We’ve been asking a lot of experts about love, and one thing we wondered was whether it’s possible to be in love with two people at once.
A lot of people who write pop tunes seem to think this can be a problem. But researchers we talked to aren’t so sure. Anthropologist Helen Fisher says people have three mating drives: lust, romantic love, and long-term attachment. You can love one person and still lust for another, she says, but you can’t feel romantic love for two people at the same time.
“Intense romantic love is very powerful,” she says.
A person in its grips thinks the beloved is uniquely wonderful, uniquely worthy. William Jankowiak, an anthropologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, agrees that love and lust are not the same.
“You can have sex with multiple people,” he says, “but there’s a desire to have an intimate bond with one and only one.”
Jankowiak argues that human beings are not sexually monogamous but are emotionally monogamous. He says you can’t be in love with two people at the same time, at least not in the same way. Jankowiak has studied polygynous cultures, and he says that even in societies where a man is supposed to love all of his wives equally, he “found they could not pull it off.” The husband always secretly has one favorite wife, the wife he’s really in love with. Jankowiak refers to this as “illicit monogamy.”
Here’s Jankowiak offering a lecture about love that echoes Helen Fisher’s ideas about the three types of love.