From The Introduction
Today, we have a revolutionary new perspective on romantic love, one that is optimistic and practical. Grounded in science, it reveals that love is vital to our existence. And far from being unfathomable, love is exquisitely logical and understandable. What’s more, it is adaptive and functional. Even better, it is malleable, repairable, and durable.
In Love Sense, you will learn what I and other scientists have discovered from 30 years of clinical studies, laboratory experiments, and applied therapies. You will learn that love is a basic survival code, that an essential duty of our mammalian brain is to read and respond to others, and that it is being able to depend on others that makes us strong. That rejection and abandonment are danger cues that plunge us into real physical pain, that sexual infatuation and novelty are overrated, and that even the most distressed couples can repair their bond if they learn to deal with their emotions a little differently.
From Chapter One
There has been an outpouring of fresh knowledge that is coalescing into a radical and exciting new vision of love. This new view is overthrowing long-held beliefs about the purpose and process of romantic love as well as our sense of the very nature of human beings. The new perspective is not only theoretical, but also practical and optimistic. It illuminates why we love and reveals how we can make, repair and keep it.
Among the provocative findings:
• The first and foremost instinct of humans is neither sex nor aggression. It is to connect.
The man who first offered us this vision of what we now call attachment or bonding was an uptight, aristocratic English psychiatrist, not at all the kind of man you would expect to crack the code of romantic passion! But John Bowlby, conservative and British as he was, was nevertheless a rebel who changed the landscape of love and loving forever. His insights are the foundation on which the new science of love rests.
Bowlby proposed that we are designed to love a few precious others who will hold and protect us through the squalls and storms of life. It is Nature’s plan for the survival of the species. Sex may impel us to mate, but it is love that assures our existence. “In uniting the beloved life to ours we can watch over its happiness, bring comfort where hardship was, and over memories of privation and suffering open the sweetest fountains of joy,” wrote George Eliot.
This drive to bond is innate, not learned. It likely arose as Nature’s answer to a critical flaw in human physiology: the female birth canal is too narrow to permit passage of big- brained, big-bodied babies that could survive on their own in a short time. Instead, babies enter the world small and helpless, and require years of nurturing and guarding before they are self sustaining. It would be easier to abandon such troublesome newborns, so what makes an adult stick around and assume the onerous and exhausting task of parenting?
Nature’s solution was to wire into our brains and nerves an automatic call-and-response system that keeps child and parent emotionally attached to one another. Babies come with a repertoire of behaviours—gazing, smiling, crying, smiling, clinging, reaching—that draw care and closeness from adults. So when baby boy bawls from hunger and stretches out his arms, Mom picks him up and feeds him. And when Dad coos or makes funny faces at baby girl, she kicks her legs, waves her arms, and babbles back. And round and round in a two-way feedback loop.
•Adult romantic love is an attachment bond, just like the one between mother and child.
We’ve long assumed that as we mature, we outgrow the need for the intense closeness, nurturing, and comfort we had as children with our caregivers, and that as adults, the romantic attachments we form are essentially sexual in nature. This is a complete distortion of adult love.
Our need to depend on one precious other—to know that when we “call,” he or she will be there for us—never dissolves. In fact, it endures from, as Bowlby put it, “the cradle to the grave.” As adults, we simply transfer that need from our primary caregiver to our lover. Romantic love is not the least bit illogical or random. It is the continuation of the ordered and wise recipe for our survival.
But there is a key difference: Our lover doesn’t have to be there physically. As adults, the need for another’s tangible presence is less absolute than is a child’s. We can use mental images of our partner to call up a sense of connection. Thus, if we are upset, we can remind ourselves that our partners love us and imagine them reassuring and comforting us. Israeli prisoners of war report “listening” in their narrow cells to the soothing voice of their wives. The Dalai Lama conjures up images of his mother when he wants to stay calm and centered. I carry my husband’s encouraging words with me in my mind when I walk out on a stage to speak.
• Hot sex doesn’t lead to secure love; secure attachment leads to hot sex. And also to love that lasts. Monogamy is not a myth.
Pick up any men’s or women’s magazine and you’ll find cover lines blaring: “Seduce Him! This Sexy Move Works from 20 Feet Away”; “28 Things to Try in Bed…Or in a Hammock. Or the Floor.”; and “Sex Academy—Get an A in Giving Her an O.” In our ignorance, we’ve made physical intimacy the sine qua non of romantic love. As a result, we myopically pour massive amounts of energy and money into spicing up our sex life. But we’ve had it backwards: it is not good sex that leads to satisfying secure relationships but rather secure love that leads to good and, in fact, the best sex. (The growing craze for Internet porn is a catastrophe for love relationships precisely because it abjures emotional connection.)
