All you need is love

matters of the heart

All you need is love

I’m sure you’ve felt: euphoria and depression... laughter and tears... yearning and fulfillment... obsession and passion... feeling unique and unworthy... loneliness even in a crowd... exaltation followed by devastation... panic...

In one word: Love.

Love is an emotion that is most profound. The ability to give, receive and communicate love elevates the human species far above any other seen on earth. All of us feel it. Most of us struggle to express it. But none of us understand it. It defies definition and is extremely hard to explain. Not surprisingly, it is the most researched topic on Google.

Invented by nature as a beautiful way of keeping the human species alive and reproducing, love can be reduced to mere chemicals on the brain. Love, say scientists, starts off as lust with the sex hormones testosterone and oestrogen taking over your brain. Then comes the ‘attraction’ phase where neurotransmitters such as adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin are involved. In fact, love has the same effect on the brain as drugs such as heroin or cocaine, the intense rush of pleasure brought on by ‘desire and reward’. The final nail in the coffin, so to speak, is the ‘attachment’ phase, which involves two major hormones, vasopressin and oxytocin.

Meanwhile, when love is examined in the social context, it can be seen as a part of a natural selection process. Psychology theorist John Townsend found as a result of several research projects that men are attracted to youth and beauty, while women are more drawn to status and security. Extrapolating these findings, we can intuitively conclude that men seek young beautiful women who can bear their offspring, while women look for men who are willing and able to look after their children, which is natural selection in action.

There also exists a thought that while some forms of love may be evolutionary, concepts of romantic love, as it is understood today, and its link to marriage, came much later. This is easy to get: cave people, for instance, wouldn’t really have found the time or leisure to woo females while they were busy dodging mammoths and saber-tooths. Even though romantic love must have existed in people’s hearts, most marriages used to be decided on financial, professional and political criteria, and geared towards reproduction of bloodlines, until the 18th century. Therefore, when people settled down, they were settling for the best future they could arrange for themselves.

However, setting aside the social, chemical, physical and physiological bases of love, we all feel it as an emotion. Since emotions are born in the unconscious mind than in the will, they are spontaneous, and more ‘sincere’ than ‘thinking’, say social scientists. This probably explains to some extent why we cannot control who we end up falling in love with. There are many more conflicting theories on love. For instance, psychologist Robert Sternberg proposes a triangular theory of love, wherein love has three components: intimacy, passion and commitment. Meanwhile, another psychologist, Lisa M Diamond, challenges the age-old theory that romantic love is a mix of emotional and sexual desire for another person, saying that sexual desire and romantic love are functionally independent. Research is still ongoing.

Love happens

Though scientists differ in defining love, they are united in saying that it is the culmination of complex interplay between biology, cultural and environmental influences. And in spite of individual differences, some aspects of love are universal. After all, every culture has its own iconic lovers — Romeo-Juliet, Laila-Majnu, Tristan-Isolde, and so on.

Even those who cannot understand what love is know how it feels. Love is that excitement you feel when you see that special someone. The heart races, skin tingles, mouth goes dry. That heady feeling translates into goofy smiles and goofier gestures. It cools your heart and heats up your body. The mere sound of that voice sends you searching like mad, the mere thought of that special someone sends you into another world. Waiting, which you hate normally, becomes transformed into a privilege if it provides a glimpse of that special one. The roller-coaster of emotions, with extreme ups and downs and stomach-turning somersaults — this is the everyday manifestation of love.

Love is the inspiration for most of the literature and poetry that enrich our lives. And quotes of love continue to inspire us, as the greatest artists, poets, musicians and other romantics articulate their feelings in the simplest of words. “You make me want to be a better person,” says Jack Nicholson’s character to Helen Hunt’s, in the movie As Good As It Gets. Author Angelita Lim has a different take on the same subject: “I saw that you were perfect and I loved you. Then I saw that you were not perfect and I loved you even more.” Woody Allen summed it up best, when he said, “The heart wants what it wants. There is no logic to these things. You meet someone and you fall in love, and that’s that.”

Is it possible to make yourself or someone else fall in love deliberately? Well, there has been research conducted into this as well. New York psychologist Professor Arthur Arun came up with a formula which he says works very well. Couples who are complete strangers are required to sit opposite each other and answer honestly a questionnaire that includes intimate details about themselves. Then they should stare deeply into each other’s eyes, without talking, for four minutes. Subjects have said that after this exercise, they felt deeply attracted to their partners. Two of his subjects even got married afterwards.

Though theories about love may be controversial and contradictory, one point that even the cynics can agree on is that love has an awesome power to transform. It can make a poet out of a fool and a fool out of the wisest man; it can make the bravest heart quail, or a coward into a lionheart. It can inspire people to do the craziest things, be they good, bad or weird. So beware! It is one of the best gifts that God can give man, but be careful of what you wish for.

