Sunday, July 09, 2006

That Thing Called Love

We have for centuries concocted poems and stories and plays about the cycles of love, the way it morphs and changes over time, the way passion grabs us by the throat and then leaves us saner. Yes, we have heard all about that. And each of us may have something to add to it. But now scientists are discovering that the plethora of chemicals that ignite that feeling of bliss are completely different from the ones that foster long term commitment and attachment. So what really is this thing called love?

A particular hormone, called dopamine, may be our quintessential love potion. In the right proportions this hormone creates intense energy, exhilaration and motivation. It may be the reason why, when we are madly in love, we can stay up all night, watch the sun and rise and set (usually too boring to elicit poetic thoughts) or run a race we never imagined we could ever complete. Love (or maybe our endogenous love potion) makes us run real risks, which we sometimes survive and sometimes don’t. In short, it is all what love is about isn’t it? Doing things that would make the saner variety of our species look at us with surprise coupled with amusement.

But doesn’t passion usually fizzle out in the end? After the initial hullabaloo, it all boils down to bickering in most of the cases. No wonder some cultures, like our very own, think that a selecting a lifelong mate based on something so fleeting is folly. Of course that’s a mandate none of us can follow. We do fall in love, sometimes over and over again, and subjecting ourselves each time to a very sick state of mind. Psychoanalysts have formulated countless theories as to why we fall in love with whom we do. But as we all might (or might not) have come to know, it’s that unexplainable impulsive instinct that often guides us. That’s why love has often been likened to sickness. We never know what we are doing in love.

Anthropologists used to think that romance was a western construct, a bourgeois by-product. They thought that love was for the sophisticated and took in place in cafes in the presence of coffee and scones. It took place in lush green meadows riding thorough bred horses. They believed that a lice-ridden peasant could never actually feel passion. But they were quite wrong as it turned out. They now know that love is something panhuman, embedded in our brains since the dawn of civilization. But though love may be universal, its expression is certainly not. And who can be a better judge of that than Indians who stand on a threshold, caught in a time warp between tradition and westernization.

But why doesn’t that passion last? How is it possible that the person who meant the world to you on Sunday elicits gross comments on a similar Sunday 364 days later? Surely the appearance of the person must have not changed in such a short period. She still has those shapely eyes. She still has that husky voice which once caught your imagination. But it ends and its conclusion is as common and certain as its initial flare. Biologically speaking, the reason why it fades away into oblivion maybe found in the way our brain responds to dopamine. Maybe it’ a good thing love fizzles out. Would we have railroads, bridges, faxes, and computers if we were all besotted all the time?

All this discussion tells us one thing maybe. To be madly in love maybe just that - madness. The term ‘lovesick’ is surprisingly accurate. Love blurs the line between mental health and psychopathology. But still, can we resist it - the Cupid’s arrow? I guess not. That’s why people ‘do things’ in love. Love can be dangerous. Science can explain how love affects the brain but never the mystery of how it affects the heart and why we end up doing what we do.


  1. being in love is like being on another level of consciousness i think...havnt ever had d priviledge of being in that exalted position..ha ha..