We would have never created some of the most potent cultural pieces of art, literature, music, film and architecture, had we not known love.
If so, Can we define love for our easy understanding? Most probably-no.
Though biologists, anthropologists and psychiatrists have some idea of it. Scientists parallel love with a kind of addiction or a mental disorder.
Is love a fabricated fantasy work of an unstable mind that compels their ‘love interest’ to believe? What do millions of stories, poems, songs, art around love tell about the human mind then?
These questions upset the pattern of thinking about a notion which is deeply rooted in man’s mind for centuries and regarded as sacred as the idea of God.
Will you be able to remain a human being without ‘destroying love’ by questioning it?
In her critically acclaimed novel The History of Love (2005), Nicole Krauss dissects the idea of love by approaching it from two different directions.
Lead character Leo shows readers that love is the highest purpose of life, whereas his love interest Alma views love as undesirable, something to be avoided.
Publisher of this novel, Penguin, described it in these words- The History of Love explores the lasting power of the written word and the lasting power of love.
Nature’s trick to get us to reproduce
Can the history of human evolution explain love?
We find that only the man is capable of love in the whole nature. So, does it render love as an ‘un-natural’ thing for other creatures?
When Homo Sapiens learned to live together, caring for someone other than yourself was a wildly disturbing idea. But, the birth of a child and their rearing together strengthened the concept of care further.
It seems that caring was also a binding emotion to feel robust against nature’s life-threatening challenges.
Though we don’t have a complete historical timeline of oldest tribes of the world, ancient Sanskrit hymns of Rigveda defines love as a desire to create (kā́mas tád ágre sám avartatā́dhi mánaso rétaḥ prathamáṃ yád ā́sīt — Nasadiya Sukta).
Later, Atharvaveda says that the aim of caring (love) is the feeling of togetherness which is the principal purpose of love in primitive cultures.
Is not love an upgraded version of togetherness?
Product of Culture
Meaning of word ‘love’ originates from old English’s Lufu, akin to Old High German’s Luba (love), Old English Lēof (dear) and from Latin’s Lubēre/Libēre (to please). Merriam-Webster dictionary defines love as an attraction based on sexual desire, affection and tenderness felt by lovers, warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion.
History suggests that love is a cultural invention. During the period of pharaoh’s in Egypt, love was part of the trade, connections and war between the kingdoms, bizarre idea today.
In the middle ages, love was a very intense kind of infatuation. It was basically for excitement, not for any practicality.
A significant turn came in the 1960s when many groups emerged in the United States, advocating free love and terming societal laws against gays and sex before marriage as sexual repression.
Just Two Chemicals
Finally, Chemistry and Biology dismantled the romantic charisma of love forever.
American Biological anthropologist and author of Why We Love? Dr Helen E Fisher divided love into three different categories: Lust, Attraction, and Attachment.
She found out that all these stages are ruled by two significant chemicals- Oxytocin and Dopamine.
Her research states that when we are ‘‘in love’’, we have similar reactions in the brain as with a mental illness.
According to the research, Lust stems from our need to reproduce; a need shared among all living things. Brain’s hormone controller hypothalamus stimulates the production of the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen from the testes and ovaries.
We lust for those whom we are attracted to. According to Dr Fisher, high levels of Dopamine and an associated hormone, Norepinephrine, are released during attraction. These chemicals make us giddy, energetic, and euphoric, even leading to decreased appetite and insomnia. It means that you can’t eat or sleep properly when “in love”.
Third stage attachment is the predominant factor in long-term bonding and relationships. Again, the hypothalamus produces a large quantity of Oxytocin during sex, breastfeeding, and childbirth. All three are related to bonding.
Dopamine can be understood better in terms of drug addiction. Fisher says that our mental state happens to be identical to an addict of cocaine during attraction with someone. Withdrawal symptoms are almost the same as for the drug when we crave for a partner for our emotional needs.
Oxytocin or bonding hormone is considered creating the positive ‘sociable and feel-good effects’ in mind. These feelings reach their extremes during attachment.
Is Love Overrated?
These chemical concepts don’t go well with lovers. For them, love is God, that is in nature’s every single creation, body and mind.
But why is the world so troubled in spite of such a great idea? Why so much grief, violence and use of force against one another? Why are people unable to love freely? Why love crimes?
Again, biology suggests that hormones drive both — ‘bad’ as well as ‘good’ feelings like love.
It seems that this misunderstanding emerged because humans appraised love more than it’s own intrinsic (‘chemical’) value.
For many, love is ‘fantasy of good’ which is not achievable. Also, it sets unrealistic expectations in people that leads to disappointment, because of its portrayal as “perfect”, “never-ending.”
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche echoed Rigveda in the 19th century when he said — Ultimately, it is the desire, not the desired, that we love.
Whether you choose desire or love desired, that is your choice ultimately. Yes, love is more of a conscious decision than just an emotion. Chemistry certainly has it, but humans are not only chemicals. They ideate and create and discover and dream.
Dream of love survives, though disappoints always.
This post was previously published on Medium.com.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project and want a deeper connection with our community, please join us as a Premium Member today.
Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS. Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: iStock