Does falling in love make us stupid?
Valentine’s Day will soon be upon us. I’ve got romance on the mind, and a stack of old journals at my side attesting to the weeks and months of yearning, burning and churning on the subject of… That Thing Called Love.
Glancing at passages that span more than 30 years, it’s clear I’m no stranger to those crazy-making moments of chemical concupiscence. Oh, how the heart pounds and the mind races behind our rose-colored glasses!
My prettily penned pages at age 20? (My longing for a foreign affair and none to be found…) My achey-breaky heart at 28 after a Great Guy trounced my innocent inclinations? (He left me for another woman.) My surprise at finding myself getting engaged in Paris in my thirties? (Oh, the anguish of a messy divorce…)
Chemistry or Alchemy?
Now about those brain scans, let’s consider this. Medical Daily’s article on brain scans tells us:
… Brain scans show that a region of the brain that is essential to judgment, the brain’s frontal cortex, shuts down when people fall in love. Researchers using MRI scans found that the frontal cortex deactivates when someone is shown a picture of the person they love, leading them to suspend all criticism and doubt.
Suspending all criticism and doubt.
… Brain scans also revealed that the part of the brain responsible for fear and another region involved in negative emotions shut down, which could explain why people are so happy and unafraid that anything could go wrong when they are head over heels in love.
Past studies have revealed that levels of dopamine, a chemical in the brain that plays an important role in pleasure and pain, and is linked to desire, addiction and euphoria, are higher in people who are in love.
The Young Girl’s Dreams…
And my journals bear witness, if not to addiction, then to delight.
Each and every joyful page that I revisit, and the corresponding marks of conflict and disillusionment, reflect the reality of so many of our stories: two steps forward, one step back; one step forward, two steps back; unhappy with him, unhappier without; and always, always, always… the young girl’s dreams, as they evolve.
What of the young man’s dreams?
Though we may once have been taught that girls lust for love first and adventure second, and for boys it’s the other way round, is that truly the case? Must men grow old to give voice to their most elusive prize? To admit openly to their longing to love and be loved?
Cupid’s pretty promise remains: laughter, trust, acceptance; intellectual compatibilty that seals our passion; a foundation upon which we can rely through tough times; and for me, mutual commitment to the one who is cherished.
One. Good. Man.
Perfect. For. Me.
Me. For. Him.
My, how easily we make such statements. How pertly they perform to tag our candy-coated hearts.
New Math? Old Math? Not So Fast…
Of course, love is rarely a zero sum game anymore than it is a neat exercise in arithmetic of singles summing to pairs, or logical equations of “if this, then that.” Love is music, not mathematics.
Oh, for clarity in the midst of our symphonic euphoria!
Instead, we ignore obvious obstacles that can never be obliterated, we stick too long in relationships that cannot be improved, we pine for those who show no interest, and we love too deeply, too carelessly and too insistently, though we may not see our way to the meeting of the minds necessary for the meeting of our hearts to be sustained.
Even now, on that last, I am seduced by a series of stubbornly sentimental what ifs, as I read my own accounts of love’s most eloquent examples.
Whether we’re thinking of the one that got away, the one we didn’t listen to (or possibly heard all too well), the one we felt deeply about (yet timing schemed against us)… Man or woman, don’t most of us suffer a blind spot when we’re in love, and an equally distorted perspective when gazing at the relationship in the rear-view mirror?
Are we happy to be stupid in love? Or stupid to be happy in love?
Perhaps we’re bound to be both, some of us more than others. And then what, when we remove the blinders of those early weeks and months, as we venture beyond limerence?
After the Fall
That’s another story, and perhaps another question. Try this: Does attempting to stay in love make us stupid? And this: What about loving, in all its stages and degrees?
I can only answer for myself with an idealistic “I hope not” to the first, and a measured “that depends” to the second. As my journals remind me: Timing is important (if not everything), maturity is helpful (though we may have miles to go), circumstances are vital to what soars (and what plummets), the other’s willingness to share responsibility for success (or bumps and bruises) is beyond our control, and insights into our own faults (and foibles) are essential.
After all, without self-awareness how can we adapt? How can we adequately communicate? How can we reasonably compromise? How can we decide if we wish to change, and then execute? How else can we retain a refrain that notes the spark, the spike, even the bite — when we must restore ourselves to the realities of everyday life?
As I skim the yearnings of a 20-year-old, the heartache of a 28-year-old, and the discoveries at 35 and 48 and 54, I’m glad to have captured my journeys and jaunts through the pleasures of falling ardently, blissfully, capriciously, deliriously, enthusiastically, fearlessly, gracefully, hungrily, intoxicatingly in love.
Ah, the bittersweet stream of pages that inevitably follows… with a trail of brave, broken, determined, and defiant words; declarations I cannot withdraw and wouldn’t exchange for any pot of gold; snippets that summarize the usual ups and downs that are testament to excellent choices in some instances, and less so in others, because we are, most of us, thankfully, as science now assures us… irrepressibly, irretrievably, and gloriously stupid in love.
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