A four letter word; innocent to the eye, sweet to the tongue.
If you are reading this, chances are you have used the word before. Depending on the context, it could mean a lot of things. We love our football teams, our country, a celebrity, our pets; and the list goes on.
With the practice of loving things and animals and of course, beloved beings, you would think we are pros on the subject; needing no education whatsoever.
However, when stakes are raised to the highest in our romantic life, it appears we are like toddlers, clueless of the world before us, even after living through so many romances. From the onset, we struggle to define love's meaning and expression, and naturally, this means we can’t even tell if a person loves us or if they just have a liking for us. In fact, one might ask, is there a difference?
Perhaps differing levels of expectation is what distinguishes fraternal love from romantic love. Besides, we are allowed an infinite number of friends, each serving a different purpose in our lives. Our identities are not strongly shaped by our friends as much as they are by our partners. For example, one may not mind having a friend that comes off as a bit of a buffoon, but a partner that cannot be trusted to protect our reputations is a ticking time bomb. Why is this so?
Why then , despite the knowledge that spending more intimate time with people reveals their flaw, are we still so expectant of greatness from mere mortals? This is manifest in our inability to define love based mostly on what we have been told it is. If you grew up in the era of the romantic comedies and Disney films, it isn’t hard to have learned that love exists as a circle of perfection marked by a happy ending of running into sunsets and chasing rainbows. As creatures of imitation, it is hard to break away from these hardwired notions. And like Hollywood wasn’t enough, our minds and bodies play all sorts of tricks on us. Most people that have been in love would tell of a sudden head-in-the-cloud madness that descends upon them at the time.
The symptoms include obsessively thinking about the lover, a constant longing to hear from and be with them, and when sex happens, an inability to spend each waking moment without them. And then just like that, one day, reality returns and we have to get back to our lives of moneymaking and dream chasing. Overnight the subject of our affection ceases to be the centre of our universe and we must now make actual efforts to keep to our commitment of love. This is when love gets hard; this is when most relationships begin to fall apart.
Understandably, it isn’t our fault that we struggle to deal with this post-madness reality. We are taught chemistry and calculus in school, but no one bothers with emotional intelligence because we falsely believe it comes as naturally and instinctively as breast-sucking. This expectation to be naturally pros can be seen from the onset where we relate love to irrational infatuation. We have been raised to believe love as a feeling that cannot be forced, an emotion that cannot be controlled. From the beginning, we have surrendered reason and demonised logic. In this worldview, love requires no cause or reason, to be in its purest form, it is meant to be felt, not understood. Reducing love to any rational reason almost appears like some sort of crime against the concept.
Hyper-rational minds discard this emotion-based approach and jump to the extreme end of the scale where love is described as a biological reaction championed by some hormones, chief of which is oxytocin aka the cuddle hormone. Science says that Oxytocin released during cuddling and orgasm increases the feelings of attachment. But unfortunately, it isn’t the gift that keeps giving as it runs out in intensity any time from three months to three years. This complete reduction to a biological base pushes the hyper-rational person to a place of unhealthy detachment because they have absolved themselves of all responsibility to love by placing the burden on a biological function they cannot control. In fact, psychologist, Dorothy Tennov, even has a word for this phase of love, Limerance — an obsessive feeling of love marked by hormonal changes.
Most people abandon the magical notion of love after a heart-wrenching breakup. Regardless, as they say of all great cynics, there is still an idealist trapped inside the deepest recess of the being. Experience and emotional intelligence teach us that love, just like humans who give it, cannot be perfect; it is rather, a journey with no end. It requires good communication and understanding. Also, this stings but there is a need to relinquish all hopes of being the centre of anyone’s universe.
At its core, romantic love is a commitment to choose to be with a partner not because we expect everything to be rosy and perfect, but because we are willing to go the distance to make what we have the best it can be. If anyone ever told you it would be easy, ask yourself; what good has ever come out of anything easy?
If you're still asking what love is, we would tell you; love is choosing.