February 26, 2012
A Guest Post by COCO LA CRÈME
Everyone wants to be in love.
That’s a pretty sweeping statement, but c’mon, isn’t it true? When we’re single, we complain about the lack of love in our lives and when our prospects are thin we despair for our lonely loveless future. Although many of us will go for many years and indeed, possibly reach the end our lives without a partner, singlehood is still viewed as a transient state of being – a detour on our journey towards true love. It seems we are all meant to be constantly striving to achieve the perfect union; the fabled soulmate. But are soulmates a real thing? Divorce rates in North America are generally reported at 50%. These many millions of people sure as hell didn’t imagine that their marriages would end in disaster. They said their vows and presumably they meant them, so why didn’t it take?
Interestingly enough, studies of successful long-term relationships are a relatively recent thing. We’ve spent a lot more time looking into what drives attraction and why we fall in love. Staying in love, however, was apparently a mystery no one cared to unravel. No wonder the divorce rates are so high. In 2009, Drs. Bianca Acevedo and Arthur Aron decided to tackle this behemoth. They started out looking at 25 studies that encompassed over 6000 individuals in short and long-term relationships to determine whether people in romantic love were more satisfied than their hit-it and quit-it counterparts.
Although it’s commonly assumed that couples who have been together more than 10 years are staying together out of habit rather than satisfaction, the good doctors found that this was not necessarily so. They divided the “love” they studied into three categories: passionate (obsessed), romantic, and companionate. Turns out the obsessives – you know, the super annoying people that are constantly jealous, fully insecure, and PDA’ing all over the place – burn out pretty quick. That type of love does not make for a satisfying long-term relationship, if it makes it at all. The companionate people – the ones who have given up on sex and stay with their partner out of habit and friendship – are none too satisfied either. Their relationships may last but they’re not what any of us would consider “true love”.
Apparently the happiest couples are saying this to each other a lot.
But, it’s the long-term romantics we’re all interested in and honey, these people are so happy it’s sickening. What’s their secret? Well, it turns out that these assholes people were pretty happy in the first place and they’re less insecure. This may sound like an unhelpful conclusion but it really does make sense. Happy confident people are more likely to choose suitable partners, are able to bring more to a relationship, and are generally less of a pain in the ass to deal with. Sounds like a recipe for true love to me.
It’s great to know that companionate relationships are not a necessary compromise as the years go by. We can, if we devote the time and energy to sex, achieve vibrant relationships that last a lifetime. A study done last year at the Kinsey Institute of Indiana University found that kissing and cuddling made a significant difference in relationship satisfaction and that tenderness is actually more important to men than it is to women. They also found that men who cared about their female partner’s orgasms were more likely to be happy even 15 years in. No surprise there, amirite ladies?! Basically, the researchers found that showing affection, getting your partner off and having good health and intact sexual function made for overall happier relationships. In other words, sex matters!
2011 also sent Acevedo and Aron back to the drawing board to further unravel what makes a long term union a truly happy and passionate one. This time they got deep, like, Scanners deep. They subjected 17 couples who claimed to still be “madly in love” after 20+ years to MRIs to find out if they were crazy or just kidding themselves. Turns out that these freaks were telling the truth. When shown pictures of their partners, their brains showed the same intense neural activity associated with people in the throes of newfound love. Picturing or thinking about their partners also triggered dopamine-rich areas of the brain – you know the stuff that makes you addicted and happy.
This means that happy couples are literally getting high off each other and True Love is some good (legal) shit. To make things even more awesome, there was almost no fear, anxiety or pining shown in the brains of the long-term couples where the newer ones had it in spades. So… ‘soulmates’ experience all of those strong feelings of love without any of the horrible gut-wrenching terror. Isn’t that nice? Something else going on for these couples? You guessed it, S-E-X. Turns out this not-so-secret ingredient is integral to making the whole thing work.
So it would seem that as long as you’re a happy, secure person and you fall in love with someone similar you may stand a good chance of making it work. This of course is provided that you don’t settle for a sexless existence once the initial spark fizzles out. It does take work, communication and devotion but true love is apparently possible for anyone who cares to attempt it.
And just where will you meet this fantastic person? I’m sorry to say I have no idea. As I told you all before, I found my sweetie on Craigslist among the used furniture and electronics ads. but that might not exactly be your thing. Wherever you meet yours, if you treat ‘em well, and screw the bejeezus out of ‘em, hopefully things will be okay.
Happy hunting everyone!