Recently retired from the University of Minnesota, Ellen Berscheid is a social psychologist with a specialty in interpersonal relationships, including love. Beyond academia, she recently consulted on relationship science for TV’s The Big Bang Theory and also shared with us a few of her findings to keep in mind this Valentine’s Day and beyond.
- Love has multiple meanings – Decades ago, when Britain’s Prince Charles became engaged to Princess Diana, he was asked by an interviewer whether he was in love. “He looked puzzled,” Berscheid recalls. “And then he said, ‘Yes, whatever in love means.” That was actually an intelligent thing for him to say. The word love means different things for different people at different times.”
- Falling in love is like a wild hunt – “It’s like a hungry lion—it sees a rabbit, and there’s a total focus on getting that rabbit. So there’s a total focus on this person you want to possess and make permanent in your life.”
- Love changes – “Romantic love tends to be fragile over time,” Berscheid says. “It appears in very young [new] relationships, where there is unfamiliarity and constant surprise and novelty. It’s been said that the memory of that time can be the enemy of the relationship itself—people assume when things change there’s something wrong with their partner or themselves.”
- Time goes in one direction only – Berscheid describes love as “a river always moving through time… There’s no going back. People want to know how to get romantic love back, how to go back to the beginning—the answer is, you can’t. That was a very special time in a relationship, but with time other kinds of love come to the fore.”
- Love evolves in many forms – She emphasizes the importance of “compassionate” and “companionate” love—the deep friendship and profound caring that are crucial aspects of love in all kinds of relationships, romantic and otherwise.