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"Love Need" versus Attraction

( Originally Published 1957 )

Andre Maurois, writing of Proust's view of the amorous experience, says: "We begin by being in love, which is a state, like being hungry. . . . Then the actresses, young or old, appear, wishing to be given the role. How shall we choose between them? Often it is a matter of chance." Several others have expressed the opinion, in one way or another, that the actual traits of the attractive person are of no great importance in the growth of an attachment. The idea is that when a sexually and emotionally mature person is in the proper state of readiness and sensitivity, and when circumstances provide a favorable setting, a "falling in love" will take place more or less regardless of the characteristics of the person who happens to be encountered. Any desired qualities this person may lack will be imaginatively "projected" upon him or her. Unattractive features will be somehow emotionally transformed and re-colored.

Thus, the philosopher Santayana has stated: "Love is .. . much less exacting than it thinks itself. Nine-tenths of its causes are in the lover, for one-tenth that may be in the object. Were the latter not accidentally at hand, an almost identical passion would probably have been felt for someone else . . ." So far as this is intended to tell us that whether or not sexual love will arise depends importantly upon an individual's capacity for having the emotion itself, there would seem to be no call to disagree. But the statement really goes beyond this, and Santayana has elsewhere said that man "loves what he imagines and worships what he creates," and Jessie Bernard states that this experience "comes and goes with a rhythm of its own, seemingly independent of outside conditions." For another example, we may cite Theodor Reik's assertion that a condition of frustration, a state of dissatisfaction with one's self, is essential. That is, again, that there must first be a certain kind of need present before a person is ready to love, and capable of feeling it.

It should be clear now that there are two quite different ways of thinking of sexual love, and that the difference between them may be made fairly sharp. For one of them the real "cause" is a need, already present, which impels a person, who is even now, in a sense, a lover, to seek someone who will satisfy this need, who will "feed the love-hunger." The choice of object itself will not matter much, since supposedly the only essential is that it be a member of the opposite sex. We can assume, of course, that this person meets certain "minimum requirements" and is free of traits that are positively repellant. But given the proper emotional condition at outset, the person selected will be more or less a matter of chance, and by this view we can hardly speak of "choice" at all.

We may, on the other hand, change the whole emphasis in this phenomenon of sexual attraction. We can shift it from the attracted individual to the attractive person. The number and variety of social contacts now becomes very important, and likewise the special individuality of the persons encountered. The fact that human beings differ greatly with respect to sexual desirability, and that certain ones are almost universally judged as more attractive than others, becomes a very essential part of sex psychology. The matter of sexual choice, from this point of view, is now a large topic. The best illustration would be, not that of a hungry person seeking food, but rather, let us say, that of a new, unsought, and unusual musical experience, which creates a disturbance in the emotional life, and awakens a new interest. The long tradition that attraction is much influenced by aesthetic traits (sexual "charm") is clearly in line with this view of the emotional relationship of the sexes, since these traits vary enormously from person to person. It is likewise illustrated in those instances, familiar to many, and occasionally found in novels or in autobiographies, in which the onset of an intense love experience is touched off with shocklike impact in a casual or accidental meeting, and in which the affected party appears more like a placid bystander to whom something suddenly happens, than like a "frustrated soul" who finds what he has long been craving.

How are we to reconcile two points of view so widely different in emphasis on the way in which sexual love arises? One of the central themes of this book is that the conflict between these two approaches to an understanding of sexual love may be removed if we recognize that there are two entirely different emotions in play here, and that the presence or absence of either one of them makes a vast difference in the kind of love relation that results. One of these emotions we shall call "amorous." The other, or the need that gives rise to it, may be called "affectional." One of these is sexual, the other is not. Either may be the stronger in attachments between man and woman, or both may have an important place. When affectional need is strong, a person will behave as if driven by an impulse from within. He will appear to be seeking someone or something. He will seem "love-hungry." On the other hand, when amorous emotion is aroused, a person will appear more as excited by an influence from outside, rather than by an urge from within. He will seem "attracted" rather than driven. In the one case the true beginning of the love experience will occur before the en-counter with someone of opposite sex. In the other case this being the central interest of our study the love experience begins only with the encounter with one who presents, or appears to present, certain unique impressions. It is the invasion of the unchanged emotional life by a new and deeply changing experience. In what sense this experience is sexual, and in what way it differs greatly from the usual meaning of sex, will be fully set forth in the pages to come.

At this point, however, we may in passing consider briefly what is known about the "affectional need." Such a need seems to exist from early childhood. "There are differences in interpretation . . . concerning the origins of love. There is the view that love is an original, primary emotion, inherent in the child's nature. There is the view that a child's need for affection is an outgrowth of his helplessness." (10) The very young child displays "a desire to receive and an impulse to bestow affection. "His early dependency on his parents creates a tie with others that is never outgrown. Despite his own increasing resources as he matures, he continues to have, always, a desire for "affection and security." Not only is the child capable of affection for those who serve his needs; he shows, also, an affection "of a more spontaneous character." He has a "fondness and concern for persons and things."

