In honor of the anniversary of the end of WWI (90 years ago on November 7, the “war to end all wars” ended), this blog entry looks at love (the hopeful antidote to war) microscopically, across time and into the future.
Love is by far the most influential feeling a person can experience. Love has an extraordinary way of knocking people off their feet, away from their path, and causing them to behave in the most unexpected ways. It has been opposed to war (think 60’s slogan “Make Love, Not War”), has incited war (Helen of Troy myth) and street fights (West Side Story). Of course, many spiritual leaders say jealousy is not love. They say real love would not cause war, fighting, or anything negative. Real love rises above conflict and wants the best for everyone. If that’s the case why is love so crazymaking for so many people? The answer might be two-fold. There are some biological aspects to falling in love that actually create a chemical imbalance in people. There are also some perpetual myths about love that reinforce love’s dark side.
A quick look at the biological underpinnings of love reveals that the early stages of falling in love (or infatuation) triggers a release of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine. This increase of dopamine creates feelings of exhilaration, heightened focus, and increases one’s energy—which explains why, when people are falling in love, they might lose weight, become more active, can stay up all night talking with each other, and feel euphoric like they’re walking on a cloud.
One-way love (unrequited love) or rejected/abandoned love can wreak havoc on the impacted person’s serotonin levels (displaying significant drops in serotonin as high as 40%, according to research by Donatella Marazziti). Such drops in serotonin mimic obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and probably explain the stalking behavior of some jilted or obsessed lovers.
Long-term, committed love reveals an increase in the bonding hormone oxytocin and is responsible for feelings of security and contentment. At this stage, dopamine returns to normal, but oxytocin levels are heightened. This could explain why people don’t feel that excited rush of first love in longer-term relationships and often differentiate feelings of being “in love” with feelings of “love”…or confusing the chemical shift as an absence of love.
On top of our ever-changing chemical reactions to “love," humankind is also conditioned to beliefs and rules about love. These norms/myths/narratives create behavioral responses that are deemed acceptable or non-acceptable by society. For instance, divorce was once unacceptable but has increased as society has accepted it as less taboo. Pursuing individual happiness is a new norm. Nonetheless, some myths are enduring throughout time. To illustrate, here is an excerpt of “rules” about love put forth in the 12th century. See how many apply today.
“The Rules of Love” by Andreas Capellanus, 1185
- The state of marriage does not necessarily excuse anyone from loving.
- He who does not feel jealousy is incapable of loving.
- No one can love two people at the same time.
- It is well known that love is either growing or declining.
- Whatever a lover takes from his lover’s will has no savor.
- A male does not fall in love until he has reached full manhood.
- A mourning of two years is required by the survivor.
- No one should be prevented from loving save by reason of his or her own death.
- No one can love save by the eloquence of love.
- Love is accustomed to be an exile from the house of avarice.
- It is unseemly to love anyone whom you would be ashamed to marry.
- A true lover only desires the passionate embraces of his beloved.
- Love that is made public rarely lasts.
- Love easily obtained is of little value; difficulty in obtaining it makes it precious.
- Every lover regularly turns pale in the presence of the beloved.
- On suddenly catching sight of the beloved, the heart begins to palpitate.
- A new love drives out the old.
- A good character alone makes someone worthy of love.
- If love lessens, it soon fails and rarely recovers.
- A man in love is always fearful.
- The feeling of love is always increased by true jealousy.
- A suspicious lover and the sensation of love is increased.
- A man tormented by the thought of love, eats and sleeps little.
- Everything a lover does ends in the thought of the beloved.
- A true lover considers nothing good but what he thinks will please his beloved.
- Love can deny nothing to love.
- A lover cannot have too much of his beloved’s consolations.
- The smallest supposition compels a lover to suspect his beloved of doing wrong.
- A man troubled by excessive lust does not usually love.
- A true lover is continually, without interruption, obsessed by the image of his beloved.
I believe there is another level of love—an evolved love—that many people are now experiencing. This kind of love can cure war. Through knowledge and psycho-spiritual growth, we can override our basic biological and cultural drives toward jealousy, insecurity, lust, and discrimination. By understanding the natural biological and cultural underpinnings of the dark and light side of love, we can step back and realize how our ‘primal’ brain and prevailing culture influences us and then separate those responses from a more higher-functioning and evolved response. That is where evolved love thrives—and we as a collective whole can unite and overcome war. As Blaise Pascal suggested, “The more intelligent a person is, the more originality is found in others. Ordinary people see no difference between men.” Evolved love is expansive, not constrictive or jealous, and let’s you love someone special while also seeing and loving the “originality” in people worldwide.