The Look (and Smell) of Love
By David Servan-Schreiber, Ode Magazine
Michael is a well-known New York psychotherapist. He’s 45 and recently divorced. Since he’s a therapist and understands the importance of positive thinking, he describes himself as “in between relationships.” A rational man but a romantic at heart, Michael is keen to fall in love again. I asked him what he’s learned about the stormy relationships between men and women that will help him find someone new. Why do we fall in love?
“It’s very simple,” Michael explained. “There are three signs that can tell you if someone you like from a distance could turn out to be the love you’re looking for. Of course, there’s no guarantee you’ll spend the rest of your lives together, but these signs will give you an indication of whether there’s even potential for a loving and passionate relationship.”
I had no idea that we could be so certain of anything concerning matters of the heart, but I have a lot of respect for Michael as a therapist and for his knowledge of human nature, so I heard him out. “First of all,” he said, “you mustn’t kid yourself about how attractive you find this person. Of course, attraction is not the same thing as love, but it’s definitely a good start. So ask yourself, ‘Do you really find this person attractive?’—without cheating. Second, do you love the way her skin feels, the taste of his body and, most of all, her smell? It’s essential that you do, because it will never change. You can fool yourself about your physical reaction to someone’s smell if you’re just sleeping together. But to fall in love, you must be hooked on it.”
I remember research that showed moths of a certain species stay with one partner for life. Their sense of smell is so powerful that they can detect a mate’s aroma at a distance roughly equivalent to that between New York and Boston. If we retain anything in the human brain that’s even close to that kind of olfactory sensitivity, I’m prepared to believe we shouldn’t ignore the importance of our loved one’s smell.
Third is the quality of communication, Michael went on. “It’s emotional communication that counts. For us primates, emotional fulfilment comes from intimate physical contact. Monkeys express mutual interest and intimacy by picking fleas from each other’s coats. This same impulse is expressed differently but is just as important for humans. When you meet a potential partner, there are two things you need to look for. Do they ask questions about you? And, when you answer, do they listen to what you say? Do you get the sense that they really want to understand you?”
I’d like to believe this last point is really the key to love. But I think Michael is probably right: We shouldn’t ignore our more basic animal instincts.