Love is as critical to our bodies as water.
Research shows that we need love emotionally and physically in order to stay healthy. “Love is not sentimentality or something created by our culture,” says Sue Johnson, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Ottawa and author of Hold Me Tight. “It is an emotional bond and we are hardwired to find mates and create that bond.” Only in the past 15 years have scientists really started to understand what love is all about, she adds. So it’s little wonder some of our notions about love are mistaken, especially given all the fairytale endings perpetuated by pop culture. Here are five myths about love busted (and then mended).
The myth: “If love is meant to happen, it’ll happen.”
Almost nothing good in life happens by chance, yet many of us leave “finding” a life partner up to fate.
The truth: Love is learned. “Where else in life would you ever take that approach? Would you think, ‘Oh well, if learning French is meant to happen, it will just happen?” asks Diana Kirschner, a psychologist in New York City and author of Love in 90 Days: The Essential Guide to Finding Your Own True Love. Love is an important activity that takes attention and intention, she adds. “Sure chemistry between two people ‘happens.’ But lasting love has to be worked on, nurtured and allowed to grow. And of course, you learn by making mistakes.”
The myth: “We just fell out of love.”
More often than not, couples drift apart when they don’t know how to share their emotional needs. Alienation and distrust follow. Johnson says that we put up a wall to protect ourselves, ironically reinforcing what we fear most: that our partner of choice isn’t there for us or that we are simply unlovable.
The truth: You choose love. Love is not passive; it is an active event, according to Johnson. “You need to stay involved, and be open and engaged.” Securely attached people get angry, fight and hurt one another. But unlike people with an insecure emotional bond, they are able to turn around and talk about their feelings right away. In other words, precisely when you feel the most vulnerable and scared, you have to actively decide to take a risk and reach out to your partner, and in return try to give him reassurance, she says. It’s the only way to secure the bond.
The myth: “Men and women love differently.”
Gender stereotypes lead us to believe that, when it comes to emotions, men and women are polar opposites: real men don’t cry; women are never satisfied, etc.
The truth: The need to be loved is universally shared. Women who believe all men really only want sex are underestimating their partner’s emotional depth. Johnson explains that our culture does not teach men how to ask for emotional connection and reassurance, whereas they are taught how to ask for sex (and so they do, often when they are feeling emotionally insecure). “Men think if they ask for reassurance women will despise them. But if you give them a chance you will discover they just want to be desired, too. When it boils down to deeper emotions, we have a lot in common.”
The myth: “If the sex fades, so does the love.”
Johnson says that so much emphasis in adult love is placed on sex. “We think love is sex.”
The truth: Love is about way more than the sex. It is possible to have a long-term relationship that is still wildly passionate, but it is rare, says Johnson. You have to work at sex because it is novelty that nourishes the infatuation and obsession that underscore new relationships. Those feelings are not love. Once they fade, if a deeper emotional connection is there, even better sex is possible, according to Johnson. She says research shows people who have sex the most — and enjoy it the most — are long-term married couples.
The myth: “Real love isn’t about dependency.”
We feel ashamed of our deeper attachments and emotional insecurities because in North American culture, we are taught that needing someone (especially true for men) is a sign of weakness.
The truth: A secure loving bond enables independence. “Love is truly a source of emotional and physical resilience,” says Johnson. “We are mammals. Our bodies were designed to curl up around each other. We need to know we can call out to someone and they will come, as children, and that doesn’t go away when we are adults. It’s physiological.”