“Whatever ‘in love’ means” were the memorable words
uttered by Prince Charles in an interview on the day he and Lady Diana Spencer announced their engagement in response to a question from a TV reporter who asked “are you in love?” Diana replied “Of course!” Was Prince Charles’ retort a telling sign that things would end badly for the couple and that the heir to the throne wasn’t really in love with his bride to be?
Biological anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher, a leading expert and the most referenced scholar on the science of love and attraction, says love is a biological drive and a survival mechanism, basically a system for mating and reproduction. “We’ve evolved three distinctive brain systems, which evolved for different reasons. One is the sex drive. Second are feelings of intense romantic love. The third are feelings of deep attachment. The sex drive evolved to get you out there looking for a whole range of partners. Romantic love evolved to enable you to focus your mating energy on just one individual at a time. And attachment evolved to get you to stick with this person at least long enough to raise a single child together.”
Love at First Sight?
Can there be such a thing a love at first sight? Did Shakespeare get it right in Romeo and Juliet – was it love or was it really lust and more of an intense passionate physical attraction? Romeo was certainly beguiled by Juliet’s beauty the first time he saw her:
O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
As a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear—
Beauty too rich for use, for Earth too dear (1.5.51–54)
Have you ever made eye contact with someone that sent a flutter of excitement through your stomach, made your cheeks flush and your knees buckle? Relationship experts suggest that those feelings have a lot more to do with lust than love.
Dr. Judith Orloff, psychiatrist and author of The Empath’s Survival Guide, says: “Lust feels like you intensely want to have sex with someone. Love feels like you want to have sex with someone and be emotionally close to them, too. Love means you want to spend time with your partner and listen to his or her needs and emotions to feel connected. You also are interested in meeting your beloved’s friends. Lust means you’re more interested in having sex than having intimate conversations or meeting the person’s friends.”
Jane Austen’s novels often feature romantic relationships based on ‘love at first sight encounters’ but as in the case of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice who initially loathe each other when they meet for the first time, she shows that initial attraction is not always the proof of true love.
It’s scientifically proven that when you feel like you’re falling in love, a chemical reaction is actually happening in your brain, releasing all those warm, fuzzy feelings. Your brain is creating dopamine and serotonin and because of those chemicals, you may feel an immediate attachment to someone, so it seems to be that instant attraction comes from the brain, not the heart! Real love takes time to grow, so give it time.
Online dating is now the second-most common way that couples meet, after meeting through friends. Matchmaking has been around for centuries, but the concept of dating, which replaced the old system of courtship, began at the turn of the 20th century when couples were able to go out in public unsupervised. In 1965, two Harvard students created what is known as “Operation Match” to make dating easier for young people. It was the advent of the World Wide Web in 1991 that saw dating websites pop up online and Match.com was officially founded in 1995. However, it was the launch of Tinder in 2012, the swipe left – swipe right feature, that created a whole new way to hook up with someone new because, unlike in days of old where people met at the village hall, the barn dance or the local disco, meeting someone in real life can be hard.
Nowadays, in a tech-savvy age, online dating has become socially acceptable for open-minded and enlightened people of all ages and dating apps are changing our behaviour towards romance, but the process can sometimes lead to feelings of disappointment. Think of a first date in the same way that you may have ordered a meal online, only to find that you didn’t actually like the dish when it arrived and definitely won’t order it again! Dating has evolved through history, but the truth is that whether you are looking online or in person, the things you look for in a partner are still the same and romance always prevails!
What is love without a little romance? There’s no doubt that romance scores highly amongst cinema goers who flock to see romantic comedies/weepies that portray idealised notions about love, but it’s important to remember that although relationships in real life have their fair share of romantic moments, they may not have as many as in the movies and there is much more to a relationship than those cute ‘hearts and flowers’ scenes.
The combination of romance and love, together with commitment, passion and trust, can lead to a fulfilling, lasting relationship. Valentine’s Day is generally when we prioritise and celebrate the action of romance through small, or large, gestures that demonstrate our love for someone else. The act of giving flowers to someone on a first date may have been replaced by a text and a heart emoji, but the internet has made keeping in touch easier and a daily ‘maintenance’ text is a low level way to strengthen a relationship and to let your significant other know that you are thinking about them.
Love or lust – how can we tell when it is actually true love? Love increases with time, but lust is rooted in instant gratification and decreases with time. Most new relationships start with some kind of physical attraction but it’s the feeling of wanting to put your partner’s well-being above yours that is a sign of true love. Once the early pangs of love and lust have diminished it can be hard keeping romance alive in a long-term relationship, but love is about commitment and endurance. Falling in love is often the easy part.
We’ll leave the last words to Dr. Helen Fisher:
“Love is arguably the most powerful feeling of all. Yet it is also the most confusing.”