The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Column: Exploring the nuances of love and attachment in relationships

Madden Conway

A year ago, I was in an unhealthy relationship that became even more complicated by a tragic accident that altered the course of my significant other’s life forever. The relationship was over before the accident, but this event made me hold onto feelings or ideas based on a false perception of what I thought was love. What I initially perceived as love soon transformed into an unhealthy fixation on glamorized memories from the past.

Now, when I hear the word love, my initial reaction is to shut down, dismiss that person’s feelings and avoid any conversations about commitment. Looking back on my interactions with partners over the last year, I’ve spent much time questioning how we know whether feelings stem from love or attachment?

Everyone searches for love. It is chemically hard-wired into our psyche to want and yearn for love from another person. But how do we know what love is or how it feels? As college students, many of us are too young to know what love is, let alone how to recognize it. 

The American Psychological Association (APA) describes love as a complex emotion that evokes deep feelings of fondness for another person, happiness in their presence, commitment to the other’s well-being and awareness of how words or actions affect them. 

According to PsychCentral, love involves fond feelings and actions toward another person, but attachment is driven by how you feel about yourself. Relationships based on attachment usually develop from the degree of safety your partner gives you and are influenced by experiences from your past relationships. With attachment, PsychCentral says your significant other could be replaceable and attention is only given when they satisfy your needs. With love, your partner is the only person you have feelings for. 

Relationships have never been my strong suit. I’ve always been jealous of my friends, who constantly seem to know what they want and can maintain a relationship with their partner for longer than six months. 

While my track record with relationships isn’t optimistic, I’ve had many people come in and out of my life during the last three years, causing me to question whether the feelings I’m experiencing stem from love or attachment. 

Still, doesn’t the fact that I’m asking this question solidify the reality that I’ve never known what love is? Many associate love with this idea that one day you’ll just know. But what does that even mean?

When asking these questions, I’ve learned there are many forms of love and each person experiences it differently. However, an overarching theme I’ve realized is that love is not a safety net. Its purpose is to truly challenge you, intentionally frustrate you and simultaneously genuinely excite you. If you are with a partner where it seems like you are constantly fighting an uphill battle, they may not be the right person for you.

One way to know whether you are just attached or really care about another person is to recognize the driving factors behind your perceived feelings. Research indicates that relationships based on a foundation of love often involve the desire to mutually support and give to see your partner happy. You don’t love someone because they meet your needs or because of what they can do or provide. You love them despite those things. 

In contrast, attachment relationships tend to develop when you are trying to fill a void, whether this be a desire for intimacy, companionship, validation or loneliness. When you meet someone who fulfills those needs, it is easy to develop a strong attachment to them that may result in feelings that closely resemble what people describe as “love.” 

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to fill a void this past year, and moving forward is no easy feat after a complicated relationship. Still, I hope to leave the past behind and learn to recognize when feelings are based on genuine emotion or attachment. 

Recently, I heard the saying, “the safe choice is usually the wrong choice” when it comes to love. In matters of love, it can be tempting to seek out what feels familiar and safe, possibly because of the fear of uncertainty or heartbreak, but genuine connection requires us to venture beyond our comfort zone to find the most meaningful experiences life has to offer.

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