Can we love more than one person at a time?

This post was first published on LOLA’s blog on Jan 20, 2014. I’m putting it here as a backup copy. Click here to see the original post.

According to Dr. Helen E. Fisher, an expert on the biology of love and attraction, the answer might in fact be up to three people at once. In her book (Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Loves) she proposes that the human brain has evolved three core systems for mating and reproduction – lust, attraction and attachment – and that love can start with any one of these three feelings.

Lust
Lust is sexual attraction, the need for sexual gratification. The sex drive, or libido, evolved as the primary means of getting out there with as many partners as possible. We are, like all living things, designed and driven to procreate. This is probably the most common system we start with. Admit it, a guy probably strikes up a conversation with a girl because she looks cute or hot and he wants to get in her pants, not because he wants to take care of her (Attraction) or because he had a deep feeling of union with her (Attachment). This is what pickup lines are designed to do: initiate contact with the ultimate goal of hooking up. I’m not saying lust is bad; it’s just arguably the most common way relationships are started, regardless of whether or not the pair actually hooked up.

This also works the same way for girls too, okay!

Attraction
Romantic attraction is the intense craving of a person and it probably evolved to consolidate and focus one’s time and energy on one partner at a time. When you’re attracted, the object of your attraction begins to take on special meaning and you focus entirely on him or her. This is where the “love is blind” saying comes from; when you’re so obsessed with someone you tend to ignore or disregard their flaws. Attraction takes time to develop. Perhaps if you’ve grown up with the person, you’re more likely to feel attraction than lust, although they’re not mutually exclusive!

Attachment
The feeling of attachment is a deep sense of union with another person. This system evolved to allow us to bond and rear young together as a team. It’s a pretty good arrangement and makes sense; working together makes it easier to raise a child. This kind of love might develop between colleagues, perhaps they have a really synergistic partnership, but neither person lusted after or was attracted to the other until their strong partnership developed.

If these three core systems are out of sync, then one could potentially lust after one person, be obsessed with another, and have deep feelings of union with a third.

It looks like love isn’t just less than three (<3) after all.

-Jace

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