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Some love requires a dog

Do you remember reading an article titled, “What Happens When Love and Science Double Date?” I don’t think there were definitive findings, but I was surprised to note there was a lot of formal research being done around finding and sustaining love.

As illustration, a Penn State University study found that when it comes to loving feelings, “small gestures between people resonate the most.” Researchers surveyed 495 adults, asking whether 60 hypothetical scenarios accurately described an individual who felt loved by another — whether pet or romantic partner.” The findings were that “small nonverbal behaviors ware particularly important — nonromantic simple actions.”

Careful readers will note the above reference to “pets” as “loving” partners. I have my own example. I find when I reach down and stroke the fur of our snoring spaniel, massage her ears, rub her tummy, I feel better. In fact, I think I become a nicer person for a little while. I am more patient with my husband, More attentive. More loving. There is no science behind that observation, but I intend to replicate the approach and see where it takes me.

The Penn State findings focused on “small nonverbal behaviors.” That seems fairly straightforward, but then I remind myself that until recently a welcoming smile has been masked. Hand-shaking is beginning to be practiced again, but I do not see a lot of it. Hand-holding may hinge on whether the hand you reach out for is well-washed and attached to a body that has been vaccinated. Distance rather than connection rules.

Researchers in this area (or perhaps they were just professional people looking for love) posed this question to a group of 4- to 8-year-olds: “What does love mean?” For the moment, consider these descriptions. They are not scientific, but they resonate with me. “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.”

Or this description, “Love is what makes you smile when you're tired.” You may have asked a small child this question and have you own example. Cherish it.

The classic work on feeling loved might be “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts,” by Gary Chapman. Well, perhaps this work isn’t “classic,” but it is frequently referenced, and the ideas offered are hard to dispute.

Chapman promotes the importance of “words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch.” Five separate arenas of loving outreach we all need but in different proportion. If you are familiar with his publications, you know there is a test you can take, and if you have over the years taken and retaken that little quiz, as I have, you know that your preferences change.

I have written about love before. “Old love” I have come to know intimately in the last few years. It can be a more difficult kind of love, but it is also more endearing — it requires more patience. And a dog — in my case it requires a dog.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at sharjohn99@gmail.com.