Science Takes a Look at Love

© 2007 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

In June of 2006 I had dinner with a young newlywed couple in London, England. They had just read my story, How Grandmother Won Granddad in a Beauty Contest, in the May issue of International Family Magazine.

The young bride asked me, “How do you know that you’ve met that one person out there who is just perfect for you?”

I don’t know the answer, but I find the question very disturbing since it implies that there is only one perfect person; yet it is likely that if you’re going to be married for any length of time there will be plenty of opportunity to uncover your mate’s imperfections and convince yourself that you’ve stopped looking too early.

This March I was again in London and again I had dinner with another newly married young couple. They too had read the story of my grandparents. She was beautiful and literate. He was handsome and charming. They held hands, snuggled and kissed a lot

Like my grandparents, they had married within weeks of first meeting.
Isn’t it romantic?

I think so.

But also scary.

I couldn’t put my finger on it until I read the book, The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia. The book discusses the science of happiness. In his chapter Love and Attachments he explains that long-term relationships must be based on companionship, not passion. You just aren’t physiologically capable of extended bouts of passionate love; you’ll develop tolerance to the dopamine you’re producing.

Thinking back, my grandparents never talked about youthful passion. They talked about the great adventures they had together and they talked about how lonely they were before they met.

But passion?

Nope.

For a love to last a long time you must be long time companions, not just lovers.

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Author: Brooke Allen

A social entrepreneur and retired Wall Street executive.

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