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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Just a Love-Addicted Romantic -- Intimate, Passionate, and Committed

Love's Philosophy
The fountains mingle with the river,
And the rivers with the ocean;
The winds of heaven mix forever,
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In one another’s being mingle;--
Why not I with thine?
See! the mountains kiss high heaven,
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister flower would be forgiven,
If it disdained it’s brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth,
And the moonbeams kiss the sea;--
What are all these kissings worth,
If thou kiss not me?

Percy Bysshe Shelly (1792-1822).

It's the time of the season, and this time, February 14, is dedicated to expressing our love. Love, the emotion that emanates from the heart, defies classical definition. Even if we concede the word should be placed in the general category of affection, its definiens (differentiating characteristics) are too numerous to adequately lend precision to a persuasive definition.

Writers, poets, philosophers, and psychologists have used language full of descriptive imagery, symbolism, and metaphor to capture faint glimpses of the actuality of love, yet since the beginning of civilization, humans' attempts to rationalize it have largely failed.

Nothing within the limitations of the human mind can harness a logical understanding of this mysterious, powerful force. Still, even without a whole conception of love, no one is so ignorant as to deny its subsistence. After endless contemplation, each student of love eventually realizes that "love is love" and whatever its constructs and forms, love is the alpha and the omega of the reason for human existence. The power of love represents all that is good.

So, as humans, we place ultimate trust in finding someone to share our love, someone to help cultivate its power and glory. Certainly, we understand love cannot be complete without a romantic partner. Someone once said love may not make the world go round, but love is what makes the ride worthwhile. And, we will do everything we can to find the one who helps us achieve the most spectacular ride.

Some honestly believe a love partner is a divine gift: a singular soul mate. This idea of completing a romantic existence has ancient roots. For the Greek philosopher Plato (428-348 B.C.E.), love was a quest for one's soul mate, the one person on earth with whom the searcher belonged.

Plato claimed human love derived from the fact that the precursors to mortal men were "double" bodies, beings with two heads, sets of arms and legs, created as pairs of lifelong companions, some male, some female, and some a pairing of male with female. When these cozy bonds were destroyed by the gods to punish mankind for some infraction, lovers were cursed, forever searching for his or her "other half."

Of course, soulful romance comes to the fore as Valentine's Day approaches. Romance, a love that seems to emphasize emotion over libido, was a literary genre in a style of heroic prose and verse narrative that developed in the aristocratic courts of mid-12th-century France and had its heyday in France, England, and Germany between the mid-12th and mid-13th century.

Romantic subject matter often involved the exotic, the remote and the miraculous. Chivalric adventure though courtly love stories and religious allegories were sometimes interwoven. Most romances drew their plots from classical history and legend, Arthurian legend, and the adventures of Charlemagne and his knights.

Romance all but disappeared as a force in literature in the 17th century with the rise of empirical thought, rationalism, a theology based on analogy to the natural world and the advent of the bourgeois mode of realism. But, it retained a slim foothold through pastoral (rustic, rural literature  free from the complexity and corruption of city life).

A true romanticist is someone known to believe: (1) love conquers all, (2) love can strike at first sight, (3) the one he/she loves will meet his/her highest ideals, and (4) each person has only one love in the world.

These days most people assume romance and eroticism are synonyms. As evidenced in all forms of modern media, "romantic" images focus on erotic content meant to stimulate sexual excitement and arousal or the anticipation of such. People have become accustomed to seeing romantic themes mixed with erotic, insistent sexual impulses.

Maybe Valentine's Day remains the hopeless romantic's best opportunity to share this ardent emotional attachment for another in a simple token of idealized love. Romance? I believe although it may be bruised and misshaped by eroticism and cheap sexuality, it still ignites imagination and adventure. Perhaps a verse and a kiss might be appropriate gifts for a lover. Read these wise words by Shelley:
 "Soul meets soul on lovers' lips."

--Percy Bysshe Shelley
 A Popular Theory of Love -- The Triangle

What is the state of your love for another? It might be interesting to consider what comprises your relationship with your lover. Although love defies definition, people believe analyzing relationships may satisfy their needs to change or to accept the status of their love for another in their lives.

This analytical approach of studying affection may seem cold to the romantic; however, even though love is a nebulous thing, description can increase the understanding of its mysterious properties. Give the scaling exercise a try. It may make for some very interesting introspection.
Psychologist Robert Sternberg proposed the triangular theory of love in a 1986 paper. Steinberg believes Consummate Love is the complete form of love, representing an ideal relationship which people strive towards. Of the seven varieties of love, consummate love is theorized to be that love associated with the “perfect couple.”

