This thing called love
A new survey has just been released out of England — maybe you've heard of it. They followed several hundred couples for four years, and found at the end of it all that 59 percent had split up — despite the fact that they still felt love for each other. The most common complaint? That the love didn't grow. GROW!? What were they thinking? Love is a mole? A wart? A hyacinth bulb?
So what is this thing called "love"? The definition I like best comes from a wise contemporary philosopher who said, "When I am in the presence of this person, I really like who I am." Sounds like love to me. There may be more poetic interpretations of romantic feelings for another, but this one covers the core concept. If you are indeed "in love," then angst and low self-esteem shouldn't be a principal part of the equation. If your partner helps you believe you are a worthy, intelligent human, you may be on the right track. More indicators — he laughs at your jokes and you feel witty, attractive, and sexy. You do NOT feel dense, overweight or in need of an IQ transfusion.
A fresh romance provides the opportunity for a lot of tumbling and boinking and kissing and snuggling and nuzzling. Meanwhile the phone rings unanswered and the electric bills lie abandoned on the table. At some point, one or both conspirators come up for air and spy the ever-growing pile of forgotten responsibilities. They realize the rent must be paid, and Mom must be called. If not, it will become difficult to continue the horizontal rocking and rolling, since either a search party will be dispatched to locate them, or a burly guy named Phil will appear to repossess the furniture. Maybe both. This is the beginning of the second phase of being in love. It is the part just past the constantly damp thongs, the flaring nostrils and the ever-present wistful glances.
Too many decent human beings get caught here, in a rush-hour press to better themselves for their kissing partners. The message there, of course, is that the partner has no taste and was actually looking for a totally different human — they are, however, willing to do a quick renovation job so you'll fit the template. Don't fall for this. It is the prologue of a very long and tedious novel that ends with the hopeless protagonist in despair, confused about who she really is. Love is not about remaking the other person. It is about appreciating the differences and celebrating the shared places — with a bunch of chemistry mixed in.
So why do we even bother falling in love? Most animals bypass the tedious dating ritual and head straight for integrating their genitals — penguins and whales notwithstanding. One thought is that we unconsciously bind to someone whose genetic material is similar to ours — someone who seems familiar, and often looks somewhat like members of our own family. This would explain why Mick Jagger marries women with large heads, most notably first wife Bianca, who could be his twin sister. Take a closer look at that picture of Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt on the newsstand — two people, one jaw. They are like mirror images with a gender change. Other times, the similarities are more subtle — full lips, full dark hair — but they're there if you look for them.
Another theory says the presence of certain persons cause endorphins to be released in our brains — including phenylethylamine, the chemical that makes us high with the feeling of love. Since this substance is also found in chocolate, sometimes, when we think we are in love, we're really just craving a Hershey bar.
Finally, there is a famous experiment done by Dr. Lynne Alden. She had a female researcher stand at the end of two pedestrian bridges, handing questionnaires to men as they finished crossing. The men were also given a phone number to call, just in case they thought of anything else. One bridge was solid, sedate and positioned a few feet off the ground; the other was a long, narrow suspension bridge, swaying frightfully, hundreds of feet above a treacherous river. The men who had just exited the scary bridge found reasons to call the interviewer, while the other men did not. Alden's conclusion — the sweaty hands, pounding heart and shakiness brought on by fear is mimicked in the feeling of love. Translation — sometimes what we perceive as love is actually a tingling feeling of danger. This explains many bad relationships that go from crazy-in-love to you-drive-me-nuts.
With all these possibilities to check out, it's no wonder we have trouble telling if we are in love. If we want that love to "grow," we must first make sure it's firmly planted and watered. And we must be clear that it is love we are attempting to fatten up — not pure chemistry, thrills or appreciation for a good-looking face that happens to resemble our own. Otherwise, we're destined to become part of the 59 percent who split up without really knowing why.
The good news here is the 41 percent who stayed together. They probably had some raving doubts and less-than-celestial moments too, but perhaps they are the people who had different expectations of the relationship. Perhaps they had more experience, more past successes and disappointments, and were more able to spot the real thing in a forest of maybes.