionate (Intimacy & Commitment)- This is the ‘I-kinda-liked-him-after-awhile’ guy or aka the ‘fluffer-guy.’ You have enough physical and emotional attraction towards him to adopt him as a friend, but not substantially enough for you to carry him to the romantic realm. I knew Tim had a thing for me way beforehand and we spent all our time together. But I mistook that feeling of fondness for something way more romantic. There were a lot of things about him that didn’t fit with me in the context of a relationship (his lack of social cues, emotional integrity, charm, etc.). I jumped into a relationship with him and exited just as quickly.

More Trials…

  • Empty (Commitment) – I have yet to experience this explicitly, but I have witnessed my girlfriends go through this. He’s the guy who you are dreading to break-up with, and you have ‘fallen-out’ of love with but can’t seem to drop because of the familiar feelings of the relationship. This is a state I thoroughly detest and in which I try to avoid at the expense of breaking up with people prematurely. I’d rather do it earlier than later, honestly.
  • Fatuous (Passion & Commitment) – This is the sexy “nice guy.” I only recently experienced this. Andy is hot. He also knows how to treat me like a queen. But for some reason, even after these past few months, I didn’t feel intense intellectual or spiritual stimulation with him. There was even emotional stimulation, but not enough for me to bypass these other components. This type of relationship lasted way longer in a romantic setting than the ‘Companionate’ relationship but wasn’t as emotionally taxing as the ‘Romantic’ relationship type.
  • Infatuation (Passion) – This is the “I-wanna-rip-off-his-clothes” guy. Pure lust. Nothing else. This was Kyle who I worked with for a studio project once. Work protocol would totally forbid any flirty behavior, there was light, but ‘heavy’ touches here and there. After we had finished the project, he asked me to come over his place once. I, of course, quickly declined his offer though I was picturing everything that would happen if I did. And my skin was tingling.
  • Consummate (Intimacy, Passion, & Commitment) – I’m still looking for this guy. After dating several men, in fact, a heaping X number of guys, nope. Does this guy even exist? There’s that hope. But most of all, there’s the desire to not…settle.


The top three I often experience: Companionate, Infatuation, and (most) Romantic.

The top two I rarely experience: Liking, (least) Fatuous.

Almost never: Consummate

Never: Empty

And with everything comes in shades of intensity. There are different levels of intensity in each type of relationship. There is also a lot of potential for gray areas and overlap.

I think the best route to take is Infatuation, then Romantic, and then finally Consummate. Because physical attraction can rarely change—it’s based on hormones, simple biology.

So Passion first, then Intimacy is crucial (Romantic) and then finally, commitment. Passion first, then commitment (Fatuous) is skipping the key part. And skipping passion completely is a recipe for an instant failure.

There are of course exceptions though in which intimacy (Liking) turns into passion (Romantic). However, I feel like if it starts with intimacy, it is more likely to go towards the (Companionate).

In any case, readers, feel free to share your experiences in the comment section below. Do you agree or disagree with this route I have suggested? What are your thoughts on this theory? Any personal experiences?

Happy Reading!


Author Profile

Sarah Suhaimi practices 명음 by day and the art of dark chocolate bar swindling by night. She is currently working closely with a local Pittsburgh non-profit that serves sex-trafficked victims, Living in Liberty, as a volunteer and grant proposal writer. She founded the Southeast Asian Student Alliance (SEASA) at her university, and, as well, the "Offer Islam Campaign." Her works vary from prose to poetry to articles. Her published works include, ‘The Home of an Immigrant’s Daughter’ in the Art Catalogue for the 2012 Dublin Biennial, Dublin, Ireland and ‘Hidden Beauty Reveals Itself (Intellect Vs Instinct)’ in the Art Catalogue for the 2011 Florence Biennale VIII, Florence, Italy.

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