According to Sternberg, these couples will continue to have great sex fifteen years or more into the relationship; they cannot imagine themselves happier over the long-term with anyone else; they overcome their few difficulties gracefully; and each delight in the relationship with one other.

Yet, Sternberg cautions that maintaining a Consummate Love may be even harder than achieving it. He stresses the importance of translating the components of love into action. "Without expression," he warns, "even the greatest of loves can die." Thus, Consummate Love may not be permanent. If passion is lost over time, it may change.

Sternberg, Robert J. (1986). “A triangular theory of love”. Psychological Review 93 (2): 119–135.

Sternberg, Robert J. (1987).  "Liking versus loving: A comparative evaluation of theories." Psychological Bulletin. pp. 331–345.

Sternberg, Robert J. (1988). The Triangle of Love: Intimacy, Passion, Commitment.

According to Sternberg's theory, Consummate Love consists of three components: intimacy, passion, and commitment.

Consummate Love (An Ideal)

* Intimacy 

(Intimacy involves closeness, attachment, bondedness, connectedness.)

* Passion 

(Passion refers to states of emotional and physiological arousal. This includes sexual arousal and physical attraction as well as other kinds of intense emotional experiences. It also includes limerence, an involuntary state of mind which results from a romantic attraction to another person combined with an overwhelming, obsessive need to have one's feelings reciprocated)

* Commitment

(Commitment involves a decision to commit to loving the other and trying to maintain that love over time. In the short term, it is the decision to remain with another, and in the long term, it is the shared achievements and plans made with that other.)

Sternberg also describes six other combinations.

Kind of lovePassionIntimacyCommitment
Empty love--X
Romantic loveXX-
Companionate love-XX
Fatuous loveX-X
Consumate loveXXX

Nonlove refers simply to the absence of all three components of love. Nonlove characterizes the large majority of our personal relationships, which are simply casual interactions.

Liking (Friendship) is used here in a nontrivial sense. Rather, it refers to the set of feelings one experiences in relationships that can truly be characterized as friendship. One feels closeness, bondedness, and warmth toward the other, without feelings of intense passion or long-term commitment.

Infatuation involves passion only and often occurs at the very beginning of a relationship. This tends to be a superficial relationship that is one-sided, where the couple are temporarily ga-ga over one another. In Hollyword, this is known as a “whirlwind romance.” Without developing intimacy or commitment, infatuated love may disappear very suddenly.

Empty love involves commitment with no intimacy or passion, as in an arranged marriage—but it may grow into other forms of love over time. In an arranged marriage, the spouses’ relationship may begin as empty love and develop into another form, indicating how empty love need not be the terminal state of a long-term relationship…[but] the beginning rather than the end. This is most often an older relationship where the passion and intimacy have died…like “falling out of love.”

Romantic love involves intimacy and passion without commitment and is more common in the teenage and young adult years. This can be a blossoming relationship where the couple feel like best friends (“friends with benefits”). Romantic lovers are not only drawn physically to each other but are also bonded emotionally.

Companionate love involves intimacy and commitment without passion and is typical of close friends, and sometimes long-term marriages. This usually occurs in older relationships where the couple remain best friends, but no longer feel passion for one another; hence, they have a platonic but strong friendship.This type of love can still be very satisfying and long-lasting. The love ideally shared between family members is also a form of companionate love.

Fatuous love is like getting engaged after dating for three weeks: a whirlwind courtship and marriage. It involves passion and commitment, but no deeper intimacy. This love is fatuous in the sense that a commitment is made on the basis of passion without the stabilizing influence of intimate involvement.”

This analytical study of love doesn't necessarily destroy its magic. In fact, it might help us love more wisely as we develop a greater appreciation for the social, biological, and cultural forces that shape the loving choices we make.

A Scientific Study of Love

(A) History

Science will likely never discover the essence of love in all its many forms, but here is some "love history" plus a medical breakdown of the various bodily reactions to the emotion.

Dr Helen Fisher of Rutgers University, who led research published by the Society for Neuroscience, said:

"We believe romantic love is a developed form of one of three primary brain networks that evolved to direct mammalian reproduction.

1. "The sex drive evolved to motivate individuals to seek sex with any appropriate partner.
 2. "Attraction, the mammalian precursor of romantic love, evolved to enable individuals to pursue preferred mating partners, thereby conserving courtship time and energy.
3. "The brain circuitry for male-female attachment evolved to enable individuals to remain with a mate long enough to complete species-specific parenting duties."

