Saturday, November 27, 2010

Day #91, #92, #93, #94, & #95: What is love?

Is love a fancy, or a feeling? No.
It is immortal as immaculate Truth,
'Tis not a blossom shed as soon as youth,
Drops from the stem of life--for it will grow,
In barren regions, where no waters flow,
Nor rays of promise cheats the pensive gloom.
A darkling fire, faint hovering o'er a tomb,
That but itself and darkness nought doth show,
It is my love's being yet it cannot die,
Nor will it change, though all be changed beside;
Though fairest beauty be no longer fair,
Though vows be false, and faith itself deny,
Though sharp enjoyment be a suicide,
And hope a spectre in a ruin bare.
--Hartley Coleridge

What exactly is love? Scholars, poets, writers have been pondering this one small question since the beginning of time. Yet, the answer to this seemingly simple question perplexes the greatest of minds, and turns geniuses into fools.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines love as an intense feeling of deep affection; a person or thing that one loves; a deep romantic or sexual attachment to someone; like very much, find pleasure in. Voltaire wrote that "Love is a canvas furnished by Nature and embroidered by imagination." My personal favorite, however, comes from the brilliant yet convoluted mind of Woody Allen, "To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore to love is to suffer, not to love is to suffer. To suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy then is to suffer. But suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be unhappy one must love, or love to suffer, or suffer from too much happiness. I hope you're getting this down."

Not sure any of this has answered my question. It makes me wonder what love is for each one of us? How many of us have been in love, or at least thought we were in love? Sure, we met someone who caused heart palpitations, goose bumps, and sleepless euphoric nights, but I have to that really love or like on steroids? Scientists have identified three chemicals released when someone is in love: phenethylamine, dopamine, and oxytocin. Phenethylamine is a psychoative chemical that causes stimulant effects. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter . Dopamine commonly associated with the pleasure system of the brain, providing feelings of enjoyment and reinforcement. Oxytocin is a hormone involved in social recognition and bonding, and may be involved in the formation of trust between people. Is is the firing of chemicals that accounts for all of the looniness and craziness associated with falling in love? If so, God help us all.

I suppose I have been in love. I have certainly felt all of the above symptoms, and then found myself fantastically crashing to the bottom of the pit when that "love" faded away. Helen Fisher of Rutgers University in New Jersey has proposed that we fall in love in three stages:

Three Stages of Falling in Love

Stage 1: Lust

Stage 2: Attraction

Stage 3: Attachment

According to Arthur Aron, professor of psychology at State University of New York at Stony Brook, "the areas of the brain activated by intense love are the same areas that drugs use to reduce pain." Falling in love also elicits the same euphoric feelings as being high on cocaine. No wonder so many of us are addicted to being in love...we simply cannot alter brain chemistry!

So what is a successful, independent woman to do? It appears that years of education and independence are no match for the chemistry of love. To this I!! OK, not exactly. Despite my scientific background and years as a lab rat, I must say that in my less than expert opinion, love cannot be reduced to that of chemicals and biology. What about emotion, feelings, fears, etc... All of this encompasses the intensity of love. You see, to me, love just is and love just happens. We don't choose who we love or why we love them. It cannot be avoided or stalled or simply happens when we are not looking.

As Charles du Bos wrote, "Love does not care to define and is never in a hurry to do so." Love is both a fancy and a feeling. A feeling that is remarkable and, frankly, indescribable. Love builds bridges and destroys bigotry. Every human being is capable of great love. Just as Tennyson wrote, "I hold it true, whatever befall; I feel it, when I sorrow most; 'Tis better to have loved and lost Than never to have loved at all."

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