Love: can we explain the mystery?

12 February 2016

Researcher Sarah Pinto considers romantic love in the lead-up to St Valentine's Day.

The romantic amongst us might be preparing for their special day of the year, but are we any closer to understanding the phenomenon of romantic love - or should we just enjoy the feelings?

Sarah Pinto, a Deakin University lecturer in Australian Studies, has taken a new look at romantic love in the latest issue of “The Conversation.”

Dr Pinto explains that researchers have increasingly investigated romantic love over the past two decades, from the perspective of social, behavioural and cognitive sciences, but the jury is out as to whether love is a universal emotion experienced similarly across different cultures and times, or the emotion is experienced differently, depending on the cultural context.

“Some might say all this proves is that we should stop thinking we can research and understand emotions, and just experience them. But I don’t think so. Emotional experiences are a very significant part of our everyday lives, but they also have public and political effects.

“Research into emotions gives us insight into the shape of these effects. It shows us the way that war widows were mobilised by their grief in 20th-century Australia, or how acknowledgements of national guilt for past injustices might lead to restitution for the disenfranchised.

“Research into romantic love is built on people’s experiences and understandings of their intimate lives. What if love seems muddy in this research because people’s understandings and experiences of intimacy are muddy? What if the diverse ways that people live their intimate lives cannot be explained by a specific singular category, “romantic love”?

“If that’s the case, then we don’t really need to worry about fitting into any particular romantic ideal this Valentine's Day. And romantic love can be whatever we want it to be. Embrace it, avoid it, remake it in your own way. Love your partner, your cat, your friends, everyone, nobody. And don’t apologise for it.”

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Researchers are divided about the nature of love, and whether it is universal or changeable. Researchers are divided about the nature of love, and whether it is universal or changeable.

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