Romantic Reverie: Mild-Mannered Reporter Dreams Up Tale of Love, Sex, and Celebrity Worship

By Bower, Bruce | Science News, November 27, 1993 | Go to article overview

Romantic Reverie: Mild-Mannered Reporter Dreams Up Tale of Love, Sex, and Celebrity Worship


Bower, Bruce, Science News


As the pilot gunned the engines of the 737 on the airport runway, I leaned back in my seat and closed my eyes. The American Psychological Association's annual meeting receded with the Toronto skyline. Three days of cramped note-taking in pitch-black rooms as psychologists tried to explain the meaning of scribbles and numbers projected onto large screens had taken their toll. Sleep engulfed me, and with it came a dream that provided a bizarre replay of what I had managed to glean from the sessions, as well as a few related tidbits.

The dream took place in an Italian restaurant, where I sat at a small table across from Cher, Oscar-winning star of artificial-sweetener commercials and husky-voiced crooner of "Bang, Bang, I Shot My Baby Down." The service in my dream-time diner stank: Surly waiters brushed by out table as I attempted to wave them down with my press pass. Cher and I nursed a bottle of chianti and picked at some bread. We had plenty of time to chat.

Cher: Men. The old ones lose their pep, the young ones lose your credit cards. I'm starting to think "A Few Good Men" is just a movie title.

Me: Don't look at me -- I'm over the hill. But I did just attend a psychology conference where there was an awful lot of talk about love -- from the podium.

Cher: What, no sex?

Me: Yes, there was plenty of that, too. Talk about sex, I mean. But let's take the old-fashioned route and start with love.

After several decades of assuming that love gets gussied up in a wide variety of cultural costumes and may not even exist in some non-Western societies, many psychologists now argue that romantic love blooms in all corners of the world. Richard Rapson and Elaine Hatfield of the University of Hawaii in Honolulu find that the ease with which people fall in love and the depth of their passion varies from one place to another, but heart-pounding, sweaty-palmed love happens everywhere. To bolster their assertion, the psychologists note that people in at least 147 of 166 hunting and foraging societies studied by ethnographers show the scars of Cupid's arrows. Members of these far-flung groups talk about the anguish and longing of infatuation, sing love songs and tell tales of great clashes with the when mutual affection clashes with the wishes of parents or elders, and acknowledge the existence of passionate love.

Cher: That reminds me of my Academy Award-winning role in the movie "Moonstruck," where I can't help but fall in love with that hunky Nicholas Cage after I get engaged to Danny Aiello. That's amore. That's acting.

Me: That's a Hollywood love story. But love stories pop up everywhere. Based on his investigations of attitudes about love, Robert J. Sternberg of Yale University argues that each of us writes an internal love story as we grow up that directs our amorous energies. We choose a partner who fits as well as possible into our love story, even if that person is not Mr. or Ms. Right.

Our opinion of ourself may help determine the love story we fancy. For instance, William B. Swann Jr. of the University of Texas at Austin asserts that people choose partners who see them as they see themselves, even if they consider themselves deadbeats or dimwits. Among 95 married couples, Swann's group found that partners with positive self-concepts reported more commitment to spouses who viewed them favorably, while those with low-self-concepts held tighter to spouses who gave them critical reviews. These findings appeared in the March 1992 PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE.

Important early relationships, such as those with parents, shape our self-concept, according to Swann. And one's self-concept greatly narrows the field of prospective partners, including those inhabiting internal love stories.

Cher: No kidding? I'd hate to hear Joey Buttafuoco's internal love story. Or Heidi Fleiss'. Or....

Me: I catch your drift. …

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