A note on disorders of love

It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.

(Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garciá Márquez)

The smell of almonds, of course, is the aroma of the poison cyanide, and it is testament to the power of passionate love that, when it goes unrequited, the rejected individual can be driven to suicide and more. This is one way in which love can go off the rails; we can fall in love with people who may be inappropriate in that they are either unlikely to return our love or somehow they would not make good companions in a relationship; such unrequited love is in fact at the core of the mediaeval origins of romantic love (e.g., Tallis, 2004). It seems possible, then, for love to be "disordered" with respect to who we love. However, it is not just who we love but the way we love that is fraught with danger, for are not the "women who love too much" of book-shelf fame also viewed as exhibiting "disordered love"?

Both of these aspects of love, it has been argued, can be understood more clearly in terms of attachment theory (e.g., Bowlby, 1969, 1973, 1980). Bowlby proposed three styles of attachment in infancy: avoidant, secure, and anxious/ ambivalent, although a fourth style of disordered attachment has been added subsequently (Main & Solomon, 1986). Hazan and Shaver (1987) have proposed that these infant attachment styles manifest themselves in adulthood in the way that the adult attaches in the loving relationship. They proposed that children with secure infant attachments who are allowed to be both affectionate towards, and independent of, their mothers are likely to mature into secure adults who are able to engage in comfortable intimate relationships with trust and a healthy level of dependence on their partners. Children with anxious/ambivalent attachment relationships to their mothers have learned to be clinging and dependent, or fearful of being smothered, or both. Such children, Shaver and Hazan suggest, are likely to become anxious/ambivalent adults. They will fall in love easily, they will seek extremely high levels of closeness and intimacy, and they will be terrified that they will be abandoned. The love affairs they have are thus likely to be very short-lived. Finally, the avoidant child who has been abandoned early on in infancy is likely, it is suggested, to become an avoidant adult. He or she will be uncomfortable getting too close, will have a fear of intimacy, and will have difficulty depending on others. Shaver and Hazan (1988) have amassed considerable support in favour of this formulation and similar formulations have been proposed by other authors (e.g., Bartholomew, 1990).

The idea that our "choice" of lover is also somehow a function of our attachment processes is clearly not a new one. It is a fundamental concept in psychodynamic psychology. For many people, this choice is likely to be a functional one. The potential lover often has qualities that would also make them a good partner in a loving relationship over the long term. However, for other individuals the people who rouse their passions are exactly the sort of people whom their rational thoughts tell them should be avoided. Furthermore, as we have mentioned above, for the majority of individuals the choice of lover is partly a function of the likelihood that the chosen person will reciprocate our feelings. However, for others, there is often a pattern of falling in love with people with whom the chances of a reciprocated loving relationship are small or even non-existent. This problem is manifest, in its most extreme form, in the disorder of erotomania or de Clerambault's syndrome in which individuals fall in love with public figures or famous personages whom they are unlikely even to meet (e.g., Franzini & Grossberg, 1995). The sobering example of this is the case of John Hinckley, mentioned in Chapter 1, who attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan in 1981 as a last-ditch attempt to impress the actress Jodie Foster with whom he reported being desperately in love.

In summary, we have ended the last of our chapters on specific basic emotions with some remarks on the nature of love. We have tried to indicate that it is possible (if not necessarily forgiveable) to make some interesting theoretical remarks about love without destroying its essence, and it is our hope that this philosophy is true of all the aspects of emotional life we have sought to explain throughout this book.

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