The Chemistry of Love

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The Chemistry of Love
What's behind love's highs and lows? Chemistry, the author finds.

With my entire married life looming ahead of me, I strive to avoid that revolving door, to break my familial cycle of divorce, and to commit, with all my might, to the promises I made at the altar. So I tend to listen especially hard to anyone who has a successful marriage. Susan and Rich Novie, who live in New Jersey, are nuptial superstars. They have been married for 40 years, and they still like each other. A lot. Susan attributes their healthy relationship to a number of factors: flexibility, a strong sense of humor, and a willingness to do things both together and apart. But ultimately, she says, it's about a commitment to sharing a life with someone. "We look at marriage like a team," she explains. "You go out there and face the world together. You fight battles, winning some and losing some. But through it all you never split up the team." At 60 and 61 respectively, Susan and Rich don't feel the zing of young love. But their romance continues to grow as they transition into the later stages of their lives. "It's more like a comfortable love," Susan explains. "Sometimes you'll get a mini-tingle. But this love is more like a familiar easy chair. It feels good. You sit on it and you know what you've got."

In a long-term relationship like the Novies', Fisher explains, "romantic love comes and goes, but the predominant feeling that remains is one of deep attachment. Romance may be rekindled when the couple does something novel together, like go on vacation." Pat Love attributes a successful marriage to the commitment both parties make not only "to the relationship, but also to the institution of marriage." And though sexual attraction may seem to play no part in a very long-term relationship, some believe it’s always there. "The lust state becomes more a quality of being than an intense figure in the relationship," says Michael Eigen, a psychologist and author of Lust. "There's a world of romantic experience that opens up with just being with another person."

Today, as I rest somewhere between the dopamine-infused excitement of new romance and the familiar easy chair of a mature relationship, I remind myself that one stage is not better than the other. Sure, I sometimes miss the fierce pulse of our courtship (although Paul and I still pop a button now and again). But I wouldn't trade the comfortable current of support that flows within our two-person family. I wouldn’t give up the satisfaction of truly knowing someone and of being known myself. And I wouldn't let go of the big plans we have for our future. "We know how to court, how to get married, how to be newlyweds," says Love. "But the next step is learning how to be a couple when you’re not experiencing the thrill of the chase. Couples that have been together a long time will tell you that infatuation pales in comparison to long-term love."

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