There is fair agreement that this affectional need is very real in all of us. "Every individual has tendencies to receive which spread to wanting to be loved, to receive affection, to belong to the group, and so on. These tendencies are recognized as basic and are commonly found on lists of the fundamental drives." As to the origin of the child's need of affection, its close early dependence upon the parents is most often stressed. All its needs are satisfied by the mother. The child's security there-fore lies in maternal affection. Since "emotional security" or being sure we are loved carries with it the promise of other satisfactions as well, the need to be loved is never outgrown. "This need for security is not something that is felt only in in-fancy when one is helpless and when loss of love would be a real threat; this need continues all through life." One expression of this need, in the adult, is the founding of a family, in which each mate helps to satisfy the security needs of the other.

Satisfaction of the infant's "innate need for love" has been found to be an actual necessity to normal growth. The child needs tenderness, "mothering," fondling and caressing as well as attention to feeding, bathing, elimination, and so on. "Social impulses are part of our primary equipment; emotional hunger is an urge as definite and compelling as the need for food." That there is a "need for love" or affection is strikingly illustrated in some of the reported cases in which emotional starvation has profoundly affected the child, even as far as slowing its growth.

To say that the attraction of the sexes includes a desire to receive and to give affection is, of course, hardly novel. The point we wish to make here is that this kind of desire offers what is needed to account for cases of "sexual love" in which people come together more because of affectional need than because of any very marked degree of, for example, physical attractiveness. The stronger this affectional need, in fact, the less "choosy" we might expect them to be with regard to the usual standards of sexual charm. There is no reason to doubt that there is love behavior, courtship or mate-seeking of this kind, and in which such needs may be even the dominant motive. In these attachments the familiar observations about seeking a "parent substitute" in marriage have an obvious place. The overdependent and psychologically unweaned youth may seek, unconsciously, a mother-figure in his wife. The girl who has been very close to her father may seek a similar support in her husband. We need not doubt that attachments between the sexes may include several such nonsexual satisfactions. Men and women are "people" to each other, as well as sexual partners.

On the other hand, the amorous variety of attraction is seen in what is probably its clearest expressions in the behavior of children. We can note cases in which, in the absence of any evidence of sensual-erotic interest, the main features of the attraction have the appearance of an aesthetic experience. The small boy's attention is suddenly deflected and captured by the sight of a particular girl. She is, perhaps, but one of several, but the others fail to draw his gaze.

The visual fascination tends to center on the facial features. The voice may be important, also the qualities of movement and the expressive mannerisms. The meaning of "attraction" is first visual, then, but the visual effect may be further sought, that is, prolonged and repeated. The boy follows the girl to watch her; in her absence the image apparently remains and begins to function, for he goes to seek her, again to watch and perhaps eventually to talk to her. At the surface this is obviously "interest" and if we can assume that feminine traits are essential to it, then this interest is sexual. Beyond these sheer sense impressions, however, there are vibrations at a deeper level. The boy's emotional life has been touched and a new desire is born, namely, to see, to be near, and to possess in turn the attention and interest of this particular person.

It is of high importance to make a separation between interest and emotion of this kind, especially in their adult forms, and the "love needs" rooted in the dependency of childhood. The use of the same word for amorous emotion, for genital-sex desire, and for the needs to receive and to give affection, leaves small room for wonder at the confusion encountered in every-day talk about human "love" attachments.

There is, to my knowledge, no evidence to prove that amorous attraction is bound to occur in any large number of cases between any two opposite-sexed persons taken at random, and "exposed" to each other, so to speak, long enough to permit an attachment to develop. That people may "grow into" a love affair under circumstances to which close association alone seems to contribute much does not mean that this growth was independent of personal traits. Nor does it mean that so-called love needs make this growth inevitable. Love affairs may also fail to develop. As Dr. Paul Lemkau writes: "Even though the circumstances are clear as to why two people were in a particularly propitious setting for falling in love, there remains the fact that these two actually did; there were others whose situation seemed identical, yet with them, the falling in love did not take place."

It may be that statements about sexual love such as those quoted above, which tend to slight the importance of the factor of choice, and of the individuality of the attracting personality, are in large part no more than reflections of ignorance about what really governs the love-choice, and what arouses amorous emotion. An easy way to dispose of the matter is to assign the whole of it to hidden and somehow spontaneous upsurges of feeling from within the lover. Yet no one will deny that human beings differ enormously in those surface characteristics and those personality qualities that fall under the general heading of "attractiveness," and it should be safe to surmise that some of these traits and qualities play a part in the phenomenon of sexual attraction.

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