Over the next couple weeks, I will be discussing my thoughts on love, using common questions I am asked when I do lectures and presentations on the topic. Part 1 provides an introduction and first common question I am asked. Along with this blog see a complementary blog on 15 tips for a successful, loving relationship.
As I lecture and teach, I am often asked many questions about the subject of love– specifically romantic love. What is it? Does it really exist? Where do I find it? Inevitably, this line of questioning leads to asking, why does love end? Why are there so many people who passionately fall in love, only to end in divorce and separation? The answers are sometimes as complex as the questions, but it does come with one simple concept and misunderstanding about romantic love. Since probably the beginning of time, we have assumed that romantic love is an emotion or feeling. With a few exceptions of a few philosophers, it has been assumed that romantic love is a controllable emotion, just as we assume other emotions are. However, thanks to modern technology, over the past ten years we have discovered that love is not an emotion, nor is it a feeling. Love comes from the same places in the brain that drive us towards seeking food, shelter, warmth, and maintain the rhythm of life. Meaning that romantic love is not an emotion or feeling. Love is a basic human drive, need, and motivation. Just as we are motivated to eat when we are hungry, we are motivated to seek social connection and love when we are lonely.
When we understand love as a drive instead of emotion, we understand why we will give anything for it, and fall in such great pain when we lose it. It also helps us understand that even when it is not healthy for us, we still miss it and desire it more. With this in mind, the following questions have been posed to me several times throughout my career. If you have a question that you would like added, please email email@example.com.
Q. It would be interesting to see some brain scans of those who choose to remain alone for a lifetime. Do you think there is really anything people do that emulates love, aside from the obvious and sometimes frowned upon? There are obviously other things that create dopamine, such as food and certain drugs. But someone who claims to be in love with his or her work certainly cannot have a comparable release of dopamine as someone falling in love, right?
A. First, I would say is that falling in love is not a choice, and remaining lonely is not a choice either, even though consciously we may assume and justify that we are making this choice. What the evidence suggests is that we all have different levels of the need to connect and have intimate relationships. Some of us can go weeks and even months without much social connection or special needs, where some of us, need hourly affirmation for our love and social connection. But because of social norms and culture, if we are on one extreme, we often justify why we don’t enter into relationships, or we try to find some abnormality that exists. When in reality, that’s just who we are.
As far as long term love is concerned, we are finding that someone who is married or in relationship for a long time, and who still love each other deeply (and just not tolerate each other) have the same high amount of brain activation as do individual’s who are in the intense beginnings of a new relationship. This suggests that love can exist well beyond the magical number of four years. You may ask what makes these individuals unique and different from those who fall out of love? Well, we find four common themes about people who are deeply in love after 20 or more years–
First, they have something psychologists refer to as emotional security, that is to say, they can tell their partner anything they want without concern for him or her reacting negatively. Second, the couple has their own friends and do things separately from each other, BUT they are each other’s best friend. This reminds me of a Facebook post that said a “friend will bail you out of jail, a best friend will be sitting in the jail cell with you.” We often find that even when these couples do things separately, they often will relive their experiences with each other within 24 to 48 hours of being apart. The fourth concept we find is something sociologist’s call role formation. This develops out of emotional security and being best friends, where the couple’s roles naturally form where one partner does what he or she is good at and the other as well, and those things that both partners are horrible at they do together. The final and probably key part of these successful relationships, is the couple continually evolves and learns about each other. They try to find new and exciting ways to rediscover one another. One of the biggest mistakes a couple can make is to assume their relationship is good as it is and does not need further development and understanding.
Q. Can love at first sight actually happen and are the percentages of staying together scientifically high?
A. This is a good and very common question. The answer is yes, we can fall in love at first sight if the right conditions are in place for both individuals. Chemically this is when both partners have released oxytocin, and they are in a situation in which dopamine will be released and reinforce the bonding caused by the oxytocin (how romantic huh). Longitudinal research suggests that love at first sight relationships can be very successful if the passion is coupled with getting to know each other in a very deep way. A good example of the failure of getting to know someone before the precursor of attraction and love is dating sites where you have lots of information about the person (even though truthfulness is questionable), and you spend a lot of time interacting and talking before the first date overwhelming ends incredibly unsuccessfully. While advertising may make it seem like these sites are very successful, they have very little long-term relationship success rates.
In Part 2 we will look at questions regarding why romantic love ends. If you have any questions, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org