Love: Fascination and Biology Essay
Love: Fascination and Biology
Love. People have been fascinated by it for centuries, and never more so than in the past hundred years or so, when people began to enter into relationships and marry for love, rather than political or social reasons. We have also begun to research love further, and have come up with many different types and definitions for love, romantic love being only one type. The psychology of love is a new area that looks at all these different definitions of love and what they mean to people today.
When many people think about love, they are still mystified. It seems difficult, if not impossible, to describe love. It is a deep, true emotion that has captivated people for centuries. Today, we write movies and books about it, feature it in our tabloids, and center our entire lives around it. Yet, because it is such a large part of our lives, there must be some way to actually define it and understand it. Psychologists have taken up the study of love for exactly this reason.
An article in Psychology Today talks about love in today’s society: what it means, where our modern definitions came from, and how to achieve it. First of all, love comes from bonding, no matter what people are involved in the situation – parents and children, husbands and wives, or friends. Bonding leads to attachment, which is a form of love. In this way, love becomes not a mysterious, other worldly, unexplainable phenomenon. It becomes an easily understandable part of human life, and a necessary one at that (Johnson and Marano).
Read more: Persuasive Essay About Love
Attachment is a part of survival. If young children do not attach to an older caregiver (usually their mother), they will die. They need the security that an older person will feed them, soothe them, and keep them warm. Even once a child outgrows the need for another person to handle all of his or her needs, he still needs a person to help him meet his own needs.
That is, to help him find food, make sure that he has clothes to put on himself, and to continue to soothe him. Even adults need this kind of security, because most people do take care of themselves alone; they rely on others at least for comfort and emotional security, even if they can provide for their own physical needs. However, families exist because sometimes providing even for physical needs can be such a daunting task that it is shared. That’s why in a “traditional” society, one person works, and one person cares for the home (Johnson and Marano).
This idea has been thoroughly studied. Babies learn to attach to their parents when they are young, although depending on the parent’s style, some do not attach. Babies whose parents respond to them in a consistent and loving manner tend to attach securely – when their parents leave, they cry and seek them; when their parents return, upon making sure the parent is there, they go to explore their world, confident in their parent’s love and availability. Other babies are insecurely attached.
That is, they are very fearful when their parents are gone, and tend to reject them or cling to them (or vacillate between extremes) when their parents return, usually because parents respond inconsistently to them: sometimes they are loving, and other times they are distracted and off-putting. A third style is when babies are not attached. They simply ignore their parents, whether they are present or not, and this is usually because the parents resist attempts at physical bonding (Johnson and Marano).
If all of this is true even in small children, imagine the ramifications it can have throughout life. Another psychologist has studied this in her book, The Psychology of Love. Again, biological reasons are forefront: people need attachment and security to survive, at all ages. But beyond simple attachment and mutual bonding, there are forms of love in which one person provides more than another does.
The author presents situations in which one person feels and expresses love much more strongly than another. For example, a woman who is depressed may rely much more heavily on her friends than they can rely on her. A child certainly relies on its mother more than she relies on it. And in some interesting cases, there is “unrequited” love, where a person may feel romantic love for another that isn’t reciprocated. Love, as the author points out, isn’t always equal (Weis).
Altruism is an interesting part of love. A person who loves someone, especially a family member, is likely to behave altruistically towards that person, should a situation arise. For example, if a family member were sick and unable to take care of himself or anything else, a person may take off work, care for the sick person, and pick up any of that person’s responsibilities as a matter of course. This is not seen in relationships where there is not love, either because the people are strangers, or because they don’t like each other (Weis).
This likely occurs because altruism is not truly action solely for another’s gain. In fact, by caring for a family member, one is ensuring that the person will survive, and also ensuring that someday, that person will be able to, and more importantly, want to care for them in return. This behavior protects the connection and attachment that is between two people. This is why it is not seen in people who have no relationship: there is no need to ensure a stranger’s survival, because they will likely never be able to return the favor (Weis).
