Hunka Hunka Burnin’ Nerves

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image by Cary Wolinsky

Ah, love: that yearning, burning, transcendently punch-drunk state of being. And it all begins with . . . attachment anxiety? For decades, researchers have probed the origin of love, tediously mining questionnaires and surveys for clues as to how sparks fly (and which ones stay lit). Now they’re making game-changing discoveries, reports Science News (Feb. 14, 2009), thanks to a distinctly modern opportunity to do field research: speed dating.

“Speed-dating investigations . . . illuminate a considerable gap between what people say they’re looking for in a romantic partner and traits of the people they actually want to go out with,” behavioral sciences editor Bruce Bower writes. Stereotypical points of allure, like physical attractiveness and financial stability, are less important than people tend to estimate when filling out surveys after the fact. Instead, relationships seem to blossom out of nervousness. Specifically, the anxiety of yearning for deep, emotionally attached love–the sort of connection that takes years to form–and not being sure if the fantasy is reciprocated.

In one study, psychologists at Northwestern University conducted speed-dating events with 160 college-age participants, who then reported on their love lives over the next month. More than any other factor, apprehension regarding a partner’s feelings prompted continued interest in the relationship. Daters who felt undesired jumped ship (no hope), but so did daters who felt too desired (no uncertainty). “It is almost as if a central component of passionate love is [having] the fantasy that one will ultimately possess an attachment bond with the desired partner,” one of the researchers told Science News. But not being sure it’s in the bag.

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