Thursday, April 29, 2010

Don't Think You're the Exception. The Excitement Won't Last

In a survey conducted by AOL Living and Women’s Day in 2009 52% of women surveyed say that their husbands are not their soul mates, 72% of the women surveyed said they had considered leaving their husbands at some point or another, more than 50% said they are either bored in bed or can't remember the last time they had sex, 60% said that they rarely or never have date nights, more than 50% said that they wished their husbands either made more money or made more time for them, and nearly 50% said that their husbands had changed for the worse since they got married.

Despite all this, 71% of the women surveyed expected to be married to their spouse for the rest of their life!

Are the women who are not fully happy in their marriages masochists? Probably not. It is more likely that they simply have realized that if you decide to enter a long-term monogamous relationship, you are in some sense settling. Things are not always going to be a dance on roses. The extreme excitement, obsession and ecstatic madness won't last. And why would you want it to anyway?

Well, apparently people do want it to last. The Pew Research Center and the National Survey of Families and Households report that couples become bored and unhappy sooner than was expected: more like three years into their relationship than seven, just after the end of the "honeymoon" phase of the relationship.

This is not to say that in a long-term monogamous relationship love couldn't continue to grow but only that people confuse madness with love. Or they write off calm and rational love as love-gone-away. Even when the madness is gone, love could continues to ripen (until it falls off the tree and rots in the ground).

When love ripens, it doesn’t feel the same, most of the time it doesn’t feel like anything at all, because love in its ripening phases is an in-between state of love. It has its ups and downs.

Over half of monogamous relationships suffer from one partner or the other becoming involved in an outside relationship. They miss the madness and excitement of the beginning phrases of the relationship. The secrecy and excitement of having sex on the side resembles the maddening phases of obsessive love. Cheating temporarily brings back the madness which so many people are addicted to.

The truth is, love starts out strong and intense only to fade or ripen a few years later. Later on it's never going to be the same again, unless the lovers actually separate for an extended period of time and re-kindle at a later point.

This is what happened for Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Richard and Elizabeth fell in love when they played Mark Antony and Cleopatra in the movie Cleopatra. They got married after divorcing their spouses.

But their marriage didn’t last. Ten years and many tempestuous arguments later, they divorced, only to remarry in Africa less than a year later and divorce once again after just 11 months.

Love doesn’t always fade but when the ecstasy and extreme longing lasts a lifetime it is usually because the lovers were barred from being together.

One of history's most famous everlasting love affairs is that between Abélard and Héloïse, who were prevented from being together by Héloïse’s uncle.

In 12th century France, Peter Abélard, a French Aristotelian philosopher and one of the greatest thinkers of the 12th century, persuaded Canon Fulbert, a priest of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, to hire him as the mentor of his beautiful and highly gifted niece, Héloïse.

After Abélard had moved into Fulbert's home, Abélard and Héloïse became lovers. Though they tried to keep their relationship a secret, Fulbert eventually found out and was furious. He demanded that the lovers physically separated.

But their separation did not make them love each other any less, on the contrary: "the very sundering of our bodies served but to link our souls closer together; the plentitude of the love which was denied to us inflamed us more than ever," Héloïse later wrote.

And sure enough: shortly after their separation Héloïse told Abelard that she was pregnant. Héloïse stayed with Abélard's sister until her son Astrolabe was born.

Longing for his lover Abélard proposed a secret marriage to Fulbert, who agreed. But Héloïse turned down the proposal. She was well aware of the opportunities Abélard would be passing up if he tied himself to a family.

However, Abélard insisted and shortly after their son Astrolabe was born, he returned to Paris to get married to his lover in secrecy. The couple separated immediately after the wedding, seeing each other only in rare private moments, in order to give the impression that they were no longer involved.

But Fulbert was determined to ruin Abélard’s career and refused to keep the marriage a secret. When his niece denied the marriage, he beat her.

To keep Héloïse safe, Abélard took her to the convent at Argenteuil. Héloïse’s uncle thought that Abélard had forced her to become a nun and arranged for his relatives to take revenge in the most gruesome fashion.

One night while Abélard was asleep in a secret room in his lodgings, the relatives ambushed him and cut off his penis.

After Abélard’s tragic injury Abélard could not stay in Paris without being subject to extreme ridicule. He decided to become a monk, and he convinced Héloïse to join the cloister. She agreed out of love for her husband. She wanted no other man.

