Wednesday, May 5, 2010

It's All About You, Babe!

I've been accused of being hyper-logical rather than emotional, and that's true to some extent, but not for want of trying. I am sentimental and caring, though not in the ways that the typical human expects. (Sorry - try a little acceptance, will ya?) This is certainly a major influence on my interest in matters of the heart. I'm in love with the logic of love.

The haunting continues with questions like:

If love is chemical, then why isn't hate?
If love is chemical, then why isn't it instant?
If love is chemical, then does it build?
If love is chemical, then why does it sometimes just go away?
Why is the sky blue? Why am I writing this?

We know the scientific answers and they are facts. In brief, love is "chemical" in the sense that pathways as set up in the brain to seek reward from success in activities such as breeding, primally speaking. Mates are sought and won on the basis of physical qualities, such as body and face shape, along with the release of hormones through breathing and secretion in mucus, urine and through the skin. The senses are heightened in the courtship phase leading those "in love" to think better, have more energy and take more chances than they ordinarily would, which certainly explains why lovers can stay up all night and talk (or do other things, heh heh) until dawn breaks.

Love in humans is complicated by this species' ability to think, reason and learn. If it was only a matter of attracting a mate, breeding to offspring and providing food and shelter for same, things would be a lot simpler, yes? But humans have to spoil it all by thinking about stuff. The upside is that the chemical aspect gives the next phase of the love relationship, bonding, a headstart. After a predictable period of time, if bonding doesn't occur, "love" will "fade," that is, if some greater connection isn't established to replace the initial chemical "rush" of biological imperative, the whole damn thing falls apart. Again, it's simply scientific fact.

Now, it's not as easy being a friend as is blind abeyance to the pull of lust. There needs to be a basis for the friendship - common interests, especially on a meta-level, excitement and interest by both people involved in similar things. In other words, opposites may attract for the short-term, but we know, scientifically, that choices of mates by women will tend toward those individuals with more similarities in terms of beliefs, interests and long-term goals. This same-pagedness is essential for a non-dysfunctional friendship. So, long-term love is part and parcel of friendship.

Let's not be confused here. One may have friends with whom one doesn't have sex. In fact, that would be far less tiring. Those friends are platonic and while certain intimacies are shared in terms of personal information about thoughts and feelings. The intimacy between lovers is different. The typical idea is that the sex act is only partly about physical pleasure and has similar importance in terms of building and maintaining a sense of trust and intimacy. This is why a breakdown in physical intimacy between, say, husband and wife, must be addressed with immediacy since the partners will begin to feel mistrustful and wronged and ultimately, this will affect their ability to communicate and then, the whole thing goes down the toilet.

Which brings us to the third phase of the human love relationship: communication. Us humans so love to talk. Yup, we're happy to chatter away like monkeys that have been nefariously exposed to mass quantities of sugary beverages for the sheer amusement of observing scientists. And studies have shown, including the UCLA Marriage and Family Development Study, that it's not only that communication occurs, but that the quality of communication is effective. Those in the relationship have to be able to express their beliefs and opinions freely and without recrimination with acceptance and support of a disfavoured position an essential goal. See how all this thinking stuff puts things awry? Again using the example of a married couple, an ideal outcome would be each supporting the individual view, arriving at a compromise through discussion without ad hominem elements and for both people to feel that a satisfactory position, if not conclusion, has been reached. If not, to keep talking about it without the constraint of a limit on time but with a limit on scope - that is, one thing at a time. And should no agreement be possible, the acquiesing party must leave the discussion with a sense that although he or she isn't in agreement with the conclusion, that it may be accepted and supported without reserve. Sounds impossible? It's not - again, more pesky scientific fact. The couples who were more successful in the practice of this approach were, in the study I cite above, the beneficiaries of longer and happier relationships. Period.

Communication isn't limited to verbal exchange. There are all forms of non-verbal communication between those in love. Eye contact, physical touching, hold hands, hugging, smooching - all good stuff. And that ultimate act between lovers - sex. That's doesn't necessarily mean missionary-style intercourse 24/7. In fact, the ol' in-out every day without change is insulting to the human need for variation. We need change in what we eat, the music we listen to, the scenery we view. Sex is no different. And all of the other contact we make that doesn't involve contact with genitalia is part of the sex act, including dinner at Spirito's.

Through all of these phases, we build on the initial chemical love-charge and, hopefully, at least for us incurable romantics, something will happen. But if it doesn't, that's natural selection telling us it's a bad idea, and we should listen. After all, you can't polish a turd.

Love and hate are both emotions, indifference is the absence of emotion. In some sense, a spurned lover is better off being hated, as my ex-wife hates me, unjustifiably, I might add, instead of being relegated to the arena of dim memories like that bad shellfish meal at the Lobsterfest that year. Hate is most certainly chemical. Hate comes from unrequited frustration and, like bad seafood, will repeat unless the attitude of the person feeling that hatred adjusts to acceptance. Now, that's accetance in some form, which may include accepting the fact that it's necessary to remove one's self from the locus of the nasty-ass that's causing all the trouble in the first place.

So, we love, we bond, we build OR we love, we don't bond because he's just what-a-dick OR we love and that moron keeps taking my car without my permission and picking his nose while he's watching the game and he just won't stop and I don't like it and I'm not gonna take it anymore. And then, you're Beyonce, singing, "to the leff, to the leff . . ."

As to why I'm writing this - I must. It's the possibly the only way I can connect with the rest of the planet in a way that's without specific consequence and, like a good physician, it's my charge to "do no harm." On the other hand, it's impossible to do this topic justice in a thousand-or-so word essay. Love and human relationships in general are mysterious to me. I forever feel like the younger brother sneaking a peek at the babysitter making out with my jockish older bro. It looks like fun, but I can't be sure I understand what's going on. Or, do I?

Pure love should be untainted by practical considerations. That's a decision a human can make. Love for the "wrong" reasons will certainly dive headlong into the abyss of despair. However, we all make choices based on our experiences and our means. And, as the doyen of do would say, "there's never enough time to do it right, but there's always time to do it over." Come to think of it, that doesn't even make sense. Huh. Hmm.

Is there a doppelganger under the broad blue sky (made blue by sunlight passing through suspended water vapor and then reflecting off of the surface of the planet, by the way) just waiting for you to call? I can say, unequivocally, yes. A connection like that is worth seeking and once found, the search is over, forever.

Even if the relationship fails on a practical level, and let's face it, there are so many influences in our lives that make for bad decisions that look like good ones at the time, the connection is permanent and immutable. Imagine one for you who is your private, safe place amongst the billions of humans fighting to grab the food right out of your mouth. One for you who thinks you're better than you know you are, loves you for both that and your humility and will kick your butt all the way up the hill, where, once you arrive, he will wait just outside of the spotlight in case you need something more. And you will need, or want, something more. And you will need and want to give in return and it never stops. Not ever. It's the Cupid disguise that more or less survives - now that is love.

No comments: