Uncovering relationship myths

Graphic by Allison Struck.

Graphic by Allison Struck.

Kirsten Bowers

Clichés about love and relationships are seen and heard everywhere on Valentine’s Day. Some of these statements have become accepted truths, while others are only myths that have been passed down through generations. A closer look at these phrases uncovers some unexpected truths – and lies – about the romantic mottos that are unavoidable every Feb. 14.

“Love at First Sight”

Dictionary.com defines the phrase, “love at first sight” as “an instantaneous attraction to someone or something.”

The phrase can be traced back as far as the late 1300s. Poet Geoffrey Chaucer used a version of the phrase in his poem, “Troilus and Criseyde,” which tells the tale of two lovers who meet a tragic fate during wartime.

Shannon Claxton, a psychology grad appointee, specializes in experimental social psychology and research on romantic and sexual relationships. She said there is no proof that love at first sight exists.

“Research would say that there’s definitely lust at first sight,” Claxton said. “We are definitely attracted to people upon meeting them, but in terms of it actually being love, that’s certainly questionable.”

Claxton said part of love is commitment and intimacy, and when people first meet, these key elements are missing. She said what people feel during a first encounter could be a type of love, such as passion, which focuses on sexual desire. But it lacks what people look for in terms of relationships, at least right away.

“You can certainly begin to develop feelings for someone and feel passion for them upon meeting them, especially if they happen to be an attractive individual that you’re attracted to,” Claxton said.

Emily Mangano, sophomore fashion merchandising major, said she believes in love at first sight but realizes that it’s not technically love.

“[Love at first sight] is not love, but attraction at first sight,” Mangano said. “It means you want to get to know them.”

Other students, such as Natalie Medaglia, freshman integrated language arts major, said this doesn’t only apply to romantic love.

“You can tell when you feel a connection with someone,” Medaglia said. “Even if it’s just friendship love.”

“Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder”

This phrase is based on the idea that a lack of something increases the desire for it. It can be traced back to literature from the early 1800s, according to Phrases.org.uk.

“My guess is to what’s behind [‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’] is when you’re away from something, you kind of long for it,” Claxton said. “If something’s gone, you notice and you start to miss it.”

Claxton said it is possible for couples to have long-distance relationships, but spending long periods of time apart can hurt the relationship.

“In some cases, it’s true,” Claxton said. “It’s important for couples to spend time apart, but in terms of actually being separated for long periods of time, that’s not always good for a relationship.”

There was a study that looked into long distance relationships and couples who were separated for a long period of time, Claxton said. The results showed that one-fifth of the relationships ended. She said another one-fifth of the couples said although they didn’t break up, the separation had a negative effect on the relationship.

Claxton said that this doesn’t mean these types of relationships can’t work.

“That does mean three-fifths of the couples, their relationship wasn’t necessarily hurt by being separated,” Claxton said. “It’s just that [separation] is not necessarily a helpful thing, as that myth suggests.”

“I Only Have Eyes for You”

This idiom is often used to show loyalty to another person. The idea is that when two people are in a relationship, they don’t feel the need to look for companionship – or intimacy – elsewhere.

Claxton said people in relationships tend to take this phrase to heart.

“If we’re in good, satisfying relationships, we do tend to ignore other options, so to speak,” Claxton said. “It’s the idea that when you’re with someone and truly do care about them, you kind of don’t notice the other [people].”

She said people do this unconsciously by not thinking about other potential partners and consciously by making sure they don’t check others out.

“Women are More Romantic than Men”

Several students said they thought women were more invested in their relationships than men, but Claxton said this isn’t the case.

“Men actually tend to score higher on scales of romantic love [than women],” Claxton said. “And they also fall more quickly into love than women do.”

She also said men are more likely to believe there is one true love out there for them.

“This doesn’t necessarily mean that [men] are more romantic in the sense of candlelight and that kind of stuff,” Claxton said. “It just means in the sense of that type of love, or those types of beliefs about love.”

Claxton said there is overlap between men and women in relationships. She said both men and women value honesty, communication and a partner who is kind.

They both also value meaningful relationships, but men are more willing and likely to become involved in casual-sex relationships.

Claxton said men and women also differ in what they look for in a partner.

“Men tend to put attractiveness a little bit higher on their list of important characteristics, and women tend to put things like wealth [on the top of their list],” Claxton said. “Women prioritize those provider characteristics, and men do tend to prioritize youth and attractiveness.”

Kissing with Eyes Open

Some students said they heard they could go cross-eyed from kissing with their eyes open. Others said that if someone had their eyes open while kissing, it meant they didn’t feel as close of a connection to the other person.

Overall, though, most students said they just found it weird or awkward to not close their eyes while kissing.

“It’s creepy,” said Rachel Stine, sophomore exploratory major. “It’s an intimate moment, and to have someone staring, it creeps me out.”

Other students, such as Jeffrey Mortensen, freshman middle childhood education major, admit to kissing with their eyes open.

“I do it sometimes, and it freaks [my girlfriend] out,” Mortensen said. “I like to creep her out.”

Natalie Medaglia, Mortensen’s girlfriend of three years, said she sometimes opens her eyes when the two kiss because she finds it funny, but she admits it can be strange.

“It’s awkward if you have your eyes open, and then they open their eyes,” Medaglia said. “It’s weird.”

In Sheril Kirshenbaum’s book, “The Science of Kissing,” she suggests that people kiss with their eyes closed because their pupils dilate when they look at something attractive.

“During a passionate kiss, our blood vessels dilate and we receive more oxygen than normal to the brain,” she wrote. “Our breathing can become irregular and deepen; our cheeks flush, our pulse quickens, and our pupils dilate.”

Biochemical Reactions

Some people claim to have reactions when they come into contact with someone they love, such as getting weak in the knees, feeling like their heart skips a beat or getting butterflies in their stomach.

Claxton said all of these are types of biochemical reactions that occur within a person’s body when they come across someone they are in love with or attracted to.

Emily Ross, sophomore visual communication design major, said she experienced the feeling of butterflies in her stomach when she first saw her now boyfriend of nearly two years.

“We met online,” Ross said. “When we Skyped for the first time, I got butterflies from the excitement.”

The sensation of butterflies in the stomach is actually the body’s fight-or-flight response. According to an article on Greatist.com by Kristine Lockwood, the body increases alertness by raising heart rate and blood pressure, and the nervous system causes a rush of adrenaline. This can cause muscle tension in the stomach, and because stomach muscles are sensitive, the result is a “fluttering” sensation.

Claxton said this is why it is important for couples to try new things together to stimulate the “butterflies” they felt at the beginning of the relationship.

“There are changes that occur across the span of a relationship,” Claxton said. “Commitment increases over time, but passion tends to decrease over time — not to say passion entirely leaves, or it’s not important in longer term relationship, but the excitement does fade over time.”

“Time Mends a Broken Heart”

When relationships end, it is a common belief that the best way to get over a breakup is simply giving it time. Claxton said people feel worse right after the relationship has ended, but over time the negative feelings fade.

“I know it’s cliché to say, ‘time mends a broken heart,’” Claxton said. “But there is evidence that after a while, we do move on.”

Claxton said some people base their expectations of different relationships on characters in movies and television shows. The idea of a “soul mate” is common in popular media, but she said the belief in this idea is a matter of personal opinion.

“Media does affect relationships in some ways. It’s important to remember that movies portray relationships, generally speaking, in a fairly unattainable way,” Claxton said. “All relationships have positives and negatives.”

Contact Kirsten Bowers at [email protected].