Psychology of Love: Vincent & Laura discuss what comprises romantic love.

064 Marriage/Personal Growth: Psychology of Love


Have you fell for Hollywood’s (lie or lies)?

I (Vincent) was about nine years old. I wanted look cool. I wanted a girl to “go with me” – (that’s what we called it. We didn’t actually go anywhere – at most couples held hands. It was really more of a title to show that we were wanted by the opposite sex.) Nevertheless, I wanted someone to “go with me” so that I would be “kool”.

So what did any well-intentioned fourth grader do? We went to the Dart store – a local clothing store that specialized in trendy clothing or fads. Yes, I got me a pair of “parachute pants”. Michael Jackson had just come our with the Thriller album. If you were a kid then, that was “in”, then you had a pair of parachute pants. I bought the lie. I bought the lie at a young age.

So what are Hollywood’s lies?

The first lie. We are to make ourselves as attractive as possible to get the right mate. We are to make our bodies look good – work out, loose weight, get a tan, build our muscles, get the right hair cut, etc. We are to attain the right things – a new car, clothes that are in style, big house, etc. We are to achieve in work, school, sports, social status, etc. If we possess all of these outward qualities, then we will attract our perfect partner.

The second lie. Our feelings confirm our love. We get a rush of adrenaline when we are with that special person – “It must be love!” We talk with them on the phone, and we feel so good. Just being with them lifts our spirits. We can’t wait to be with them.

The third lie. Similarly, when we don’t have those euphoric feelings around our mate, then we must not be in love anymore. We reason that the “right person for me” should continue to give us those good feelings when we are around them.

The fourth lie. That special person will fulfill me and meet all my hopes and dreams. We have this false hope that when we meet that “perfect partner”, we will be happy. In the movie Jerry MacGuire, Tom Cruise’s character has an affair with his secretary. When he is about to lose her, he tells her “You complete me.” He feels like she will fulfill all of his desires of love and having a family.

Theories of Romantic Love

Well okay, I’m giving Hollywood a bad rap or at least too much credit. Many of these lies didn’t begin with motion pictures. Motion pictures was just a medium that was able to promote these ideas at a veracious pace.

The idea of romantic love began in the 12th century in southern France. Around this time, the nobles and knights had left their castles for Holy Lands to fight in the Crusades. Their wives are left at home. For entertainment, musicians or poets called troubadours would come to the court. The troubadour provided love songs, and the noblewoman provided room and board. Thus the term “courtly love” was created. The troubadours would not dare have a hint of physical consummation, or they would put their lives in jeopardy. But this undertone of attraction would develop between the singer and the listener.

The foundation of this Hollywood idea of romantic love consist of these four theories of love: eros, biology or chemistry, imago, and projection.

Eros Theory

The greek word “eros” means passionate love. It includes the sexual and sensual desires between a man and a woman. Physical attraction, or even lust are other common terms to describe it. 

In classical Greek, “Love at first sight” described eros. A person had these immediate desires upon seeing their “loved one”. When the person of their affection did not reciprocate or was away from them, then they would get “lovesick”. 

Freud describes “eros” as our life instincts or life force which included reproduction, hunger, and self preservation. He did not view “eros” as primarily our libido although it was a part of it.

Biology or Chemistry Theory

The chemistry theory supposes that their is a chemical force that pulls two people together like two hydrogens to one oxygen in water. This theory that something chemical attracts humans together has been discussed since the 1800s.

In 1809, Johann Goethe published Elective Affinities which described human relationships in terms of chemical reactions. Reared as a Lutheran, he was an adamant “non-Christian” who was trying to come to terms with bonding and love through a non-subjective, chemical viewpoint.

In 1959, biochemist Adolf Butenandt discovered a hormone that travelled from a female to a male silkworm prior to mating. Subsequently, the word “pheromone” was coined, meaning a hormone that is transported outside the body to another organism. This lead to the idea that humans secrete pheromones to attract the opposite sex. But to this date, no known human pheromones have been discovered.

In 1976, researchers Candace Pert and Nancy Ostrowski found that endorphins were released during intercourse. This led to the hormone theory of love.

In 1992, neuroscientist Thomas Insel completed a study on two types of voles: prairie voles and mountain voles. He compared their mating habits and their oxytocin levels. Prairie voles who tend to be monogamous had high levels of oxytocin. Mountain voles who were promiscuous had lower levels of oxytocin.

Later research showed that oxytocin was a bonding hormone that correlated with being with a loved one. Within male/female relationships, oxytocin levels rise during kissing, hugging, and intercourse. It also stimulates the bond between a mother and her child.

Imago Theory

In the book Getting the Love You Want, Harville Hendrix describes the imago theory. Imago is latin for image. According to Imago theory, we are unconsciously attracted to a person that reflects the positive and negative traits of our parents or caretakers. 

According to the theory, our brains have a drive to achievement health and wholeness. We have unresolved conflicts from childhood. We recreate these same patterns that we had with our parents with our spouse. Unconsciously, we try to repair or fix what was broken in childhood.

Projection Theory

Projection theory is based on the idea that men and women both have masculine and feminine qualities. According to theory, women project their “undeveloped” masculine side onto the men to whom they are attracted. Conversely, men project their “undeveloped” feminine side onto their mates.

Men may want their women to be overly nurturing – the feminine aspect that they may lack. Women may want their men to be the hero and fix everything – the masculine “take charge” attitude that they may not have developed.

We fall in love with a projection, not reality. We put all these unrealistic expectations onto our partner. We do not develop these appropriate feminine and masculine aspects in ourselves. We look outside of ourselves to find completion.

What Is the Truth?

Each of these theories contain elements of truth that have fed the lie that “romantic love” is the only true love. I (Vincent) have had clients that have adamantly defended romantic love. They say, “I don’t want them to do this or that because they are forced. I don’t want them to do it out of obligation. I want them to naturally do it. I want them to do it because they feel like it.” 

They believe love is motivated by “true feelings” which are outside of their control. They do not see any part of love as a choice or a decision.

Romantic love has elements of both feelings and logical reasoning. Healthy romantic love contains both of these elements (emotions and objective decisions) in a balance.

Published by

Vincent & Laura Ketchie

Vincent Ketchie, LPC and Laura Ketchie, LPC are the hosts of Relationship Helpers, a podcast where they discuss family issues and interview relationship experts. Vincent and Laura are licensed marriage counselors.

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