Peripeteia Hosts Discussion on Love, Romance, and Attraction

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Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

On Tuesday, Peripeteia hosted a Prelude Series discussion on Love, Romance and Attraction. Professor Vince Formica from the Biology Department, Professor Farha Ghannam from the Anthropology Department and Professor Andrew Ward from the Psychology Department served as panelists.

Peripeteia, which means “turning point,” is focused on providing forums for learning for learning’s sake and interdisciplinary discussions outside of the classroom. The Prelude monthly discussions are meant to spark discussion among the community. Peripeteia co-founder, Victor Gomes ’17, said, “We hope that each Prelude serves as a starting point (or mid-point) for discussions amongst individual members of the community as well as the community as a whole.”

The discussion about Love, Romance and Attraction began with a brief introduction from each panelist about their reflections on the subject.

Professor Formica, who studies insect sex and behavior, began with a biological point of view. “When it comes to attraction and sex, life is really strange,” Formica began. “Organisms are really really bizarre and surprising, sometimes a little dark and terrifying, but organisms in general are wondrous and bizarre in really diverse ways that are beyond many of our imaginations.”

Formica gave two examples of the diversity of attraction and sex in biology. The first was an example of a species of female lizards that mate with other females and then lay eggs that are exact clones of themselves. The second was the example of a male and female angler fish fusing together, eventually becoming one. “Life is really diverse, and just because we do it one way, doesn’t mean that everybody does it one way, or the same way,” Formica said.

After discussing the biological diversity of attraction, Formica spoke more about attraction in humans. “Some of what you feel is biological, not all of it,” Formica continued. “What I’m not saying is that who you marry is controlled by your genes, or who you love is controlled by genes. Biology is not predeterminism at all, it’s just an influence on this complex thing we call love or romance.”

Professor Ghannam spoke next, and focused on the way love, romance and attraction are related to culture and class. Ghannam began by questioning some of the ways we think about love, romance and attraction in popular culture. Do men and women really love differently? Is love a driving force like hunger? “What is the link that we create between these three words?” Ghannam asked.

Ghannam discussed love from a more global perspective. “It’s not to say that other people don’t love,” said Ghannam. “I’m just saying this privileging of this happiness, that bond that you cultivate with a particular soulmate, is very particular [to the West].”

Ghannam then spoke about arranged marriages in other cultures. “It is shocking to some people that sexual encounters could proceed love,” she said. “Love is universal. Romance and the link between them are not always the same.” While those in the United States have a very particular view of romance and courtship, Ghannam stressed that romance varies across cultures.

Following Professor Ghannam, Professor Ward spoke about love, romance and attraction from a psychologist’s point of view. Ward explained some themes about attraction: “When initially meeting someone, physical attributes do matter.” Ward also noted that opposites do not attract and that humans tend to pair with others who are in their geographic proximity.

Ward then spoke about romance and some of the scientific findings pertaining to it. Ward described  an initial passionate phase in a romantic relationship which usually lasts about a year (during which your neurotransmitters mirror what they look like when you are eating chocolate). After a year, couples move away from this passionate phase and into a more companionate love.

Ward then gave the audience some advice about falling in love, which mirrored an experiment he had described. The experiment placed some people in a potentially dangerous situation (a precarious bridge) when they encountered an attractive woman, while others were in a safer environment. Ward recommended declaring your love to someone in a potentially dangerous situation so that they will misattribute their feelings of fear and/or arousal onto you. Ward ended by declaring “love is, after all, “undifferentiated arousal in the presence of an appropriate other.”

In the final portion of the event, the discussion opened to audience members to express their questions or comments. Questions ranged from exploring the boundaries that you cannot cross in love and romance, the truth of whether we are, in fact, attracted to people similar to us, whether or not sex is necessary for romance, and the validity of the 36 Questions that make people fall in love.

The event combined different disciplines in a way that encouraged all three panelists to continue to pursue interdisciplinary conversations in the future.

“Afterwards, I suggested to Farha that we teach a course together, given the clear overlap between psychology and anthropology that was evident during the event,” said Ward. “I thought the participants in the audience raised some very interesting issues, and I like that, even though we come from different disciplines, there was a lot of consensus among the panel members.”

Formica expressed his hope that the discussion continues outside of the classroom. “The discussion certainly helped me think more about the topics in a more interdisciplinary way,” Formica said. “Talking with faculty and students from other departments is truly insightful and enjoyable. Discussions like these help orient me find new ways of thinking and discussing these topics. […] I hope panel discussions like last night encourage students to talk to the faculty about what they are learning in their other classes and help us to make those connections.”

The monthly Prelude series will continue throughout the semester. The next discussion will likely be in late-March and will focus on the question: are we in a new golden age of television?

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