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Home / Columns / Ways to keep the love alive

Ways to keep the love alive

Stress and fear can be mistaken for lust, cause cracks in true bonds

columns Updated: Jan 24, 2020 17:27 IST
Charles Assisi
Charles Assisi
Hindustan Times
In an ideal world, love and lust would co-exist in all long-term relationships. And indeed, they do in many.
In an ideal world, love and lust would co-exist in all long-term relationships. And indeed, they do in many.

Why do we fall in love? How do we know what we feel is love? What compels us humans to commit to someone for the long term without really knowing whether the love we feel is fleeting or permanent?

These questions are worth investigating because the line that separates lust and love is a thin one.

In an ideal world, love and lust would co-exist in all long-term relationships. And indeed, they do in many. But there is much evidence to suggest that between the drudgeries of daily life and the monotony of routine, lust loses steam and love, all its sheen.

The mind and heart may start to look elsewhere. And suddenly even the most unlikely candidate begins to seem like a potential replacement for one we thought we would love for life.

One of the most famous (and controversial) experiments to understand why was conducted by researchers Donald Dutton and Arthur Aron in the 1970s. Their findings were published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Popularly described as the Shaky Bridge Experiment, Dutton and Aron rigged up two bridges for the purpose. One was a 450-ft-long, wobbly cable bridge suspended over a 230-ft precipice. The other was a sturdily built wooden bridge just 10 ft above the ground. Two groups of male participants were asked to cross the bridges.

After walking across, each participant was approached by an attractive woman to answer some questions and describe what they saw as creatively as they could. She told them it was part of her psychology class. After completing the questionnaire, the woman gave her phone number to each participant, and told them they could call her if they had any questions.

Dutton and Aron were working off a hypothesis that the men who crossed the scarier bridge would create stories with sexual overtones and possibly call the woman later and attempt to cozy up.

As things turned out, Dutton and Aron were proven right. Of the 16 men who crossed the stable bridge, only two called the woman. But of the 18 men who were on the shaky bridge, nine called her.

What happened there? It turns out, those who crossed the shaky bridge, having just experienced fear, had senses that were in a state of heightened arousal. When they got off the bridge and were greeted by an attractive woman, the men linked the sense of arousal they were feeling to the woman rather than to the fear they had just experienced. Social scientists call this “the misattribution of arousal”. And fear isn’t the only trigger.

Stress at work, for example, can cause colleagues to seem more attractive. Which would explain a lot of very poorly-thought-out office romances and extra-marital escapades.

What can we do about it all? “To fall in love is the easy part. To stay in love is hard work. But it’s worth the effort.” That’s what dad always told me. He died two years ago. And now that he isn’t around, and I hear the warmth with which mum talks about their 40-odd years together, I can tell that he was right.

(The writer is co-founder at Founding Fuel & co-author of The Aadhaar Effect)