Do you like to observe crowds, to people-watch?
Not crowds, but people. Crowds – you don’t get to see much. But let’s say sitting in a restaurant and observing other people and how they interact. I actually love doing that. (Laughs.) How’d you know?
What’s fun about it?
Partly it’s showing off. If I’m having dinner with my wife – she can get annoyed with this sometimes, come to think of it – I like using my intuition or skills to describe what’s going on, and even predicting the next thing that’s going to happen.
From your book, you seem just as interested in animal behavior.
I have a dog, a beagle, who I’m totally in love with. They are such remarkable animals. Sometimes I think they know just how to get into the right position that would make you say, Oh my god, how adorable. Like they’re purposely putting it on.
The other reason is that a lot of research that can’t be done on humans can be done on animals, and some of it is clearly relevant to humans.
What’s something important we’ve learned from observing animals?
Probably the most well-known experiment in the history of psychology, the [Harry] Harlow study on what he called “the nature of love,” with the monkey’s “mothers” made of terrycloth and of wire, had an amazing impact. It had an enormous impact on [John] Bowlby, the father of attachment theory.
Because what Harlow found, dramatically, was: the monkey doesn’t get attached to the wire mother who provides the milk; it gets attached to the mother who provides what Harlow called “contact comfort.”
What is love?
Boy oh boy, I didn’t expect that.
How about romantic love? (Sorry, you seem like the person to ask.)
Well, romantic love, which has a strong sexual component for most people and often takes the form of sexual passion, generally is most present at the beginning of a relationship. If people are lucky, elements of it remain throughout a long-term relationship.
I think many people have grown up on the Hollywood illusion that the passion is going to remain and sustain the relationship. It’s interesting that the movie usually ends when they walk off into the sunset.
What’s missing from that picture?
If we’re going to get beyond the Hollywood version of love, I would say that a necessary component is the attachment bond, which is a long-term bond.
Now, what do I mean by attachment? Caring for the other person, being able to experience them as an individual with his or her own needs, perspectives, desires; and where all those aspects of the individual become virtually as important as one’s own desires, perspectives and needs. That’s often not the case in sexual passion.
Do you think it happens much?
I think it happens to varying degrees. People are more or less successful in achieving that. But implicit in what I’m saying is that it can’t be taken for granted. It’s a developmental challenge.
What does attachment theory say about long-term relationships?
Some attachment theorists have suggested that the model for a long-term relationship is really the child-mother relationship, rather than the sexual system. The way someone has put it is that the sexual system is the tether that gets people together and the attachment system is what keeps them together, and I think that makes a lot of sense.
Who gets to be the child?
In well-functioning adult relationships, both partners serve as attachment figures for the other, and in good relationships, there’s a flexibility about who’s the attachment figure at any given time. So let’s say one partner is in crisis, then the other steps up and becomes the soothing, comforting, supportive attachment figure, but at other times it shifts.
Tell me, in those restaurants, do you watch couples? Kids?
Both. I must say I glow when I see an interaction between parents and children where everyone’s having a good time and the kids are well behaved, but not inhibited. When parents clearly appreciate their children, I mean, you can almost feel the caring and the love oozing from them, and you can see the impact on the kids, the spontaneity. Really, it’s inspirational – like there’s hope for all of us.