Love is primarily studied in terms of this bonding and attachment now, because previously, psychologists considered it too lofty a subject. But, with the real biological and mental basis, love is a phenomenon that is not only well-studied, but a subject that is involved in nearly every part of humankind.
Romantic love has a biological basis, too. Romantic love is the type that is most frequently thought of when a person says ‘love.’ First of all, ‘loving’ someone implies fidelity: that the people involved will be faithful to one another. It allows constant sexual access, and therefore the possibility for procreation. It allows a joint effort to survive, both as two individuals and as a family, once children enter the picture (Weis).
Romantic love, according to Weis, is comprised of three areas: attachment, attraction, and sex drive. All of these are biologically based, but there is also more to it than that. Hormones help a person to feel attracted towards another, and they also signal the sex drive and sexual response cycle. But if this biology were all there was to it, then our society would be a much simpler place.
However, we are obsessed with romantic love. In today’s world, people are constantly reading magazines and books to learn more about romantic love. “Why does he never talk to me?” “Why does she talk constantly?” “Why is he such a commitment-phobe?” “Why is she planning the wedding after the first date?” There are literally dozens of books and magazines on the subject, with more coming out all the time. Men want to understand women (although they claim they never will) and women want to understand men (although they’re pretty sure they already do, at least most of the time).
These books and magazines exist because the world is far more complex today. We have a myriad of reasons for choosing and staying with our partners. Temptations and jealousies are everywhere. We have social rules for behavior that say that it isn’t always possible to come out with your feelings as soon as you’re sure of them. While the underlying principles are still the same – hormones govern whether or not you’re attracted to a person, and play a significant role in helping to bond two people together and keep them together – the social rules of communication in love are also highly studied.
In Marano’s article, “Relationship Rules,” this idea is studied. This article is only one example out of many on this widely studied subject. Her suggestions: Choose carefully, know your partner’s beliefs, don’t confuse sex and love, know your needs and speak up, view yourselves as a team, know and respect differences, solve problems immediately, learn to negotiate, listen, work hard at closeness, and more. All in all, there are 25 “Relationship Rules” in this article (Marano).
It has been widely studied that people who do not understand or speak up for their own needs in relationships are often unhappy. Counselors and psychologists encourage people to always be willing to share their needs. However, they also encourage recognizing that the other person had needs too, and that negotiation is good thing: being able to respect and work with both peoples’ needs (Marano).
As Marano warns, though, too much dependency is not a good thing. While it is true on many levels, from social to biological, that two people need each other to survive emotionally and physically, it is also possible to have too much of a good thing. Two people must learn to meet their own needs sometimes, or to seek out another person or source to meet their needs. Too much dependency causes a lack of focus on the relationship, and a loss of individual identity.
For a final warning, Marano states that “love is not an absolute, not a limited commodity that in of or out of…. It’s a feeling that ebbs and flows….” Because hormones and many other life situations affect perception of love, two people may not always feel love towards one another. However, if they accept that this is part of the natural way of things, they can still behave in a loving manner towards one another. Love is about much more than just feeling amazing about another person all the time. It is about caring for another person, putting him first, and accepting that he is not perfect.
There are many ideas and perceptions about love in today’s society. The original basis for love was biological, and to this day biology continues to be an important part of the process and feelings of love. It keeps people together by producing incredibly powerful feelings of attachment and security. But love is also about the tricky ins and outs of relationships. Both of these areas have been heavily studied by psychologists, and continue to be studied today.
As time goes on, we will learn even more about the psychology and biology of love. We will learn more about how people attach to one another and why they do it. But even if we never learned another thing about love, the entire world would remain fascinated by it, always falling in and out, and forming attachments to more new people. Movies will be made, books will be written, and people will watch, read, and listen. Love is everything.
Johnson, Susan, and Marano, Hara Estroff. “In the Name of Love.” Psychology Today, November 17, 2006.
Marano, Hara Estroff. “Relationship Rules.” Psychology Today, February 10, 2006.
Weis, Karin. The New Psychology of Love. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT: 2006.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 25 March 2017
Our customer support team is available Monday-Friday 9am-5pm EST. If you contact us after hours, we'll get back to you in 24 hours or less.