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The Science of Love

February 11, 2022
Alumni couple engaged in a large city
Gabriella Citakian '17 and Thomas Sweezy '17

When it comes to love, York College is often the place where students find their “one.” But what is it that attracts us to one another? What is the science behind love? We talked with alumni couples and a faculty member from our Psychology Department to shed some light on the topic.

Many of YCP’s alumni have found love during their time on campus. This Valentine’s Day, we explore the science behind love and intimate relationships. We talked to a married Psychology alumni couple, Kevin ’07 and Lindsay (Brillhart) Byrnes ’08, an engaged Psychology alumni couple, Thomas Sweezy ’17 and Gabriella Citakian ’17, and Associate Professor of Psychology, Randi Shedlosky-Shoemaker.

The psychology of intimate relationships

Dr. Shedlosky-Shoemaker teaches a course on the psychology of intimate relationships. She says that while students take classes to learn new skills, ideas, and knowledge, “they can also find opportunities for growth and self-development through their intimate relationships.” She says that some research has found intimate relationships to be a source of self-expansion, “in that we can internalize the perspectives and experiences of our relationship partners as our own, learning vicariously from their lived experiences.” And, we find those kinds of relationships more satisfying.

Can you share the story of how you met?An alumni couple taking a selfie

Lindsay Byrnes: “After a semester of being bumped by Kevin's backpack every day as he arrived late to Essential Skills and Tools, I really didn't have much interest in Kevin. We got to know each other the following semester when I asked him if he had finished a paper that was due the next day, and he hadn't even started it yet! We talked in the computer lab for a few weeks, and Kevin invited me over for dinner. I was impressed that he was such a good cook, and he walked me to my night class and brought me chocolate when it was finished. He was such a thoughtful guy.”

Thomas Sweezy: Thomas and Gabriella had sisters who were friends. Their sisters found out that Thomas and Gabriella were about to go to York College and connected the two. Thomas and Gabriella kept in touch by texting each other up to their first day on campus. “During move-in day I can remember balancing getting my room together and keeping an eye on my cellphone waiting for a text from Gabby. I was waiting for her to say she arrived and I could go meet her. Later that night there was a movie being shown on the front lawn. I am notoriously bad with charging my phone and in a panic ran from the lawn to Codorus Hall to charge my phone and invite her to the movie.”

What about each other do you love?

Lindsay Byrnes: “I love Kevin’s outgoing and social nature. He’s a wonderful friend, husband, and father. He really cares about people.”

Kevin Byrnes: “Lindsay’s calm, patient, and kind temperament has been the rock of stability in my life and brings me joy and happiness.”

Gabriella Citakian: “What I love about Tom is his kind heart, accepting me for who I am and never judging, staying true to himself when his environment could have changed him negatively, how funny he is, how smart (annoyingly smart at times) he is, and his love for me. He truly loves me and always expresses that.”

Thomas Sweezy: “I love Gabby’s sense of humor and her ability to care for others. She truly is a person who thinks of others before herself. She will do anything for anyone she cares about.”

The science behind attraction

What explains the attraction between couples like Lindsay and Kevin and Gabriella and Thomas? According to Dr. Shedlosky-Shoemaker, “Over the span of a semester, and potentially the many semesters students see each other in their shared major, they become more familiar with one another, and that can contribute to a greater liking…When students are in the same major, that might help them focus on the similarities––in this case, shared interest of the same field––which can also facilitate liking. Increased liking can direct people to focus on other shared interests, facilitating more longevity and satisfaction in the relationship.”

According to Dr. Shedlosky-Shoemaker, proximity as well as similar interests tend to be common factors in forming intimate relationships. Would you say this is how it happened for your relationship?

Lindsay and Kevin Byrnes: “We would say that this theory holds some truth. We do have some similar interests such as cooking, spending time outdoors, and psychology, of course, but we certainly are very different from one another, too. When we were in Abnormal Psychology together, Dr. Engler had us all say something about ourselves on the first day of class. Kevin shared that he grew up in the Netherlands.” Lindsay was interested in getting to know more about Kevin more and his experience. “Could it have been our shared interest in our field? We don’t think we would have met and gotten to know each other if we were not in the same major. However, our niches in psychology are vastly different.” 

Gabriella Citakian: “I would say both of us being from the New Jersey/New York area definitely played a role. We were able to connect over things while living in Pennsylvania, which is very different from where we grew up. Also, both of us being Psych majors I think helped. Sharing the same major and taking our classroom discussions ‘home’ with us to discuss further helped us understand each other better.” 

Thomas Sweezy: He believes proximity, not only in classes, but also student housing contributed to their bond. He says, “We were both nervous about moving far from home and found comfort in each other.”

In your experience, what other factors lead to love and relationships?

Gabriella Citakian: “Respect. I think you need to respect one another and value them for who they are. You cannot change the person you are with unless you are helping them change for the better.” She laughs and says the way Tom dresses has improved since they’ve been together. She also explains that everything is about communication. “It is always said, but it is very true. Tom and I have always communicated with each other and have had some ugly, hard conversations, but it helped save our relationship when it could have ended.”

Thomas Sweezy: He thinks similar interests as well as communication are factors when it comes to forming relationships. “Both people in the relationship wanting the same things and having similar goals,” he says, “paired with good communication, allows for love and relationships to begin and flourish.”

The complexity of love

In the Psychology of Intimate Relationships course, the first topic students discuss is how challenging it is to define intimate relationships. “Often we find there is an intuitive sense of what makes something an intimate or close relationship, but when we get into details, there are many nuances that highlight just how complex relationships can be,” says Dr. Shedlosky-Shoemaker. “This challenge is made more complex by the fact that cultural views about gender and sexuality are often interwoven with beliefs about relationships.”

Though many York College alumni couples may have met because of their shared major, others have met through interests such as extracurricular activities and classes outside of their major. One part of their story remains consistent: They found love as a Spartan at YCP.

York College of Pennsylvania students and alumni are diverse in culture, religion, race, gender, and sexual orientation. Have your own Spartan love story to share? Spread the love and contact us at communications@ycp.edu.

Randi Shedlosky-Shoemaker is an Associate Professor of Psychology at York College of Pennsylvania. She received her BA from Monmouth College and her MA and PhD from Ohio State University. Her research interests include academic engagement, learning assessment, and entertainment media experiences. Courses she teaches include General Psychology, Multicultural Awareness, Senior Capstone in Psychology, Essential Skills and Tools in Psychology, and Psychological Perspectives on Intimate Relationships.

Kevin ’07 and Lindsay (Brillhart) Byrnes ’08 received their BA in Psychology from York College of Pennsylvania. Kevin received his MA in Experimental Psychology from Rutgers University and now works as a claims analyst for the Social Security Administration (SSA). Lindsay is a stay-at-home-mom raising their daughters ages 8, 5, and 6 months. 

Gabriella Citakian ’17 and Thomas Sweezy ’17 received their BA in Psychology from York College of Pennsylvania. Citakian works as a human resources specialist for a law firm in New York City, and Sweezy works as a talent acquisition specialist for WebMD. They are recently engaged and are planning a wedding for April 2023.