Learning to love
Hunt (1975) noted that humans take a long time to learn to love.
It starts with the holding, stroking, kissing, and nursing of the infant,
who learns what it feels like to be loved. Children 3 to 6 learn to love
their parents but it is frustrating because you find out "you can't marry
mommy" or "daddy." From 6 to 12, we learn more about love: we
learn to make friends. But when the juices flow in adolescence, we
suddenly feel intense urges for contact with the opposite sex. Our first
love experiences, Hunt observed, are often in our imagination...a rock
star, a movie star, a teacher. Then we feel attracted to someone real
and try to hang out with him/her in small groups. Later, we want to be
alone with our boy/girlfriend. These first affairs may be brief because
they are based on superficial factors. Yet, through this 12-14 year
process, if we are lucky, we learned a lot: to select and attract a lover,
to express love, to give of ourselves, to get along, to disclose, to see
beyond the surface, to attend to others' needs, to know our needs,
etc. Each new love, ideally (but not always), is deeper and more
realistic. We usually have from 2 or 3 to 10 "loves" before we marry.
All this learning--this "education in love"--is important; however, much
more learning is apparently needed since almost half of our marriages
still fail (the divorce rate of persons married as teenagers is still
higher). Love is serious business; we need to know a lot.
Looking for an intimate partner: What turns us on?
Surely for most of us it is more accurate to say we were
"mysteriously attracted to" or "stumbled into" rather than "carefully
searched for" our love partner. Seeking a mate is not consciously
planned; we are driven by our feelings. We don't take a check list of
desirable traits in hand as we systematically search the world for our
ideal mate. Perhaps we should do this, but we don't. How do we find
love? An anthropologist, David Givens (1983), has written an entire
book about how we attract and are attracted by potential lovers.
Sternberg and Barnes (1988) say physical "chemistry" is predictable if
we can see the underlying needs, such as needing to find someone
who is strong and dominant... or someone attractive and seductive...
or someone who seeks protection within a close family, etc. In other
words, our radar is scanning for specific characteristics, but we are not
likely to be aware of everything our emotions and instincts are looking
Once we have located an attractive target, Givens says love signals
are "prewired" into the primitive parts of our brain. Guinea pigs with
their cortex removed can still send and receive "love signals," mate,
and care for the young. Facial expressions (a smile), postures (looking
down), gestures (a touch and gazing into the eyes), and having sexual
intercourse usually communicate love better than words. Thus, we woo
a partner intuitively or impulsively (and then spend months wondering
how it all happened). You don't need a course in seduction; it's innate,
according to Givens; yet, he gives us a 235-page, charming
description of the process. However, it would be foolish to assume