Mike and I were talking the other day with a friend about a third friend's romantic situation. After some online dating adventures, she'd found a woman who seemed like a really good woman: secure, available, responsive. The problem, of course, was that she wasn't really exciting.
Our friend missed the passionate arousal she'd felt in her previous relationship with a woman who strung her along but wouldn't commit. My advice was: "Hold onto this one, and love will come."
Mike said: "You can’t make yourself fall in love with someone."
He's right, and he's wrong.
You probably can't deliberately fall in love with someone, but falling in love isn’t the same as loving. Falling in love -- or being "in love" -- is the waterfall of exciting, focusing neurochemicals that keep you up talking excitedly all night, making love into the morning when you should be going to work, obsessively remembering everything about the Other. It's lot of fun -- as long as everything goes right.
Loving is different. Loving invokes the brain and body's neurochemical system for balancing and healing, what Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg calls "the calm and connection system." Loving ties the rewarding internal opiates to oxytocin, teaching the body on its most basic level that the loved one is the source of comfort and support. Endo-opiates provide the reward, and oxytocin provides the social bond.
Psychologists who study attachment are finding that adult relationships follow the pattern of the first relationship with Mother. If she didn’t teach you to love well by giving you the love you needed, you may never be able to love -- as opposed to being in love with -- your partner.
R. Chris Fraley, an associate professor at the University of Illinois and one of the top researchers studying attachment, writes,
There is now an increasing amount of research that suggests that adult romantic relationships function in the same ways as infant-caregiver relationships, with some noteworthy exceptions, of course. … it is probably the case that, while some romantic relationships are genuine attachment relationships, others are not.
Intuitively, we know that you can be in love with someone you don’t love. But I think it's revolutionary to flat-out say it: Just because you're married to someone, just because you’re their mother, you don’t automatically love them.
Back to our mutual friend: I think she needs to decide which she really wants, romance or love.
Want to know your own attachment style? Take this quiz developed by Chris Fraley.