Infatuation

Infatuation is the chemical phase of love. Sometimes it is called passionate love, as opposed to companionate love (Hatfield & Walster, 1978). Sometimes it follows a long friendship, sometimes it happens at first sight. It is distinct from both friendship and long-term love.

Love at first sight is the most dramatic example of infatuation. Occasionally it results in marriage. For example, in a set of case histories collected by deCourcy Hinds for a Valentine's Day article (February 14, 1981), Erica Jong (author of the best selling novel Fear of Flying) reported that she fell in love with her husband the first time they met on the steps of the Beverly Hills Hilton.

What is a typical quality of stories about love at first sight?

My students have also turned in essays about their parents who fell in love at first sight. The following is typical of such stories, which have an embellished quality, as if they have been retold many times and exaggerated in the process.

My father plays basketball a lot. One day when he was playing, my mother walked by on her way to work. At this time my father had never seen her before. Well, he took one look at her and said to all his friends, "See that girl over there? I am going to marry her." Of course all of his friends thought he was kidding and crazy. He was very serious. That night after basketball he went home and called his parents who lived in California and told them that he was engaged. He still did not know her. They became good friends, but my mother only thought of my father as a friend. She was engaged to someone else. Finally my mother and father's friendship turned into love and they got married. Five kids later they're still in love. [Author's files]

Love at first sight sometimes leads to durable relationships. But it is easy to get a misleading impression about the proportion of successful love at first sight romances. Typically, only the successful outcomes are reported. When famous people are involved, failures are more conspicuous. Erica Jong, for example, later divorced the husband she found at first sight on the steps of the Beverly Hills HIlton. She said she was looking for more of a friend the next time.

What did research by Pam and colleagues reveal?

People sometimes act as though they think intensity of love predicts durability. That is not the case. Research suggests that intensity of feeling is negatively correlated with long-term success of a relationship. One group of researchers administered a "love scale" measuring degree of passion to college couples. They found "the subjects with the very highest scores at the outset were the ones whose relationships tended not to last" (Pam, Plutchik and Conte, 1975).

Love at first sight is based on a distinct chemical reaction within people. DeCourcy Hinds interviewed researchers who explained this immediate, intense attraction as a biological phenomenon similar to a self-induced drug high.

What do Liebowitz and Klein say about the chemistry of love?

Love is a chemical reaction, according to Drs. Michael Liebowitz and Donald Klein, who are studying the chemistry of love at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. Love feelings, they say, are similar to amphetamine highs, because the loving brain produces its own intoxicating substance...phenylethylamine. Conversely, the "spurned brain" goes into a drug withdrawal, causing severe craving for chocolate, which contains phenylethylamine. (deCourcy Hinds, 1981)

Are phenylethylamines "love chemicals"? Not necessarily; they are also associated with chronic paranoid schizophrenia (Potkin and colleagues, 1979). But there is little reason to doubt that love in its early chemical phase is a distinct biological reaction. Dr. Liebowitz summarized his theory in simple language:

What is involved in romantic attraction is that, in response to an interaction with another person, certain brain centers go bonkers. (Collins, 1983)

The brain centers Dr. Liebowitz was talking about are probably dopaminergic portions of the limbic system. They are involved in the phenomena of pleasure and pain, sex and aggression, reinforcement, addiction or learned motivation...topics related to many forms of human behavior. When "love chemicals" make the limbic system "go bonkers," the result is a state of mind characterized by euphoria, loss of hunger, abundant energy, and a tendency to see the world through rose-colored glasses.


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Copyright © 2007 Russ Dewey