Have you ever been in love? Are you in love right now? What kind of love? Is it a soul mate kind of love or can’t imagine life without them kind of love? Or are those two the same thing? I (along with 99.9% of women and a good chunk of men too) have wondered since I was a little girl what love was. I couldn’t wait to be in it, whatever it meant. It seemed exciting and fun and, of course, would lead me to a happy fulfilled life. Now older, a little more skeptical but still just as hopeful, I describe love as being like a shower: I will stall and wait and do everything I can to put off getting in, but once I’m in it, I stall and wait and do everything I can to delay getting out. What the hell is this thing and why is it so powerful?
The truth is nobody really knows. Well, religious people have an explanation, but from a scientific standpoint romantic love is hard to explain. You’ve probably heard of “love hormones” or chemicals in your brain that relate to love but even these things don’t really explain being in love. Love hormones refer to testosterone and estrogen that come into play during the initial “lust” phases of a relationship but these hormones are active any time one is physically attracted to someone else. I’m attracted to a lot of dudes, doesn’t mean I love them.
Another hormone people refer to when trying to explain love is oxytocin. Oxytocin is also known as the “cuddle hormone” and is released when both men and women orgasm. It’s not just released when you’re in love with the person you’re having sex with, but any time you orgasm. Oxytocin is also released when a woman gives birth helping her to become the nurturing mother babies need right away. So while this hormone may help you feel closer to someone, it’s not specific to romantic love. In fact, this hormone could potentially trick you into thinking you’re in love with someone you’re having a lot of sex with, when, in fact, it may just be sex.
Vasopressin is another “love hormone” and is released after sex. Also called anti-diuretic hormone, vasopressin helps men bond with their female partners. All males are under the influence of vasopressin when they have sex and it’s part of the “possessive” nature men have. For men, being under the influence of vasopressin is similar to an animal’s instinct to claim its territory; except after sex, the female is the territory. Her scent, hair, eyes, even the color of her sheets can all become triggers in the man that make him crave her. This is also why breakups are usually harder on the man because when he loses his girl, he doesn’t just lose her, he loses his “home.”
Vasopressin helps make men want to be monogamous but it’s a hormone released any time a man has sex, and is found amongst other animals and it has clear practical applications. Monogamy makes life easier – imagine having to find a new mate every spring like many in the animal kingdom do. It makes much more sense to keep the same mate for many years increasing your likelihood of producing a lot of offspring. Vasopressin helps encourage this behavior in men.
One of my favorite ways people try to explain love is through the chemicals adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin. These chemicals are active in the brain when you consistently think about the person you love. Basically these are “obsessive chemicals.” While they may be present whilst you’re obsessing over someone you adore, I don’t see how this explains what love actually is. Your body doesn’t tell you to fall in love by producing these chemicals. No, you fall in love and your body responds to your love by producing these chemicals.
Pretty much everything human, from our physical selves to our emotions and desires, serve a purpose and that purpose is to survive. Survival both in terms of not dying individually and surviving as a species by procreating as much as possible. Pubic hair, a competitive nature, curiosity, dark skin etc., one could make a good case as to why all those things exist from an evolutionary standpoint to help individuals and species continue existing.
Even the desire to be monogamous as mentioned above is theorized to be an evolutionary practice adopted because it makes having babies less time consuming and more efficient. But what practice does romantic love serve? Just turn on the radio and you’ll hear tale after tale of love ruining lives, inducing drug and alcohol abuse, and leading to people doing some pretty crazy shi*. Love is great if both parties feel it – and at an equal rate I might add – but the odds of that happening are about as slim as getting struck by lightning while getting hit by a car. (I made that stat up.) But just look at the divorce rate, then look at the people who stayed married but are unhappy. You could even take it a step further, think about a couple you know that seems pretty happy. Now pick which person appears to be “more in love.” Could you pick one? If so, you’re helping prove my point.
Everyone thinks they know what love is, what it feels like and whether or not the other person feels the same way. But anyone who’s ever been a pint of ice cream deep sitting on the couch in their pajamas at 2 p.m. in the afternoon with bags under their eyes knows that in reality love is a cloud that feels impossible to pin down.
Wouldn’t it have made more sense for humans to evolve not to fall in love? Finding a partner wouldn’t involve finding a “spark,” it would be like a job interview. And if the partner left you after finding someone else with better benefits, you’d completely understand and sincerely wish them luck with their new partner. I know what my ad would say:
WANTED: Tall, dark, relatively in shape manchild with good teeth and handyman skills. Must be familiar with the movie “Big Trouble in Little China.” Freckles preferred but not required.
(And yes, brown men with freckles exist.)
Someone answers my ad and I fit most of his qualifications so boom! We form a partnership. But then just as we’re about to get down to making some babies he notices a different ad for a woman who meets one of the criteria I couldn’t. She’s 5’10”. “Sorry,” he says, “I want tall offspring.” I say “fair enough” shake his hand and off he goes. And I return to my search.
And how simple “break ups” would be! There wouldn’t be drawn out fights. Numerous “getting back togethers” to see if it can work after all. No waiting around to see if they’ll realize their mistake. No tearful nights or drunken rebounds. In short, a lot less time would be wasted.
But alas, that’s not how we evolved. As I see it romantic love has no practical purpose. Loyalty doesn’t require romantic love, I’m extremely loyal to my brother but I’m not in love with him. Trust doesn’t require romantic love, I trust my best friends with pretty much everything and I’m not in love with any of them. But romantic love has made me loyal to those who didn’t deserve it and lose trust in my own ability to make sound decisions.
I probably sound like a cynic who’s had her heart broken one too many times but I’m not. Like I said before I am still hopeful one day I will find someone to be equally hopelessly and stupidly and wonderfully in love with. But notice how I said stupidly. Like most humans, I have an internal instinct to find someone to love, I’m just aware the instinct makes no sense. By the way, if you know a single person who fits the descriptors in my fake ad, feel free to drop me a message.