As far as we know there is no society on earth that does not have romantic love as part of its make up. In all of their studies anthropologists have never found a society that did not have the presence of romantic love in its social fabric. This sounds wonderful and quite warming, a positive constant in an ever changing world, but the reality is that romantic love is not always a positive or happy experience.
Love, and specifically romantic love seems to be a type of madness on both sides of a continuum. As powerful as the effect of positive romantic love is, the effects of romance failed is seemingly more so and for a few reasons perhaps.
Romantic love is one of the most powerful things on earth. It is in the evidence of its power over our decision making that it can be almost seen as a type of madness. We have also come to discover that romantic love is an obsession, a drug that can enslave us and change us dramatically.
Paul Simon wrote a song called “Allergies” on his Album “Hearts & Bones”
“My heart can stand a disaster
My heart can take a disgrace
But my heart is allergic
To the women I love
And it’s changing the shape of my face”
We have also come to discover that the other side of romantic love, rejection or broken romance is even more obsessive.
It seems clear now that in the human brain the same area fires up and is activated in positive and negative romantic love i.e. – when you have just fallen into love and are ecstatic as when you have just been unceremoniously dumped and are in devastating emotional distress.
Another interesting discovery that modern science backs is that the less our hope is in obtaining an object of our desire the hotter our desire for that object is. This is crazy stuff. Just when one would think that a failed romance and the accompanying disillusionment would cause reason and sanity to set in and snap the hurting party out of the pain and into reality the opposite actually happens – the obsession with the relationship intensifies all the more, and not always in the best way. It can tip us over the edge and get us to act totally irrationally. It can literally change the shape of our face. It’s as if we shift our perception on reality and then willingly risk all as we ride this wave obsessively all the way to the shore.
When we suffer in this way it seems that the desire of love is replicated in the opposite and in fact even tends to exceed the intensity of the positive romantic love it once seemed to have had. It has now been observed that the reward system in our brains for wanting and which sparks motivation and develops drive to achieve our goals can go into almost a craving for what we desire. This gets more active when we cannot get our hands on the object of our desire. The more something is seemingly out of reach the more we stretch and reach for it and the more we intensify our passion in this quest.
Another interesting discovery is that the same area of the brain that measures and calculates the extremities of gains or losses is the same area that fires up when we make decisions to take huge risks with the possibility of huge loss in order to gain something we desire. Here also it seems that sober reason and irrational, high risk seem to come from the same source.
It is madness of a sort, but it seems like when we are at greater risk of losing out we are fired up all the more.
Could taking a sideways step to look at this suggest that in the same way faith and doubt are from the exact same place? What about love and hate? They seem so opposite but maybe they are the same thing? Is it reasonable to suggest that love and hate are also so similar – possibly even from the exact same place, two sides of the exact same coin? Maybe even the exact same thing – just expressed and experienced very (extremely) differently?
If we turn our attention towards faith and religion and specifically the concept of a professed “love for God,” could it mean that the more we desire to press in and believe and seek after the love of God towards us we are actually faced with the opposite reality as a very present factor in our minds?
I have always found it very interesting that so many turn to a belief in God in times of deep and desperate pain, sorrow or rejection, or in the face of significant failure and even loss. Loss of dignity, worth, even of physical things like health or finances? I have also noticed that those who are the most adamant and vocal about their belief and often adopt a fundamentalist stance seem to be either in or coming out of a very desperate situation in their lives. Could it be that those of us who are passionately aligned to our belief systems are actually in the realm of ‘madness’? Could it be that we are reacting and energising ourselves to pursue what we feel is so out of reach to us, possibly even lost forever?
Could this be what is being suggested or referred to when we are challenged with the “golden Rule” – the command to love others as we love ourselves?
What could this all say about love? Why we love, how we love, whom or what we love?
What might it say about our theologies and the groupings we choose to gravitate towards or even belong to?