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Dear Dr. P


Dear Dr. P.

I met this guy and I swear it was love at first sight, but my roommate says there is no such thing.  What do you think?

Both you and your roommate could be correct — depending on how each of you define the word love.  Sure, each of you probably have heard terms which purport to describe the various types of attraction puppy love, infatuation, lust, obsession, passion, chemistry, hormones talking, a fling, an “affair,” and so on for this volatile type of relationship.  We use the words commitment, companionate love, “being” love, mature love, best-friends love, real love, and so on, for the quieter more stable types of relationship.

The first group of words are now subsumed under the term “limerence” coined by Dorothy Tennov in 1976 after an exhaustive study of the love lives of her students.  You have crossed the threshold from being non-limerent into one of being limerent.  You have literally “fallen-in-love.”

You overlook the mismatches.  You believe you are with “the girl/guy of my dreams,” or “my dreamboat, or “prince charming.”  We perceive as a mirage all those excellent qualities of our “dream girl/guy” in this real, flawed individual.

Love has then become blind, because your friends will not see the things you see in your beloved.  They will, however, note a changed state in you.  It is as if you have become intoxicated or drugged.  There is a change in your sleeping, eating and study habits, usually for the worse.  Your friends know you are whipped.  Yet you feel exhilarated and full of joy when in the presence of the LO, and depressed, lonely, and empty when the LO is absent.  You have become lovebonded to the other and are often inseparable.

For most of us, however, it is only after the endocrine rush wears off nights, days, weeks or one or two-years later, that we see the other person as they really are, zits and all.  We become disillusioned; we feel that we are no longer in love.  We now perceive the mismatches between our idealized lovemap and the person.  We think they have changed when in reality our neurochemistry has.

But nature has won.  You have stayed together long enough to mate, be bonded, and raise a child to its second or third year.  Worldwide, studies indicate that divorces peak in the fourth year of marriages.

We, as a culture are thought to be rather insane by other world cultures who see that marrying for love is one of the poorest reasons for marrying.  It may be better to spend a lifetime with a compatible partner who may eventually become a best friend with a deep understanding of you, a sense of loyalty, shared interests, a common culture, with religious and family support and so on.  These relationships are more stable and enduring, but they are unfortunately perceived as boring.

The bottom line is this:  Your mom and dad’s advice was sound.  Love in terms of “falling in love” is chemistry.  It is psychoneuroendocrinology that is shaped by early experiences.  Nature planned the system and it tends to work — for troglodytes.  We actually do think with our butts and not with our heads when in love.  One thing is certain.  Your love will change over time regardless of the type.  One may fade while another kind grows, and never are two people equally in love with each other, and the one who is less in love usually has power over the one more in love.  But change is apparently part of the plan nature has for us regarding love.  This is the way it is supposed to be.  After all, it is a phenomenon that has evolved within our species over millions of years.

Lovingly yours,

Dr. P.