What is a love map?

The term love map was first coined in 1980 by sexologist John Money and defined as

“a developmental representation or template in the mind and in the brain depicting the idealized lover and the idealized program of sexual and erotic activity projected in imagery or actually engaged in with that lover” (source).

To paraphrase, that, a love map is your idea about what you think love and sex should look like, how it is supposed to go in your world. The concept has since expanded to include all of love, not just sex.

When we’re infants, we have no idea about how love works. To have love we have to have a sense of separateness, and as babies, we’re tripping on a pervasive sense of all-connectedness. So we aren’t born knowing how to love and need to construct it in our brains. For most Western, heterosexual people who grew up on movies and TV,  it goes something like this:


Boy meets girl. Boy likes girl. Girl likes boy. They go out for a while. Eventually they have sex. Then the boy asks the girl to marry him. She says yes. They have a big wedding. They buy a house. They have exactly 2.5 babies (don’t ask me how). They grow old together and sip iced tea on their porch reminiscing about when they first met.


For most people I know, their love lives do not go quite like this, and for some people they go strikingly different. Even within the basic template, there is a whole lot of room for variance: How does Boy handle his anger? Does Girl tell Boy what she likes during sex? Do Boy and Girl stay monogamous? Do they want to? What do fights look like?


And variance, for most people, causes a lot of stress. If both partners are the same sex, or non gender binary, sometimes folks feel a little unmoored with how it “should” go. But if you know me at all, you know I’m a big advocate for throwing all your “shoulds” into a dumpster and lighting them on fire. But before you can do that, you have to acknowledge what they are.


Where do love maps come from?

The most obvious answer is from your parents. When you were teeny, you were ridiculously observant, soaking up all the information you could about how the world was ordered. If you’re like most people, whether that relationship was good or bad, it formed the first broad strokes of that map.


Then we moved on to movies and TV. Disney movies, of course, up until recent years had a pretty specific (and kinda backward) idea about how relationships were formed. Think about the movies, TV, and books that were formative for you- what kind of ideas about love and sex did they promote?


How to Examine Your Love Map, and What to Do if it Sucks

It’s so important to examine your love map so it isn’t running you behind the scenes. You can ask yourself a few questions: What do you expect out of a love relationship? How did you imagine falling in love as a child? Is monogamy important to you? Children? How do you and your partner (real or imagined) take care of each other when you’re sick, scared, or angry? What kind of sex do you want to have, and how often? How do you want your love life to integrate with your hobbies and career? Do you expect your friends and family to be super close with your partner, or are they in separate worlds?


And most importantly-  does your current love life match what you expect? Is that a good thing, or not so great?

If you don’t like the map, you can go ahead and redraw the map. There are definitely a few places that map shouldn’t go, but there are no set “right” answers. Experimenting with new ideas about love can be weird and uncomfortable, but totally worth it. If you are in a relationship, please talk with your partner about this! Discuss together how your expectations are playing out together, and possibly playing off each other.


If you find that you are expecting- or accepting- love that is physically or emotionally hurtful, please reach out. I offer couples and individual therapy that is warm and accepting of who you are and what you need- get in touch for a free consultation today.