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affection

The number one topic of conversation in music, television, and movies is a mystery — but one that’s a lot more interesting than UFOs, has nothing to do with crime, and doesn’t even necessarily involve much action at all. It’s love. Love, one of the most annoying emotions on the planet, inspires a slew of other unsightly feelings. Jealousy, envy, anger, suspicion, fear, obligation, an embarrassing desire to serve another. Yet, we love to put ourselves through love. Everyone just wants to find that special someone with whom they can screw, fight, and have awkward conversations about ex boyfriends and girlfriends with. Why do we do it? Can clinical psychology explain love?

Chemical Reactions in the Brain

Less clinical psychology and more neuroscience, chemical reactions in the brain as a basis for love have been a big part of figuring out why you hate your girlfriend’s male friends, even if they’re gay. Even evolutionary psychology is in on studying love, providing us with the idea that language was invented as a type of mating call. We are animals, after all. On the side of neuroscience, chemicals like dopamine (happiness, decision making), estrogen and testosterone, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin, and vasopressin have been studied to explain love. These chemicals can be expected to be found at varying intensities according to what stage the relationship is in. For example, the attraction phase of a relationship draws out different chemicals than the ‘bonding phase’, and we all know that testosterone and estrogen are associated with sexuality and boners.

Interpersonal Behavior, or Buying Overpriced Crap for your Girlfriend’s Birthday

Clinical psychology describes interpersonal experiences as interactions between two people which are conveyed by certain behavior and with certain intensity. So interpersonal behavior is basically all the interactions had between two members of a relationship. You bought your girlfriend tickets to see Michael Buble because she loves them, and you’ve agreed to go even though you would rather have a colonoscopy. Psychologist Scott Peck was talking about these types of interpersonal behaviors when he said “Love is a combination of concern for the spiritual growth for another and simple narcissism. Love is an activity, not simply a feeling.”

Narcissism

There’s truth to Peck’s statement in on many levels, according to clinical psychology and life in general. A big part of love is narcissism indeed. You know your girl loves that boring jerk Buble, so you bought the tickets for her despite your hatred. You also know she’ll be thrilled with you for buying them, another factor which overrides your pride and general desire to avoid situations which make you want to gouge your eyes out. You’re looking forward to the praise. There are other narcissistic aspects to a relationship as well. You want your girl to look good — then, she makes you look good. You want your friends and family to love her, think she’s funny and smart — this also makes you look good and seem like you have good judgment, taste in women, and must be an outstanding gentleman to have snagged such a catch.

Love as an Activity

“I love you so much, I could just do nothing with you forever.” We’ve all heard that load of crap before. No matter how much a person means that in the heat of the moment, it simply isn’t true. Change and activity are vital to a thriving relationship, even if those activities are based on simple routines which haven’t changed in decades. To keep things interesting or just to be sure that special someone is still interested in you, everyone needs affection at least once in a while. The ‘activities’ this involves is categorized by clinical psychology as anything from leaving sweet notes to organizing an extravagant vacation.

Just Go With It

The truth is that neither clinical psychology, behavioral psychology, neuroscience nor cultural studies have been able to explain love — but they’re all influencing factors. If you think you’re getting those nauseating fuzzy feelings for someone, just go with it — or run away as quick as you can. The best thing you can do is to try and stay in touch with your own icky sticky emotions, difficult as that may be. Understanding your own emotions is the best way to get a hold of and control them, which is especially useful when trying to quell the less enjoyable feelings such as jealousy and suspicion. One thing clinical psychology does know for sure about love is that the basic emotions tend to be the same, as do stages of the relationship. If you feel like you’re repeating yourself with the ‘find a hot girl, court her, get really passionate about it, quietly settle in with her’ routine, that’s because most everyone else is as well. Despite understanding the basics, love is a mystery science simply can’t explain. Odds are, there won’t be a concrete explanation for love for years. It may not ever happen. Just attempt to keep your love healthy, lest you wish to fall into the pit of lovesickness — not recognized by clinical psychology but widely accepted as a real thing — and off yourself.

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