Crazy, stupid, love

For, some of the craziest things ever done have been done to impress a lover. Not to belabor a cliché, but as we all know, one Mr Romeo Montague climbed up a rickety balcony risking life and limb, just to get close to his lover, one Ms Juliet Capulet. But real life stories are even more bizarre. Do you know that a man once tagged behind his love when she went to Russia, even after she’d dumped him? Yes, and endured six weeks in a strange land, where he didn’t speak a word of the local language and lost all his money, only to watch her fall in love with another man.

To continue on the same theme, one man got his friend to shoot him, so that he could get his lover’s sympathy. One man even donated a kidney to save his love’s ‘brother’. Unfortunately, the brother turned out to be her lover. Needless to say, both sacrifices went in vain.

Men are not the only ones who go nuts over love. A woman whose boyfriend broke up with her took a knife to her own arm to remove the tattoo which was a measure of her love for him. She was also nice enough to seal it in a jar, wrap it up nicely, and mail it to her ex. Miffed that he was not paying enough attention to her, another woman set fire to her lover’s pants... when he was still in them. Finally, there is the charming story of Caril Ann Fugate who teamed up with the man who murdered both her parents. She actually helped him hide the bodies, and then ran off with him on a cross-country killing spree which took out nearly a dozen victims.

Do you think that highly educated people, like rocket scientists, may be smarter when in love, than others? If you do, then you’re dead wrong. An American astronaut once stole a safe containing $21 million worth of moon rocks to gift to his beloved... who, incidentally, wasn’t his wife. Guess he wanted to give his girl the moon, literally. And then there was another astronaut Lisa Nowack who didn’t quite like it that co-astronaut Bill Oefelein was dating another woman. She ambushed the ‘other woman’ completely armed with a knife, a BB gun, a steel mallet, some rubber tubing and a can of mace, planning to kidnap and kill her. Luckily, the plan didn’t succeed.

There are many crazy celebrity love stories too. King Henry VIII adopted an easy way to remove the obstacles to marrying his loves. He simply beheaded them — the obstacles were merely his wives. But another British monarch Edward VIII abdicated his throne in 1936 so that he could marry his lover, twice-divorced American celebrity Wallis Simpson. In 2005, movie star Katie Holmes converted from Catholicism to Scientology in order to marry Tom Cruise. Even British billionaire James Goldsmith’s daughter Jemima Goldsmith converted to Islam before marrying former cricketer Imran Khan. In 2007, British journalist Samantha Brick lost 20 pounds in two months, going from size 8 to size 4, because that was her lover’s condition for their marriage.

From me, to you...

However, there are some enduring sweet stories too. A couple in China whose families opposed their love ran away: not to another village, town or city, but to a cave in the side of a mountain, and lived there for 50 years. To make it easier for his wife to get around the mountain, the man hand-carved 6,000 steps into the side of the mountain.

As for monuments to love, there are quite a few around the world. To name another cliché, there is our very own Taj Mahal. But there also exists the Sweetheart Abbey in Dumfries, Scotland, home to Devorgilla of Galloway in 1223. When her husband died in 1269, Devorgilla had his heart embalmed and placed in an ivory casket, which she then carried around with her at all times.

When she died in 1289, she was buried in front of the abbey church’s high altar, still holding on to her husband’s enshrined heart. There also exists a monument to unrequited love. In Miami, Florida, there is a place called Coral Castle that has been single-handedly carved and sculpted from over 1,100 tons of coral rock. This was the work of Ed Leedskalnin who was jilted at the age of 26, by his true love, 16-year-old Agnes Skuvst... one day before their wedding. He always said that he constructed this monument as a tribute to his ‘Sweet Sixteen’.
That’s ‘love’ for you! But then, what about romance?

Romance can be used to describe anything from an intimate relationship between two people, to an obsession or attachment for someone or something, to adventure and excitement. From ‘falling in love’, people ‘fall into attachment’, which is associated with a different brain system.

But even when people are fully committed and attached, it is always good to keep a level of intimacy and playfulness in a relationship because it keeps the relationship fresh and sweet. Even giving gifts that are not necessarily expensive but meaningful makes the other feel special. There is a caveat here — giving gifts that are useful is not romantic. Kitchen appliances, cleaning paraphernalia, and basic food items are big no-nos. If you can’t buy her diamonds, she’ll understand; but if you give her a gift-wrapped mop instead, be prepared to sleep in the dog house. To prevent any unpleasant surprises of this sort, it is best to let the other know what exactly you want, rather than let them guess it. Here is the reason why.

On one Valentine’s Day, a man called his wife to come out of the house and look at the surprise gift he’d gotten for her.

“You know how you’ve been saying that you want something that goes from 0 to 60 in under half a minute,” he said. His wife, who had been wishing for a new car, hurried outside in delight. There, on the driveway, sat a brand-new bathroom scale. Reports say that the husband is now in hiding. 

One thought to remember on Valentine’s Day, as well as the rest of the year: ‘Sing like no one is listening, love like you’ve never been hurt, dance like nobody is watching and live like it’s heaven on earth.’ (Mark Twain)
Happy Valentine’s Day!

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