("How The Brain Reacts to Romance," BBC News, November 12 2003)

(B) Medicine of Love

According to Loyola University Health System love guru Domeena Renshaw, falling in love causes the body to release chemicals that trigger specific physical reactions.
Renshaw claims there are three phases of love, which include lust, attraction and attachment.

* Lust -- The id rages, and we enter a hormone-driven phase where we experience desire.

* Attraction --  Blood flows to the pleasure centre of the brain. This happens when we feel an overwhelming fixation with our partner.

* Attachment -- Our body develops a tolerance to the pleasure stimulants. Endorphins and hormones vasopressin and oxytocin also flood the body at this point creating an overall sense of well-being and security that is conducive to a lasting relationship.

When two people fall in love, levels of substances, which include dopamine, adrenaline and norepinephrine, increase. Dopamine creates feelings of euphoria while adrenaline and norepinephrine are responsible for the pitter patter of the heart, restlessness and overall preoccupation that go along with experiencing love.

MRI scans revealed that love lights up the pleasure centre of the brain. When one falls in love, blood flow increases in this area, which is the same part of the brain responsible for drug addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

When a person feels desire it’s the insula of the brain that brings it to consciousness. Located in the cerebral cortex, the insula connects the limbic system, which is a primitive emotion area, to the cortex, where higher thinking occurs. This way we become aware of our feelings and attribute meaning to them.

Brain images also reveal that the back portion of the insula is triggered by desire, the front by romantic feelings, and the middle portion by someone we love and desire.

As this is happening, the striatum is also triggered. Located close to the insula, the striatum coordinates planning and executing pathways so that when a person is motivated, they act – for example, on the object of their love and desire. Sexual desire activates the ventral striatum, the brain’s reward system. When someone enjoys a great dessert or an orgasm, it’s the ventral striatum that flickers with life. Love sparks activity in the dorsal striatum, which is associated with drug addiction.

Love lowers serotonin levels, which is common in people with obsessive compulsive disorders. This may explain why we concentrate on little other than our partner during the early stages of a relationship.

("Cupid's Arrow May Cause More Than Just Sparks To Fly This Valentine's Day,
Science Daily, from Loyola University Health System, February 14 2009)

Maybe rocker Robert Palmer had it right when he sang "Addicted To Love." Even if romantic lovers don't care for this intellectual, medical explanation of eros, they certainly understand the power and drive associated with the sweet chemicals that intoxicate their bodies as they fall in love. Don't we agree that love is a drug? And, it does act just like drug addiction. Anyone who has had someone break up with them feels like a drug addict in withdrawal. They end up getting cravings.

What's Love Got To Do With IT?

I'll be damned if I know much about love. I'm sure that comes as no surprise to many. Still, I'll confess to having been there and done that -- in lust -- in attraction -- in attachment. Yet, I feel pretty much "blind" while I'm in the affectionate emotion, and I feel my personal perspective lacks sufficient distance and information to speak with any romantic authority.

I do, however, better understand affection as it relates to a higher love.

I've had the intimacy, the passion, the commitment.

In my life, it's affection that has caused me to feel my best, and it's affection that has caused me to feel my worst.

It's affection -- the lack of it, the need of it, the fill of it, the highs of it, the beginnings and ends of it -- that has made me feel as if I am going crazy.

Please note that early Romans even equated passionate love with madness, advising that romance should be avoided if one hoped to lead a responsible, successful life.

Addiction. Madness. Ecstasy. Pain. It is not hard to remember all of these in my limited experience with romance.

You see, I've done the roses, the chocolate, the poetry, and the chivalrous and treacherous quest for the "holy grail" of full love. But, I believe that love is most indicative of the unattainable. As I have been fortunate to experience its symptoms and nurture its wonderful gifts, I thank God for the presence of this affection in my life, and I thank God for all the treasures bestowed upon me by a loving mate.

But still, I believe I have yet to taste love. Why? Because love in the truest, purest sense of the word, is something we will experience in another existence after our earthly lives. Love is both timeless and infinite. I have no models or definitions or conceptions of something possessing those divine qualities. I am in awe of love.

The greatest affection I feel today is limited by my body in my particular time and space. I have to think that all the gifts of affection I could possibly attain on earth pale in comparison to the love I will receive in the next plane of my existence. Maybe there, in another form, I will find love is truly attainable. Here, I and my relationship with love is too full of imperfections.

"Perfect love is rare indeed -
for to be a lover will require
that you continually have
the subtlety of the very wise,
the flexibility of the child,
the sensitivity of the artist,
the understanding of the philosopher,
the acceptance of the saint,
the tolerance of the scholar and
the fortitude of the certain."
~Leo Buscaglia

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