[VIEWPOINT]The layers of love

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[VIEWPOINT]The layers of love

Love excites us, and makes us yearn and dream. The moment a person falls in love, chemical action starts in the person’s cerebrum and chemical substances pour out to enable the person to feel satisfaction or joy. The person becomes suddenly absent-minded, as if hit by a hammer, and comes to have strong, mysterious and overwhelming feelings, going beyond common pleasure.
The feeling of happiness that makes us think we own the whole world alleviates not only a physical illness like a cold, but also eases psychological problems like anxiety, loneliness and gloom. The ongoing state of happiness makes us put positive effort into every job by evoking confidence and strengthening our desire to achieve. For example, we can view the great fruit of love in a number of art works. Therefore, Sigmund Freud said that the most successful life is one in which we can love and work.
Despite the fact that love gives energy to our lives, the weight of love has gradually lessened. The love that transformed individuals, changed history and led different people to the same inspiration has gradually turned toward light physical attraction and sexual satisfaction.
According to evolutionary psychology, human beings have the instinct to leave a lot of healthy descendants, so they tend to be attracted to younger and more attractive partners. In a recent psychological experiment, college students were shown pictures of many people’s faces and were asked to choose pictures of the most attractive face and the ugliest one. Two pictures that had been chosen in that manner were then shown to babies at the same time and the time of gazing at the pictures was measured. The results showed that even three-month-old babies gazed at the picture of the most attractive face much longer than the ugly one, and even smiled at the picture. As shown, being attracted to physical beauty is a human instinct.
But the passion of love that begins with physical attraction produces a chemical action in the cerebrum similar to drug addiction, including amphetamine and cocaine addiction. Just as dependence and longing are the symptoms of addiction, love caused by physical attraction triggers an outburst of sexual desire toward the partner, leading to strong dependence and attachment. Like a puppet hung on the string of sexual instinct, such love leads individuals to fall by making them lose their roles or positions and, in extreme cases, causes sexual violence like the rape of a date or spouse. This kind of distorted love is not just caused by the inappropriate sexual culture but also deepens the roots of that mistaken sexual culture.
Psychologists say that love has three elements. Love consists of passion, intimacy and commitment. Love requires not merely the passion of hot physical attraction but the warm elements of love, like understanding, emotional support and intimacy, that come from conversation and sympathy with one’s partner. In addition, to maintain such love completely in the long term, it also needs the cool elements of love, such as commitment or determination to repel various temptations that impede true love. Thus, true love should have hot “passion,” warm “emotional intimacy” and cool “commitment and determination.” Unless evenly equipped with all three elements, love becomes incomplete and unsustainable, such as “addictive love” with passion only or “empty love” with commitment alone. “Friendship-like love” like that between friends is an incomplete love without passion and the “romantic love” we dream of or view in movies or novels is an immature love composed of only intimacy and passion without commitment.
Yesterday was White Day. Everyone wishes his or her love to be beautiful and complete. Before exchanging a basket of candies, let’s think again whether the love we are in now is equipped with the heat, warmth and coolness of love.

* The writer is a professor of psychology at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Kwak Keum-joo

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