Valentine’s Day is drawing near, and love is in the air. Cards will be bought, chocolate will be consumed and public displays of affection will be at an all-time high. Many of you will receive each of these things, I, on the other hand, will most likely receive a condolences text message from my mother. Great. As it is Valentine’s Day, it seems appropriate to tell you a bit about love, at least from a psychological perspective.
There are some people who think that love is just biology; we are just a gaggle of walking, talking hormones ready to fall into the laps of our next potential lover. However, it’s just not like that. There’s a lot more to love and romance that just can’t be explained by biology or chemistry, so I’m going to try my best to explain it to you.
Firstly, there is the initial attraction, or love at first sight. This does not necessarily mean physical attraction, whether someone is good looking or not, although this is obviously an important factor. Attraction depends on four things: physical attractiveness, as I mentioned before; similarity; proximity; and personality.
For similarity, studies have shown that we are more likely to fall in love with someone who shares the same interests or attitudes as ourselves. When attitudes are dissimilar this can lead to negative emotions, whereas those who share the same interests tend to have a positive emotional state. For example, if one were to like dogs, your chosen partner would probably have a fondness for dogs also. To put it simply “those who play together, stay together”. This also ties in with personality, as you can still share the same interests even though you differ in personalities.
Proximity refers to how close you are to one another. This does not mean emotionally but actually physically close to someone. Studies have shown that people are more likely to be attracted to someone if they see them often or live near them. This theory can also explain why many relationships tend to breakdown when couples leave for university. However, do not be disheartened as this is not to say that long distance relationships are doomed to fail, especially as social media like Skype and FaceTime allow you to see your partner whenever you like.
Secondly, there is the maintenance of relationships, how or why people stay together. Psychologists explain this using social exchange theory, the assumption that individuals strive to maximise their rewards and minimise their costs. An example of this would be when an individual felt happy in their relationship, and was receiving enough care and attention from their partner, would have high rewards and low costs. However, for an individual who feels they do not receive as much from the relationship as they are putting into it would feel dissatisfied. A healthy, lasting relationship has to receive equal input and rewards from both individuals to reach a balanced state; this is also known as equity theory.
I must remind you all that despite there being many studies which show very similar results to support these theories, they do not, by any means, reflect the entire population so this may not always apply to you. Everyone is different, and I would like to think love is a magical, unpredictable and powerful force and that there is more to it than just science or psychology. As Alex confesses to Gigi in ’He’s Just Not That into You’, “You are my exception”.