What is “friends zone”? Why some remain friends and some become lovers? We are passionate about some people romantically but others remain in our “friends circle”. What factors influence our decision of getting romantically involved with someone while just being “friends” with some others? Why we are passionate about some people but only for a short time while develop a life-long intimate relationship with someone special? Let’s analyze the psychological underpinning of friendship, infatuation and romantic love.


According to psychologist Professor Sternberg it is due to the “love triangle”. Love triangle has three fundamental sides representing intimacy, passion and commitment. The extent to which we develop either of these three ingredients with respect to another person determines the kind of relationship we want.

Intimacy is the closeness and warmth we feel with another person.

Passion encompasses arousal due to the physical attractiveness of another person.

Commitment is the willingness to remain together, either short-term or long-term

The combination of these three components lead to seven different kinds of relationships ranging from liking to consummate love. Let’s analyze each type of relationship separately.


Liking comprises of only one ingredient of love triangle which is intimacy and lacks both passion and commitment. Liking is characterized by closeness, warmth and friendship. We are close and feel a special bond with the person. We are close and feel a special bond with the person. We experience affection and warmth when together but we do not have passion for or commitment with the person. This type of relationship is characterized by true friendship.

Infatuated Love

Infatuated love has one prominent component of love triangle which is passion but lacks both intimacy and commitment. It is characterized by arousal and attraction. Infatuated love is also termed as “love at first sight” in which we are physically attracted towards the person which causes arousal. This arousal contributes to the passion for the person but it may only be short lived.

Empty Love

Empty love comprises of only commitment part of love triangle and lacks both intimacy and passion. Empty love is characterized by Obligation and pledges. Sometimes we are part of relationship which is alive only on the basis of commitment. This type of relationship has neither intimacy nor passion for the person. These relationships carry on due to obligations, pledges and vows. The passion and intimacy of some relationships fizzle out with passage of time but due to long-term commitment these relationships carry on. These types of relationships are termed as empty love.

Romantic Love

Romantic love comprises of both intimacy and passion components of love triangle but lacks commitment. It is characterized by closeness, warmth, attraction and arousal. In this type of relationship we feel closeness, warmth and affection for the person. We are physically attracted which arouses our feelings and makes us feel passionate about the individual.

Companionate Love

Companionate love is characterized by both intimacy and commitment parts of love triangle but lacks passion. It is characterized by closeness, warmth, affection and obligation. The relationship which loses passion for each other over period of time but intact warmth and commitment can be termed as companionate love. Other asexual relationships which lack arousal or passion but have commitment and affection for each other, like family members and close friends, also come under this category.

Fatuous Love

This type of relationship is characterized by commitment and passion but lacks intimacy. Fatuous love is characterized by attraction, arousal and obligation. This relationship normally materializes when someone develops an extreme passion for the individual and commits to the person due to that passion only, without developing any intimacy. Marriages which consummate only on the basis of passion without developing any intimacy also comes under this category.

Consummate Love

Consummate love is the ideal form of love in which all the three components of love triangle-intimacy, passion, and commitment- exists. It is characterized by affection, closeness, attraction, arousal and obligation. This is the kind of relationship in which we have special bond with the individual, we are passionate about the individual and we are committed to the individual. This type of relationship is most difficult to form and may not last forever as it can turn into other type of relationships if it loses one of its component.

“Friends” or “Lovers”?

It boils down to these three components:

  • Intimacy and closeness
  • Passion and attraction
  • Commitment and obligation