Oh yea, here we go…A rambling, somewhat indecipherable post about love, chemicals, insanity and the like.
I guess we can start by asking ourselves: What IS love? (apparently the most searched phrase on google in 2012…some senseless trivia knowledge for you) Is it chemistry? Is it Hollywood? Is it a natural drive to reproduce and rear our young? Is it an Edwardian concept, poeticized and fantasized until it became our ‘reality’? Infatuation in sheep’s clothing? A survival instinct? Or getting to know and appreciate those who surround you for most of your life?
Without fail, every single time I subscribe myself to a theory regarding love…just around the bend an exception to my new rule presents itself.
ROMANTIC LOVE v. ARRANGED LOVE
Take for instance romantic love. (Thank you Hollywood for setting mainstream standards that no human could possibly live up to…) I got on this bender in my early 20’s. Girl meets boy, boy falls head over heels in love with perfect girl, does everything in and beyond his power to get noticed, spoil her, respect her, be perfect to her family, makes (insert monthly paycheck here) amount of money, is willing to pay all the bills, pick his socks off the floor and indulge his girl in the occasional shopping spree. All the while, refusing to get upset when girl comes in at 4 am, drunk as a skunk with girlfriends in tow. Yea…right. Then, start thinking to yourself; if this is really love, then what about arranged marriages? With a higher than 50% rate of divorce in Western countries, how is it couples, for the most part, who are in arranged marriages (Just FYI- the divorce rate for arranged marriages is stated to be a whopping 4%) have, for the most part, managed to figure out a way to ‘love’, respect and co-exist together for the remnant of a lifetime. Of course, the statistics related to arranged marriage divorces are debatable since its culturally embedded that you wed, and stay that way. Divorce, although possible in many cases, is frowned upon and there are always other societal factors at work. But I digress. The question here is; When you see a couple who met just before approaching the altar, and they are happy together 50 years later…how does this happen? There was no romancing. Certainly no physical contact to blur up one’s brain with chemicals. Is it that both bride and groom (though nervous as knots) have been waiting for this pivotal moment all of their young lives and are determined to make it work no matter what? Is it a ‘love the one your with’ situation? Are these 2 people so utterly open-minded and accepting that fighting tooth and nail over trivial aspects of life together …just doesn’t happen? Or that there just exists enough self control to only go to bed grumbling under your breath about the things that annoy, but having enough respect for the life partner to not air grievances?
Drugs? Love drugs?? YES, PLEASE! Who says nature doesn’t have a sense of humor? Seriously! Our brains get so doped up from a rush of neuro-chemicals that we find ourselves bouncing around like a bunch of drunk college students doing really doofy shit.
There’s 2 stages to this. The ‘honeymoon’ stage (usually lasts about 3-6 months). Enjoy it, because it’s the only time in your relationship where you can do NO wrong…even if you accidentally take out his mailbox on your way out the drive. These are the GOOD chemicals. The morphine drip of love, if you will. This nifty little cocktail consists of phenylethylamine, norepinephrine (or noradrenaline),serotonin and dopamine. According to scientists, there is also another Love dose later in long term relationships which consist of oxytocin and vasopressin.
This is a continuing cycle. Dopamine starts this whole mess. The love based adrenaline rush cannot happen until there is a sufficient amount of dopamine. This chemical triggers the pleasure receptors in the brain. Resulting in a WHEEEEEE, Happy Happy Joy Joy- I want more of that, please. Seratonin levels drop in reaction to increased dopamine, and this is said to be responsible for the anxiety, nervousness and overall dating OCD that occurs. Norepinephrine comes into play. This chemical kicks off a chain reaction in the brain, to the nervous system which stimulates the receiver into feelings of joy and a suppressed appetite. (Just a side note: When this hits us ladies, the result is a slightly skinnier, happy, confident person! We think we’re completed by our lover which makes us feel so ….AWESOME! Truth is, we are. But could there be other ways to stimulate this reaction in our bodies so that we could always be so AWESOME?) Last but not least is phenylethylamine. This is good stuff. It creates our spinny – can do – happier than a puppy with a biscuit – must have more, moments. It also kicks off another round of dopamine and the whole process starts all over again. Hence, being ‘addicted to love’. Literally. This is usually the stage when we’re texting instead of working, friends get put out to pasture, house plants die, and we suddenly find ourselves with an over-run of lingerie and pancake breakfasts. Oh yea, and everything our partner does is cute. Even the horribly irritating disgusting habits, are adorable…or worse, fixable. (NEWS FLASH: Fixable doesn’t happen)
Oxytocin and vasopressin are said to create feelings of security and well-being which explains why this usually kicks in during a long term relationship. New question: Does this chemical reaction cause us to feel secure enough in our relationships to continue happily along, or does our happiness in the relationship cause this chemical reaction which encourages us that we’ve made the right move and carry on? (Which came first, the chicken or the egg?)
