A few years ago National Geographic ran an article written by Lauren Slater that deftly diffused any romantic notion one could have about romantic love. She interviewed Helen Fisher, who has since become a favorite anthropologist. I use a talk she gave published on Ted.com in my Interpersonal class where she boils down the feeling of romantic love into synaptic responses and dramatic shifts in dopamine and serotonin levels.
Being a hopeless romantic, I was quick to excuse Slater’s endorsement of Fisher’s wacky ideas, regardless of her scientific methods.
I’d been in love too often (double entendres intended) to know that romantic love had to be something more mysterious than chemical reactions. It’s something extrinsic, spells cast by fairies and cherubs, the magical coincidence, the sliding doors of fate, the alignment of heavenly bodies, not a biochemical response to the distance between one’s eyes or the ratio of torso to legs. Fisher gives us a glimpse, though, of the wizard, the man behind the curtain, and she’s right. Love is a mental condition.
Perhaps the most dangerous outcome of knowing how the mind congers up and responds to love is that now it can be intervened pharmaceutically. There’s even talk of a break-up pill, something to ease or erase the pain, the worst one can feel as I’ve written, but I’ll bet you won’t be able to take it with alcohol. You know the fidelity pill isn’t far behind.
Scary stuff. The heart’s (the mind’s) natural inclinations are already frightening enough. If you’ve ever been gobsmacked in love you know what I mean. You transcend rationale, live off of implications instead of fact, dream instead of concentrate, a state of psychosis so intense that some cultures punish it by death. We celebrate it. Poetry, novels, films, music, art, all monuments to being crazy, madly, deeply in love, so flitting that it’s almost necessary to be raw and vulnerable to it so that you’ll never forget how it feels once it fades.
And it’s amazing that it ignites and fades in a physical position that is near the heart, our center, our core, easily confused with that cardio-valentine. I’m amazed at the engineering; from lust, to romance, to attachment, all these are manifest by the brain in the center of our bodies, from our groins to the top of our sternums. So, perhaps instead of love being a mental condition, it’s a central condition, consuming the entire body like a fire in a tree stump.
At least that’s where I feel it. And its hard for me to admit Fisher’s paradigm of romantic love, though I agree fully with the concept of the three loves; lust, romantic love, and attachment. It makes me sigh a little deeper to think that I feel lust-love-attachment through something wonderful and magical, the chemistry of two bodies, two souls and minds, instead of a biochemical response to stimuli.
I’m thinking hard, though, about that last line. I’m thinking about the last time I stared into her eyes, locked, immobilized, barely breathing, or that incredible moment that vaporizes us both right before our lips meet. Delicious, delirious, delectable, decadent.
I think I need a cigarette.
For as long as we’ve been keeping record, we’ve attributed romantic love to something beyond us when it clearly exists as a pure and reciprocated response to another body, soul and mind. We are stewards of that response and its duration is completely up to us.