Some remarks on passionate love

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Hatfield and Rapson have defined passionate love as follows:

a state of intense longing for union with another. Reciprocated love (union with the other) is associated with fulfilment and ecstacy. Unrequited love (separation) is associated with emptiness, anxiety, or despair. Passionate love is a complex functional whole including appraisals or appreciations, subjective feelings, expressions, patterned physiological processes, action tendencies, and instrumental behaviours. (1993, p. 5)

It is clear from this attempt at a definition that Hatfield and Rapson conceptualise passionate love as consisting of the same types of components that we and others have argued constitute all emotional states: appraisals, subjective feelings, physiological change, action tendencies, and interpretations. But what type of emotion is passionate love? The problematic nature of such a question is well illustrated by a cross-cultural study carried out by Shaver, Wu, and Schwartz (1991). They interviewed students in the United States, Italy, and the People's Republic of China about a variety of emotional experiences including happiness, love, fear, anger, and sadness. There was a remarkable level of cross-cultural agreement concerning all of these emotions except for one: love. The participants from the United States and Italy tended to equate love with happiness and other positive affective states. The Chinese students, on the other hand, had a far bleaker view of love. In Chinese there are few ideographs that correspond to happy love words from Western languages; instead, love is associated with sadness and other negative emotions. The Chinese participants associated passionate love with ideographs that translate as "infatuation", "unrequited love", "nostalgia", and "sorrow love". When informed about the views of love of other cultures, both the Eastern and Western groups regarded each other's visions of love as "unrealistic".

Perhaps both groups are correct. Is not passionate love a combination of exhilaration and despair, joy and sadness, with healthy doses of shyness, jealousy, anger, ecstasy, and insecurity thrown in? Indeed, Tennov (1979), who interviewed more than 500 lovers, concluded that almost all of them took it for granted that passionate love is a bitter-sweet experience—the biggest and most frightening emotional roller-coaster of them all! One of our doctoral students (supervised by MP), Eleanor Sutton, interviewed a group of healthy controls about a recent experience of infatuation, and a group of recovered bipolar disorder patients about a recent manic episode, using the same structured interview that has been designed to assess manic episodes (Cavan-agh, Schwannauer, Power, & Goodwin, 2007). Although the bipolar patients tended to score higher across most of the items, there was a high correlation (Spearman rho = 0.72) between the rank order of the items for the manic episode and the love episode, especially when items such as increases in anxiety, sleep disturbance, and feelings of pressure that reflected a "mixed state" rather than simply a "hyper-positive state" were included.

An important point that Hatfield and Rapson miss in their attempt at definition is the very passionate nature of passionate love. Like anger (see Chapter 9), the ability of passionate love to overwhelm individuals provides a vehicle by which the individual can be absolved of the responsibility for their behaviour. Such passions, it is argued (e.g., Averill, 1985; Oatley, 1992; Tallis, 2004), enable the individual to take on a role in which they can do things that are out of the ordinary. Oatley cites the example of Anna Karenina who, by falling passionately in love, left her albeit suffocating marriage, was separated from her child, rejected by her friends, and lost all of the support offered by her previous way of living. This excommunication eventually led to Anna's suicide. In an evolutionary sense, falling passionately in love clearly has functionality. It provides the momentum for binding two people together to form a relationship, to have children, and to raise their children (e.g., Buss, 2001; Miller, 2001). One can even go further than this; Oatley suggests that often emotions function when rational solutions are unavailable, the implication being that the only way you could find yourself entering into a mutual plan as momentous as a long-term relationship is if you are carried there by overwhelming passion.

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