I believe in love. Because I think I understand its mechanism. I’m a student of biology and for me the laws of nature are the biggest and most powerful truths. So with the perspective of the way nature functions, I am beginning to understand the complex phenomenon that we have named as ‘love’. If I didn’t, I would have either unconditionally accepted love as a romantic truth (that most of us do as teenagers) or have discarded it as a false notion (that a lot of us feel after a few failed relationships). Today I have a neutral perspective on it, and hence would like to share it here without any inhibitions.
Disclaimer: We are talking about romantic love here, not the love between a mother and her son, or a boy and his dog. Nothing written here is absolute, and most points made below are generalizations from a male’s perspective. Please feel free to disagree.
We are naturally programmed to be attracted towards the object of our sexual desire. For a man, it can be a woman, another man, or both. Also, one person can have more than one objects of sexual desire. When we are attracted to another person, it is this subconscious (or conscious) desire that drives us. As a teenager, I had this notion of ‘pure love’ – that I’m truly in love with this girl and I don’t think of her sexually. I believe many of us felt that way sometime in our lives. Today I cannot separate sexuality from love, however pure or magical it might be. Now, if both these feelings are true for most people, there has to be a design in place here. The design is the biological truth that dictates us. We all know that a teenager has a lesser role to play sexually than a man aged 25 or above. We also know that a teenager’s notion of the world is more romantic and uninhibited than that of older people. Hence, it is common sense that a teenager’s notion of love is more romantic and less ‘biological’.
Now, we are attracted differently towards different people. This is as true as the varied taste we have for food, hobbies, arts, and perversions. So there is nothing inexplicable about it. Is there a reason why my favorite dessert is ras-malai? And is there a reason why the ras-malai of a particular shop is my favorite among all? No. We like something based on how our senses and feeling react to it, and ‘intellectualize’ it later. This ‘strong and intimate liking based on our response to someone at a sensory and feeling level’ is LOVE. Simple, isn’t it? Simple, until now.
Now, with the same person, who is our love-interest, we feel differently during different stages of our relationship. When we started dating, even before expressing our feelings, we were suffering from terrible weak-knees and dry-mouths, and overnight separation caused terrible anxieties. This magical stage – and this does not stop happening post-teenage – occurs under the effect of the hormone called dopamine. This hormone is also associated with intoxicated states, and all of us know that the ‘magical feeling when we are high’ and the ‘depression during hangover’ is very similar to the experience of the earliest stages of a romantic relationship. This hormone, however, cannot remain triggered forever. Once we start coming close, holding hands, getting physically comfortable with each other, the hormone called oxytocin is stimulated (both in men and women). This hormone is related to the female reproductive system and gives us the feeling of long-term association and bonding. If dopamine charges us, oxytocin calms us down. Again, this is a stage of love we are very much aware of. Even in arranged marriages (where the dopamine stage might be short and less powerful) this oxytocin stage of blissful togetherness is an essential experience. So yes love is magical, and love is also pacifying, fulfilling, and it ‘makes you complete’. All these things are true – we are designed that way.
Even if we talk non-biologically, from a relationship point-of-view, love can be defined as ‘the willingness to go out of your way for the fulfilling company of another individual’. The key part of this definition is: ‘out of your way’. If required, you resist temptations of all kinds, re-think and modify your personal plans, let other relationships and issues suffer, in order to maintain the company of someone you truly love. You say sorry when you don’t even know what your fault was, and you forgive the other person even if he hasn’t accepted his mistake. All these are examples of ‘going out of your way’. If you forgive the negative connotation, we can replace ‘going out of your way’ with the verb ‘compromising’. So, we can now define love as ‘the willingness to compromise for the fulfilling company of someone’. The catch here is, the moment we realize that we are ‘compromising,’ the intensity of our love starts to diminish. We then carry on for social reasons or break up. Or, we carry on as a habit – just being with that person is enough for us, and we decide to spend the entire life-time with him/her, not out of love, but by blaming or acknowledging ‘destiny’.
Remember that the notions of ‘destiny’, ‘social norms’ and ‘personal compromises’ is hardly thousands of years old. The sexual drive is millions of years old. It does not require too much of intelligence to figure out that the willingness to compromise depends greatly on the social expectations that surround us. A freer society has more percentage of divorces than a conservative one. Also, if marriage does not remain an essential institution in our society, 'marrying' for being together, and 'divorcing' for getting separated would be futile exercises. A truly free society will treat divorce and separation as equally normal and important as falling in love. So, in the end, love should be defined as: ‘a strong and intimate liking we develop for an individual based on our sensory reaction to and feelings for him/her, (influenced majorly by our sexual preferences at a subconscious level and affected strongly by the play of our hormones) and the outcome of which is greatly affected by the social norms that we agree to operate within’. This, in short, is love, its cause and effect. We react to it differently at its different stages – whether it is writing a love-sick poem, rendering a shoulder of support, or holding wrinkled hands sitting on a bench in a park.
And after this long post full of bulshit, let me recommend you the sublimely beautiful film on love and longing, Wong Kar-Wai’s ‘In the Mood for Love’ as a must-watch-before-you-die. Gift yourself this unforgettable film, whether you are in love with someone, or yourself.