Whether you see it as a ‘Hallmark holiday’ or genuinely love the day of love, have you ever stood back and asked yourself: why do we get so gooey over Valentine’s Day?
Sure, not everyone gets into it. But it’s safe to say that a majority of people do – otherwise, we probably wouldn’t still be celebrating it – and, it turns out, there are some actual scientific reasons why.
Dr Lauren Rosewarne is an expert in social science, having lectured at the University of Connecticut, the University of Massachusetts and now the University of Melbourne in topics including gender, sexuality, social media, political science and pop culture, just to name a few. She is also the author of nine books, as well as a number of journal articles, opinion pieces and columns, and has worked extensively in radio and podcasting.
So, she’s the perfect person to ask: why are we so in love with love?
“Our culture is obsessed with coupledom – with the idea that two-by-two-onto-the-ark is a necessity for everyone,” says Lauren. “Falling in love is perceived as the essential vehicle to get there.”
Lauren adds that, as a culture, we’re very aspirational, and most of us see falling in love as one of many normal, yet important goals to aspire to. But this obviously doesn’t mean that romance is essential to a happy life – at least, not to some people.
“If romance is important to you – and, it’s essential we remember that romance can mean anything from monthly roses to washing to dishes together – then yes, it’s essential to your happiness,” says Lauren. “But not everyone’s values and life objectives are the same. For some people, happiness is defined without a focus on romance.”
Romance and love are obviously two very different things, yet – particularly around Valentine’s Day – we see them as one and the same.
“This is partly because we frame a romantic relationship as one that’s closer and more intimate, likely because of the physical sexual component: we literally share parts of ourselves with our romantic partner that we don’t share with friends or family,” says Lauren.
But the reality is, we need lots of different people in our lives to fulfil the spectrum of our social needs – in fact, Lauren says, expecting a romantic partner to meet all your needs is problematic. Nurturing, valuing and celebrating all of the different kinds of relationships that we have in our life can be just as important to our happiness as finding a romantic partner. For many people, it’s even more important.
“I think people’s tendency to be romantic (or not) is influenced by many factors,” says Lauren. “What was the love life of their parents like? How optimistic and inclined towards wishful thinking are they, and what are their past positive romantic experiences?”
While Lauren believes that some components of love are more nature over nurture – there isn’t a ‘romance gene’, per se, but a human instinct to bond to others as a survival strategy – how we show and act on love can be informed by any number of factors. Being exposed to bad or broken relationships, or having bad romantic experiences themselves can absolutely make people cynical about love and romance.
On the flipside, it’s possible for those who love ‘love’ and find it pleasurable, Lauren says, to keep wanting more.
“While I don’t think love is addictive per se, I think the feeling of limerence – the initial, fleeting, falling-in-love sensation – might be something that some people want to keep feeling over and over again,” Lauren says.
Were Roxy Music right when they crooned ‘love is the drug’? Maybe, maybe not. But what we do know is that love is an aspirational goal, a survival strategy and a rush that keeps us coming back for more, all rolled into one – packaged up in a box of chocolates with a big red bow. No wonder we love Valentine’s Day so much.