Captivated! Love on the Barrier Islands

What could be more delicious in summer than love on a barrier island?

As Clinical Psychologist who works with South Jersey residents, I am know the joy of loving someone where blue water, sunsets and green marshlands command our visual field. So, in the next six columns, we look at partnered love on the barrier islands. We discuss the confusion that love brings, and conclude that skills can offset our natural tendency to avoid what is painful until it causes disruption in the balance between partners. In each column you will find a portrait of a couple and insight into how they managed to sustain or regain love.

It is 1965 at Temple University in Philadelphia.  In an  abnormal psych class I hear,  “We’ll see us later!” The voice was musical, lilting, with a European accent of some sort. What language was he used to speaking?  For some inexplicable reason, I wanted to know.  Turning to see who he was, my eyes met his golden brown eyes for longer than an instant before I watched him turn on his heels sharply, gliding on odd looking leather shoes with pointed toes that left a clicking sound.  Who moved this gracefully, like a dancer?   Who wore those odd shoes?

I tried unsuccessfully to find him on campus, then, tried to forget him. But that Spring, when I attended the Eastern Psychological Association Conference in Atlantic City, I heard the unmistakable “click, click” of his heels. Greeting me, he told me that he was a scholarship student born in Holland, studying in Bonn, Germany. His eyes twinkled, inviting me to a dance.  Inside, a rush of excitement started around my knees, rising to the inside of the top of my head. All signals were go, including some I only barely understood. 

The next day as I stood on the board walk in Atlantic City at the entrance to Steel Pier, Mr. Charming European caught sight of me and clicked towards me purposefully. “Would you like to have a hamburger?” He said no other words. Within minutes we were lost in each other, asking about backgrounds, families, interests, anything to keep contact. Every cell inside me kept time to the rhythm between us. 

A tumble of joyous, spiritual and sexually electric energy built between the two of us the summer of 1965. We were inseparable and in love. Often, we drove Long Beach Island, where we swam with our friends from the psychology program, who joked about the magic between us. Never in my life had I known this synchronicity with someone: Erich was able to understand both what I said and what I was afraid to say. By fall, he vowed willingness to give up his language, his religion, and his family in order to marry me because we owed it to each other to be together.  He was as right about this as he was about many things. Erich proposed to me in a boat on the picturesque river of his childhood home on the Dutch border. My family welcomed Erich as their son in a nearly 25 year marriage.

Cupid thrived on the thwap of the waves at LBI as Erich and I swam and walked the beach together, and later, the musical magic of dancing to Louis Armstrong on the boardwalk at Steel Pier.  From the time we met til his early death at 49, we made sure that we captured the magic of island summers. In 1985 we opened a Psychology practice and bought a bay front cottage in Stone Harbor. Erich Henry Ernst Coche, PhD, ABPP, sagely said, ‘In a marriage the two partners are like members of a mountain climbing team: together they can reach heights that neither can reach alone”. 

Falling in love is a bit like an addiction: we can lose ourselves completely. It creates a deeply satisfying connection with another, allowing us to feel good about ourselves. Research informs us that falling in love also benefits our health:

1.    Having someone we can turn to for emotional support buffers the  dangers of stress

2.    Romantic relationships provide meaning that creates better self-care and less risk taking. 

3.    Arthur Aron reports that feelings of love trigger the brain's dopamine-reward system, increasing pleasure and motivation. 

4.     Hugging and hand-holding release the hormone oxytocin, lowering stress hormones,  reducing blood pressure, improving mood and increasing tolerance for pain,

To consider:  Have I ever been in love?  How can I get that “in love” feeling in my life each day even if I am not head over heels? 

To Read: Dorothy Tennov, Ph.D., on Love and Limerence; Scarborough House, 1998.

Dr Judith Coche owns The Coche Center, LLC, a practice in Clinical Psychology in Stone Harbor and Rittenhouse Square PA. Please do join her at TEDx in Cape May on October 19, 2011, when she tackles, “Can Marriage kill Love?  Find her at


Norris Clark