“Much of the universe of human interactions, as well as of people’s perceptions and understandings of the world in general, is centered on relations between couples. Coupling helps people to put order in their world and to come to a better understanding of what is happening around them.
When the United States did not yet exist, and Columbus had not yet arrived in the Americas, people on the North American continent were already trying to make sense of their everyday lives and of the phenomena they encountered. Such phenomena included thunderstorms, droughts, the spectacular settings of their homes in the canyons of the Southwest, and their relationships to each other, both within their tribe and with other nations.
They tried to organize their lives around construals of places and events that gave them meaning. This is why, from the earliest age on, children of the Pueblo Indians learned about the world in terms of contrasts. They learned about pairings such as day and night, sun and moon, men and women. Their world was ordered around such divisions (Iverson, 1992).
This book is also about pairs, in that it is concerned with the relationships of humans to each other, and in particular with the dyadic relationships that two humans form. It is about a special kind of relationship involving these pairs of humans that in English is labeled with one word, love.
Let us return to the present and look at three different relationships between humans. Consider the following examples.
Maria and Linda have been friends for six years, ever since they started to study together and both were new in town. Usually they see one another once or twice a week to chat or go out at night. Maria has had problems with depression for a long time. Sometimes during the past few years she has had difficulties completing school assignments. She has always been afraid of exams, but in general she has done well.
Now it is time for final exams, and Maria, confronted not only with the stress of showing her learning but also with the prospect of having to search for a job and move to a town where she does not know anybody, feels severe depression coming on again.
She cannot sleep, has trouble preparing scripts for learning, and is terribly afraid of failing the oral exam. She has already missed one exam, because she was too panicked to show up. Although Linda has to learn the material for her own exams, she helps Maria prepare her scripts, simulates taking the exam with her, and goes to see her friend every day. The weekend before the exam, Maria’s situation deteriorates; she is panicky and frightened to be alone. Linda moves in with Maria for the weekend and stays until the following Tuesday, when the exam is scheduled. To make sure Maria actually takes the exam, Linda goes there with her and waits until the exam is over. Maria passes the exam with a B.
Jonnie, while playing, ran after his ball and did not see a car coming down the street. The car hit him, and his right leg is broken; he needs to stay in the hospital for a few days. He is a shy child and very frightened of the new environment. His mother takes off from work while he is in the hospital and remains with him more or less continually during his waking hours. She makes sure he has his favorite toys to play with and that he gets some distraction during the short time she spends at home. While she is at home, she cooks his favorite meals, then takes them to the hospital so he does not have to eat the food served there.
Martin and Julia attend the same college. They first meet during preparations for a student council meeting. Martin is immediately enchanted. He loves Julia’s long black hair and could just sink into her dark brown eyes. She has the most beautiful voice he has ever heard, and always makes smart and entertaining contributions to their conversations. He starts inviting her to go out with him and his friends. Martin spends a lot of time dreaming of the life he wants to build with Julia and of the family they will have. Julia, however, does not respond to his love. She finds he is increasingly intrusive, and finally tries to avoid him whenever she can.
Thus, as we have seen, love is not a uniform phenomenon. There are countless variations on the forms these relationships can take: the love the mother feels for her child as she spends all the time possible with him in the hospital, the love friends feel for one another that makes them go out of their way to help in times of need, and the passionate love people feel when they fall in love.
There is also altruistic love, in which people help others with whom they do not have a close relationship or whom they may not even know. Just as diverse as the appearances of love are the theories of love that try to fathom it. Some of them deal mainly with one aspect of love, most often romantic love. Some of them expand their focus to kinds of love that include eldercare or the affection between parents and their children. Others deal with sexual behavior and with why most people do not feel sexually attracted to close relatives.
There is one thing all these theories have in common: they have come a long way. When The Psychology of Love was published in 1988, it was the first book of its kind, in that it covered a broad spectrum of psychological theories on love. At that time, the study of love was relatively new to the field of psychology. In earlier times, psychologists had surrendered the study of love to poets, songwriters, philosophers, and the like. Only recently had the study of love begun to make its way from the status of a frivolous topic to that of a suitable topic for behavioral-scientific study. One of the main reasons for its having been largely ignored was that love was considered to be too elusive for psychologists to study. It did not seem as though it could be subjected to systematic measurement and analysis (Berscheid, 1988).”