My mom (who I live with) thinks I am falling in love, but I am not so sure. Being the scientist that I am, I constantly deliberate on what exactly love is. Love is such a general term that people use to describe so many feelings—I find the application of the word “love” to particular relationships to be very subjective—for example, although she may think I am in love, I actually might just be infatuated.
Given my mother’s unshakable opinion, I reflected on a recent weekend get-away with The Consultant, a man I have been dating for several months, to think about whether this is love or infatuation. He had a work project in California, so he arranged to fly me out to meet him there for a wine-country excursion after his meetings were finished. When he met me at the airport dressed in a sexy suit and holding a bouquet of flowers, my heart skipped a beat. We embraced and his kiss made my knees weak. In the rental car, he handed me a basket of fresh bread and local cheeses to snack on during our drive to the hotel we would be staying at over the weekend. We stopped all along the way at local wineries and had dinner at a fantastic restaurant. We could not keep our hands off each other, which explains why we skipped dessert and went right back to the hotel for…well…dessert. I can best characterize the next day as being lost in the moment: driving over beautiful countryside in the sunshine, listening to a music playlist that he threw together for the trip, and even sharing a couple’s massage and spa in the afternoon. Not only did my body melt, but my heart did as well.
Can I really label the feelings that I have for The Consultant as “love?” Passionate love, which is that “can’t get enough of you in every way” feeling (which is pretty awesome and scary at the same time),1 is definitely something I am experiencing right now. But am I just feeling hot and heavy towards him because of our passionate time together in a new, romantic place? Our own ScienceOfRelationships contributor, Amy Muise, wrote a while back about why vacation sex is so hot, with one reason being that experiencing new and exciting experiences together leads couples to self-expand and grow. This growth then leads to intimacy. And I do feel intimate with The Consultant, as we have gotten to know each other quite well the last few months—and I must admit even more so on our trip together. Researchers have shown that when people are more intimate, sex is more passionate,2 which I would say is true after overcoming our “failure to launch” sexual experience early on together.
One popular typology of love proposes that romantic love is a combination of passion and intimacy.1 Evolutionary psychologists have argued that love (specifically romantic love) leads to commitment, which is designed to ensure that romantic partners invest in each other for extended periods of time (e.g., moving in together, marriage).3 Investments can include tangible things like money and flowers, or intangible things such as time. So, the more money, time, and thoughtful gifts that The Consultant has invested in me (at home and on our romantic get-away), the greater commitment he demonstrates towards our relationship. But do the receivers of that investment also increase commitment? Is that why I am developing feelings for him? Researchers have shown that one partner’s investments can increase the commitment of the receiving partner.4 People want to feel secure in their relationships, so signs of investment lead to feelings of trust and commitment to the relationship from the receiver.
So maybe my mom is right (as she typically is)…it may not be just infatuation. I may be falling in love with him because his investments are starting to make me feel secure. This is a tall order to fill given that I am avoidant of relationships and uncertain about my readiness to have a committed relationship with anyone at this point in my life. For now, I will just enjoy the feelings I am experiencing and ride it out. If it is meant to develop into a more committed relationship, then that will just happen in its own time.
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1Sternberg, R. J. (1986) A triangular theory of love. Psychological Review, 93, 119-135.
2Baumeister, R. F., & Bratslavsky, E. (1999). Passion, intimacy, and time: Passionate love as a function of change in intimacy. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 3, 49-67.
3Gonzaga, G. C., & Haselton, M. G. (2008). The evolution of love and long-term bonds. In J. P. Forgas & J. Fitness (Eds.), Social relationships: Cognitive, affective, and motivational processes (pp. 39–54). Hove, England: Psychology Press.
4Ellis, B. J. (1998). The partner-specific investment inventory: An evolutionary approach to individual differences in investment. Journal of Personality, 66, 383-442.
Dr. Jennifer Harman - Adventures in Dating... | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Harman's research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment.