Thursday, November 20, 2008
Love: What It Is.
I believe in love.
I don't particularly believe that love is one emotion or feeling. I think it's a combination of lust, infatuation, intense focus, friendship, attachment, and compatibility. We only call what's happening "love" when enough of these things are involved. And different combinations make the different kinds of love we talk about in our culture: puppy love, love for a friend, love for a baby, and finally, the stages of romantic love.
This might sound wrong, but even people who are true believers in love know that over the years love changes. It starts with what might be called romantic love and changes into compassionate love (Sinha, 2002). Romantic love, of course, tends to have elements of lust and infatuation, and perhaps, strongly put, obsession. Is it any more than this? I don't know, but I have my doubts.
Later, the love turns to a more friendship and attached phase, which we might call compassionate love.
Why am I being reductionistic? Aren't I the one who criticizes people who don't appreciate that there are higher level patterns?
Let me explain: I'm not saying we can't use the word love. I'm just saying that what we call love is a pattern of feelings (and beliefs, as I'll get to later) that are separate. Part of why I know this is that different hormones and neurotransmitters make the different feelings happen.
There are hormones that make us attach: oxytocin and vasopressin. Oxytocin is the same hormone that attaches mothers to children, which explains why some mother feel like they are "in love" with their babies.
Norepinephrine surges through us when we start getting into somebody. This hormone makes us focus on a single person very strongly. That's why we can't stop thinking about our new love.
Dopamine causes the intense pleasure we feel around that person.
There's a great podcast that explains all of this called "This is Your Brain On Love" from the excellent Podcast series "Radiolab." I highly recommend it. Very entertaining and interesting.
I imagine that in the compassionate love stage, the dopamine is still there, the oxytocin / vasopressin is still there, and the norepinephrine is reduced. Thank goodness. Can you imagine being obsessed with your love for your whole life? In fact, that's the idea I explored with my co-writer in my play Medea: The Fury, based on the Greek myth. The idea is that when Medea falls in love with Jason as a result of getting struck with Cupid's arrow, she never leaves the initial rush stage of love. So eleven years later, when they have kids and Jason is thinking of his career and such, Medea is still absolutely obsessed, lustful, and infatuated with him. Drives him crazy.
Let's look at the idea of love at first sight. I think just about everyone has had the feeling, upon seeing or meeting someone for the first time, a very strong attraction. I think we have also all felt, on some occasions, that after talking to the person for five minutes that attraction is reduced considerably. These cases are not remembered as "love at first sight." Why? Because it did not end up developing through any of the other stages that we associate with love (one of my Very Short Stories is based on this theme.)
Now, when you feel that instant attraction and then end up dating and getting very attached, then retrospectively you might want to call it love at first sight, even though it's probably the same exact feeling you had when meeting the other attractive people who ended up being jackasses.
"Love" is a problematic term, which is probably why some people don't know, and have to really try to figure out whether they are in love or not.
Love for your baby or puppy, or your parents when you are young, is made up of feeling good, attachment, and focus.
Love for your parent (as an adult) is feeling good and attachment.
Love for a new romantic partner (infuatuation) is feeling good, attachment, focus, and lust.
Love for a not-so-new romantic partner is the same with a reduction in lust and focus, with an increase in attachment.
Love for the song "Jump" by Kris Kross is just feeling good and focus.
I know there's a big philosophical literature on love that I'm ignoring. Sorry. This is something I've been thinking and talking about a lot lately with my friends, so I wanted to write about it.
Also, I'm in love.
Sinha2002: In Sacks, O. (Ed) 2003, The Best American Science Writing
2003. Harper Collins.