It is secure attachment, what Nature set us up for, that makes love persist. Trust helps us over the rough places that crop up in every relationship. Moreover, our bodies are designed to produce a slew of chemicals that bond us tightly to our loved ones. Monogamy is not only possible, it is our natural state.
• Emotional dependency is not immature or pathological, it is our greatest strength.
“Dependency” is a dirty word in Western society. Our world has long insisted that healthy adulthood requires being emotionally independent and self-sufficient, that we, in essence, draw an emotional moat around ourselves. We talk of being able to separate and detach from our parents, our first loved ones, as a sign of emotional strength. And we look with suspicion at romantic partners who evince too much togetherness. We say they are too involved with, too close to, or too dependent on one another. In consequence men and women today feel ashamed of their natural need for love, comfort, and reassurance. They see it as weakness.
Again, this is backwards. Far from being a sign of frailty, strong emotional connection is a sign of mental health. It is emotional isolation that is the killer. The surest way to destroy people is to deny them loving human contact. Early studies discovered that 31 to 75 percent of institutionalized children expired before their third birthday. More recent studies of adopted Romanian orphans, who had spent up to 20 hours a day unattended in their cribs, found that many suffer from brain abnormalities, impaired reasoning ability, and extreme difficulty in relating to others.
Adults are similarly demolished. Prisoners in solitary confinement develop a complex of symptoms, including paranoia, depression, severe anxiety, hallucinations, and memory loss. They call their experience a “living death.” “When we isolate a prisoner in solitary confinement,” writes Lisa Guenther, associate professor of philosophy at Vanderbilt University and author of the book, Social Death and Its Afterlives: A Critical Phenomenology of Solitary Confinement, “we deprive [him] of the support of others, which is crucial for a coherent experience of the world.”
The idea that we can go it alone defies the natural world. We are like other animals—we need ties to others to survive. …. As the Celtic saying goes, “live in the shelter of each other.” World War II historians have noted that the unit of survival in concentration camps was the pair, not the individual. Married men and women generally live longer than do their single peers.
We need emotional connection not only to survive, but to thrive. We are actually healthier and happier when we are close and connected. Consistent emotional support lowers blood pressure and bolsters the immune system. It appears to reduce the death rate from cancer and the incidence of heart and infectious disease. Patients who have coronary bypass surgery are three ties more likely to be alive 15 years later—if they are married. A good relationship, says psychologist Bert Uchino of the University of Utah, is the single best recipe for good health and the most powerful antidote to aging. He notes that 20 years of research with thousands of subjects shows how the quality of our social support predicts general mortality as well as mortality from specific disorders, such as heart disease.
In terms of mental health, close connection is the strongest predictor of happiness, much more so than making lots of money or winning the lottery. It also significantly lessens susceptibility to anxiety and depression and makes us more resilient to stress and trauma. Survivors of 9/11 with secure loving relationships were found to have recovered better than those without strong bonds. Eighteen months after the tragedy, they showed fewer signs of PTSD, less depression, and their friends considered them more mature and better adjusted than they had been prior to the cataclysmic event.
• Being the “best you can be” is really only possible when you are deeply connected to another. Splendid isolation is for planets, not people.
Like Darwin with his list of reservations, many of us think of love as limiting, narrowing our options and experiences. But it is exactly the reverse. A secure bond is the launching pad for us to go out and explore the unknown and grow as human beings. It is hard to be open to new experiences when our attention and energy are bound up in worry about our safety, much easier when we know that someone has our back. Thus fortified, we become imbued with confidence in ourselves and our ability to handle new challenges. Young professional women, for example, who are emotionally close to their partners and seek their reassurance are more confident in their skills and more successful at reaching their career goals. It is an ironic paradox: being dependent makes us more independent.
• We are not created selfish; we are designed to be empathetic. Our innate tendency is to feel with and for others.
We are a naturally empathetic species. This part of our nature can be overridden or denied, but we are wired to be caring of others. We are not born callous and competitive, dedicated to our own survival at the expense of others. As biologist Frans de Waal points out, “We would not be here today had our ancestors been socially aloof.” We have survived by caring and cooperating. Our brains are wired to read the faces of others and to resonate with what we see there. It is this emotional responsiveness and ability to work together, not our large thinking brains alone, that allowed us to become the most dominant animal on the planet. The more securely connected we are to those we love, the more we tune in and respond to the needs of others as if they are our own. Moral decisions and altruistic actions spring naturally from our emotional connection with others.
The bonds of love are our birthright and greatest resource. They are our primary source of strength and joy. Seeking out and giving support are so vital to human beings that social psychologists Mario Mikulincer and Phil Shaver observe that, rather than being called Homo sapiens, one who knows, we should be named Homo auxiliator vel accipio auxilium, one who helps or receives help. To be even more accurate, I say we should be called Homo vinculum, or one who bonds.