▶ Watch Video: The truth about true love

In 2004, National Geographic photographer Jodi Cobb set off on any reporter’s dream assignment: go find love and capture it on camera. 

“Scientists say that there are three stages of love – lust, romantic obsession, and long-term attachment,” said Cobb.

She started with lust (who wouldn’t?), and that took her (where else?) to spring break in Cancun.

Correspondent Susan Spencer asked, “Did these people know you were coming?”

“I was really out of place on the beach, I have to say<‘ Cobb replied. “I was overdressed!”

“You were dressed!” Spencer laughed.

“I know, I had clothes on!”

Stage two: romantic obsession, or attraction, required a trip across the ocean, to Italy! “You’re obsessed. It just takes over your whole life,” said Cobb. “It’s a state of need. You can’t eat. You can’t sleep. You can’t think straight.”

Her photographs from the streets of Rome and Florence certainly make her point. “Can you imagine a world with everyone in that state of romantic obsession? We wouldn’t have roads. We wouldn’t have bridges. We wouldn’t have a vaccine,” said Cobb.

“No, we’d be sitting around looking at each other,” said Spencer.

“Right. We’d all be nuts!”

Love, on the streets of Italy.

Jodi Cobb/National Geographic

Which is why, with any luck, romantic obsession becomes attachment.

Cobb found a couple in Ohio that was certainly attached, with 20 children, 75 grandchildren, and 132 great-grandchildren.

Spencer asked, “So, did you come away from this feeling like true love really does exist?”

“Of course, it does!” Cobb laughed. “It’s a universal emotion. It’s the strongest emotion we’ll ever feel.”

So, maybe it’s not surprising that, according to a CBS News poll, 86% of Americans agree that true love is real. And even more encouraging, two out of three say they know this because they have experienced it. 

Tia Williams has written the book of love, more than once. She’s a bestselling romance novelist.

Spencer asked, her, “How would you define true love?”

“I think it’s soul recognition, like, you see each other deeply,” Williams replied. “The person becomes a part of you, like your arm, like your nose. You are considering them with every move that you make.

“Part of writing romances is, you know, trying to solve the unsolvable. What brings people together? What makes people stay together?”

But don’t necessarily expect to find real-life answers on the printed page. 

Williams said, “No one shows in a romance novel the work that it takes to sustain it over a long period of time.”

“Well, why don’t you do that?” asked Spencer.

“Because it’s boring!” she laughed. “Who would read that? Like, the day-in and day-out of who’s getting the toilet paper? You know, ‘I’m at the gas station. Do you want anything?’ You know, it’s a fantasy. And especially now in these weird times, everyone wants an escape.”

Screenwriter John Patrick Shanley’s story of a somewhat quirky love won him an Oscar for the 1987 romantic comedy, “Moonstruck.”

Ronny (Nicolas Cage): “I’m in love with you.”
Loretta (Cher) slaps him, TWICE!: “Snap out of it!”

Spencer asked Shanley, “How does what we see in movies compare to what we see in real life?”

“Life takes too long,” he said. “Movies, especially romantic comedies, [are] usually about an hour-and-a-half.”

Shanley said at first he wasn’t sure about pairing Cher with a much younger Nicolas Cage. But love works in mysterious ways: “When I saw the screen test, it was incontrovertible. They were born to do this.”

Spencer asked, “But what tells you that?”

“The way their eyes light up when they see the other person, with hunger, aggression and desire. When somebody looks at you with naked excitement that you’re alive, that you exist, and that they can talk to you, you’re halfway home!”

Ronny: “We are here to ruin ourselves, and to break our hearts, and love the wrong people, and die.”

“If you actually are deeply enamored of another person and you want something from them, try the truth,” Shanley said. “We do die. It wakes them up to, ‘Oh my God, it’s happening. Time is running through my fingers and I’ll never get it back. I should do this thing. Tomorrow may never come. I could be hit by a mail truck. Let’s go!'”

Spencer asked, “Which do you think is harder? The falling in love part, or the staying in love part?”

“Falling in love is sort of outside your purview. It happens to you,” he replied. “Maintaining a loving relationship with another person, I’m always hearing that it’s a lot of work.”

“You don’t believe that?” 

“I’m alone!” he laughed. “Maybe I’m a little lazy in the work ethic area! [But] to describe it primarily as a lot of work seems to me to be excessive.”

But, if a little work appeals to you, psychologist Arthur Aron is your guy. A research professor at Stony Brook University, he said his steps for keeping love alive are proven to be effective.

For starters, try doing novel and exciting things together: “If you’ve never gone to an opera, go to an opera! If you’ve never kayaked on a river, you know, kayak on a river! See, the idea is that when you’re initially with someone there’s so much excitement in forming the relationship, in connecting with this other person, but you get used to them. But if you do something new and challenging with your partner it’s associated with the partner and the relationship. And so, it helps rekindle it.”

Spencer asked, “And you, as a scientist, absolutely believe in true love?”

“Yes,” said Aron. “In fact, that’s what made me start studying it. I fell in love. And in fact, the person I fell in love with became my long-term collaborator, and in fact my wife.”

And they’ve been married for 47 years!  

Drs. Arthur and Elaine Aron must be doing something right – they’ve been married for 47 years. 

CBS News

As for our other love experts, Tia Williams said, “I was single for a really, really long time, and was sort of getting into it.”

But then?  “But then, I got on the dating apps,” she laughed. “And I see this beautiful man. And then we went on a date, and it was magic. And then the date just never ended.”

Tia Williams went on a date that never ended. 

Family Photo

Spencer asked Jodi Cobb, “Do you believe in true love?”

“Well, I don’t think love cares if I believe in it or not,” she laughed. “Like gravity, like climate change. It just is.”

Spencer asked John Patrick Shanley, “Have you found true love in your life?”

“More than once,” he laughed. “Some people have loved me, and I have loved them. And it’s been a wonderful part of my life, an important part of my life.”

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Story produced by Amiel Weisfogel. Editor: Carol Ross.