Okei, so survival and brains go hand and hand…sort of…not really. In order to serve my purposes here, I’m loosely defining the survival genre as our body’s involuntary drive to ensure its survival. Mate presence; here we go! Men recognize women’s hips and youthful appearance as a clue to how capable she is to procreate. Women recognize either facial/bone structure and agility (physically) – Someone must protect the cave and bring us dinner! OR The clothes, car, job and house – Societal ability to afford the same protection and welfare, but only from a modern day standpoint. This falls in line with Darwins theory on sexual selection; meaning that people will evolve traits that attract members of the opposite sex. Don’t knock it – it’s real. I’ve also heard of the mirroring phenomenon, where individuals subconsciously choose mates which resemble themselves in order to better insure reproduction or status. If you don’t believe in the collective conscious, here’s a little factoid for you: Did you know that stocks will always gain profit in the cosmetics and women’s clothing industries right before a recession hits? It’s true! Lipstick and mini-skirts. Years of micro economic research has shown that lipstick and mini-skirts drastically increase in purchases made proceeding a recession. The explanation for this? Women’s collective conscious somehow mysteriously know that hard times are ahead and invest in the 2 items which make us appear more attractive to potential mates. Shocker, huh?!
Enter the three brain system theory. This is a fun one… I’ve been reading up on student research papers on this and it might explain a few things. This theory is constructed based on an evolutionary form of animalistic behaviour. According to Dr. Helen Fisher (cited) there are 3 ‘brains’ or sections of the brain regarding love working together, or separately. These sections are “sexual arousal, romantic attraction and emotional bonding”. It is said that because all 3 of these are able to work independently of each other, it would explain why you can be in an intimate relationship with one person, have a huge crush on another and be emotionally bonded to yet another. If that’s how you choose to roll, then there you go. Apparently, the oxytocin and vasopressin which trigger feelings of security during long term relationships is the situation in which all 3 of the ‘brains’ work together as they are all needed.
SOCIETY and CULTURAL NORMS
Many societies, especially the west, subscribe to the theory of marrying for love. If you love them, give them something that you’ve given to none other (or few others) – marriage. But to bring us back to the beginning…what is love anyway? What sets one person apart from the other? I do also think that the view of ‘he’s single, whats wrong with him’ comes into play unwittingly.
In some cultures, singles are seen to be outcasts. Somehow unfit, inappropriate, or otherwise unable to reach the social construct of acceptability. In Japan, boys are groomed for marriage. No mother wants her son to be a ‘bare branch’.
In some cultures, marriage and family is the lifetime goal. Take Russia, for example, where new births are greeted with a financial benefit from the state. Another factor which comes into play is demographics, where the ratio of males to females is 86 to 100. Talk about competition! This is exactly opposite of Alaska, where there are approximately 10 males per every 1 female. Talk about choices! Or in China, where the ratio is approximately 106 males to every 100 females.
To wrap up this extra long read (sorry about that, I got carried away). Regardless of culture, nationality, chemistry, survival, or a simple desire not to be alone…love exists. For all of us. My advice is to take a deep breath, try to keep your wits about you and in 7 months, if you are still swooning, laughing, playing…and aren’t ready to kill each other over the dishes, then stick with it. If after a few months, you begin to realize your needs aren’t being met, you’re being ignored for the tv, used, cheated on or the like – move on. We all want to be loved and everything in us and the world is working in our favour to achieve this lovely goal.
What does LOVE mean to you?
Thanks for reading!