The fantasy of ‘the one’ is dead, so how many great loves can we have?
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The fantasy of ‘the one’ is dead, so how many great loves can we have?

In a quip on her Will & Grace 2004 cameo, Jennifer Lopez – who has been engaged five times and married three – congratulates a newlywed couple by saying: “And just remember, the secret to a happy marriage is – oh, who am I kidding?”

J. Lo’s self-deprecation isn’t the only revealing truth here; her attitude towards love is also reflective of a new generation. Fantasising over finding “the one” has fallen out of fashion. When people commit these days, many do so knowing this may not be the last time.

When people commit these days, many do so knowing this may not be the last time.

When people commit these days, many do so knowing this may not be the last time.Credit:Illustration: Dionne Gain

But is there a limit to the number of times we can cope with the sheer intensity of falling deeply in love with someone and the heartbreak when it ends? Or can we – authentically – keep falling in love, ad infinitum?

The answer, according to relationship experts, is that it heavily depends on how love was shown to you in your childhood. This is when you form your attachment style to your primary caregiver, which in turn influences the quantity and quality of romantic relationships throughout your life.

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Associate Professor Gery Karantzas, director of Deakin University’s Science of Adult Relationships Laboratory, says there are between four and six attachment styles but they can be broadly condensed to three: anxious, avoidant and secure. (You can take online tests to discover your attachment style and how it informs your relationship choices.)

“This’ll largely dictate how much time until you love again and the extent to which you’ll love again,” Karantzas says. He adds that it takes, on average, at least six months to process any loss, whether death or heartache.

Encouragingly, Karantzas says 60-65 per cent of people are in the “secure” camp, meaning they healthily balance autonomy and intimacy in their relationships.

Karantzas explains that those with an anxious attachment style are needier and have lower self-esteem. They need the validation they believe relationships give them and, fearful of solitude, are more likely to jump quickly into new relationships after one fails. They’re the least likely to put any caps on the number of times they fall in love: they’re probably no strangers to heartbreak and unrequited love.

The opposite to this are those who fall in the avoidant attachment style categories (these exist on a continuum). They like the excitement of falling in love, but not the commitment. They’re likely to limit the number of times they allow themselves to fall in love.

New York-based Professor of Psychology Arthur Aron knows a thing or 36 about love. He wrote the viral 36 questions to fall in love and stresses that these were to accelerate intimacy between any two people, not just new lovers. “You can fall intensely in love with someone of the wrong gender and just not want sex with them,” he says. It’s somewhere between platonic and romantic love, and happens throughout your life, from childhood. In that sense, he says, there’s no limit to how many people you can feel intensely close to. But beware: love is addictive.

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“It activates the same brain areas as cocaine,” he says. “It’s hard wired-in us ... being intensely in romantic love takes so much attention, it can be hard to keep your life going, let alone have other relationships simultaneously.”

The research psychologist recommends taking breaks from love, with enough time to properly heal and rediscover what you actually want.

Relationships coach Beck Thompson sometimes dissuades clients from dating if they’re doing so for the wrong reasons: “Fear of loneliness or a cycle of jumping into relationships so they mould into the other person and don’t know who they really are.”

The first thing she dispels for female clients are the Hollywood romance myths: “That dream person doesn’t exist. One human cannot give you everything you need. It’s an unrealistic expectation for your partner to also be your best friend.”

Those who cap the times they fall in love remind her of people who swear they’re never drinking again after a bad hangover. “It rarely happens,” she says.

One group bucks that trend, though: older women: “Widows often realise they don’t want anyone disturbing their routine or newfound freedoms. They decide the second half of life is for them,” Thompson says.

The one thing worth remembering for those who’ve sworn off love, though, is the verb. It’s something you fall into – and falling is by accident rather than design.

Despite living in an age of divorce, promiscuity and even growing polyamory, Aron believes many still harbour a desire for “the one”: “People really would like to have one relationship that lasts. Especially if they have children.”

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