But Abélard’s and Héloïse’s love affair continued in the form of letters, which were later collected in book form. In a letter to Abélard, Héloïse wrote:

You know, beloved, as the whole world knows, how much I have lost in you, how at one wretched stroke of fortune that supreme act of flagrant treachery robbed me of my very self in robbing me of you; and how my sorrow for my loss is nothing compared with what I feel for the manner in which I lost you.

After many years Héloïse and Abélard briefly reunited at a ceremony in Paris but never saw each other again afterwards.

They love affair nonetheless went on for 20 years. Six hundred years after their death Josephine Bonaparte ordered that the remains of Abélard and Héloïse be entombed together at Pére Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Compassionate Love

Photo: People at oxytocin party taking tablets of the love and trust hormone oxytocin.

Whereas passionate love is fueled by low levels of "feel good" chemicals like serotonin and high levels of "reward" hormones like dopamine, the calm bonding effects of compassionate love are in part due to increased levels of serotonin, vasopressin and oxytocin. This package of chemicals is associated with increases in well-being, calmness, self-confidence and willingness to trust others.

The prime function of the neurotransmitter vasopressin is to regulate the body's retention of water, but vasopressin also has been found to increase pair-bonding. It makes males become more aggressive towards other males and more protective of their mates. It also has proven to have positive effects on memory.

Originally known to stimulate labor and milk ejection, oxytocin has been found to increase pain thresholds and decrease the anxiety we feel toward strangers. It has also been shown to improve the symptoms of asperger's syndrome and autism.

Oxytocin suppresses the activity in the part of the brain that processes fear. It is responsible for spontaneous erections and is released during female and male orgasms, during touch, and during the ingestion of food.

Oxytocin continually increases in popularity. You can now buy oxytocin sprays online. Though it hasn’t been proven scientifically, oxytocin sprays are advertized as trust sprays. Give your client, customer or sex buddy a few sprays of oxytocin in their nostrils, and they will trust you like the patient trusts his surgeon.

In Manhattan oxytocin parties are now all the rage. Oxytocin makes us warm and fussy inside. It creates smiles that stick to our faces like barnacles. Ideal for your uptown cocktail party.

Chemically, passionate love and compassionate love have contrary physiological profiles. Compassionate love is similar in its physiological profile to states of sleepiness and nutritional fulfillment.

Passionate love, on the other hand, is physiologically akin to obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and stressful body states such as hunger. Chemically speaking, it’s no wonder that passionate love, unlike compassionate love, involves intrusive, obsessive thoughts about the object of affection.

However, while being in love may make you high, being high does not make you fall in love. Spraying your long-term partner’s big nostrils with condensed oxytocin while he is sleeping may make him trust you, but dumping the content of fifteen bottles of oxytocin in your new hottie's chocolate martini won’t make him fancy you (it's a bit like filling his coffee maker with decaf for three weeks and then switching to espresso).

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Irrational Love as a Psychological Disorder

In my first post I introduced the idea of irrational love. Like other emotions, love can be rational or irrational. Love is assessable for rationality. One of my views of love is that irrational love is unhealthy. It is a mental disorder.

Though unhealthy irrational love is not included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it satisfies the criterion for being a disorder.

The obsessive phases of roller coaster relationships and intense love affairs tend to be irrational. In fact, their chemical profile resembles the chemical profiles of generalized anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Science tells us that the excitement of sexual and romantic love are due in part to increased levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine and low levels of serotonin.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that motivates us to continue to perform certain activities by causing a feeling of profound enjoyment in response to those activities. For example, dopamine helps to motivate us to continue to have sex by causing feelings of extreme pleasure in response to the activity.

It is commonly thought that people who are severely addicted to nicotine, amphetamines and cocaine have altered dopamine pathways that make the pleasure from the drug significantly stronger for them compared to non-addictive personality types.

Serotonin in the stomach regulates intestinal movements. In the brain it regulates mood, appetite, sleep, muscle contraction, memory and learning. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors inhibit serotonin from being absorbed by the body.

Inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin increases the serotonin levels in the brain. This has been found to enhance mood and decrease anxiety. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors have been used successfully for many years in the treatment of depression, generalized anxiety disorder and social phobia.

Love can be as addictive as cocaine and speed. A particularly severe form of love obsession is obsessive love disorder. When parents are unable to satisfy a child's emotional needs, he will continue to long for the parent's emotional attention. Consequently he will tend to become attracted to and fixated on unavailable and emotionally inaccessible partners because they are implicitly seen as the parent whose love the sufferer is longing for.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sick Love?

Welcome readers! This is my new blog devoted to the unconscious and irrational elements of love. If you are more technically inclined and love philosophy and psychology, you might want to visit my blog Lemmings. If love is your passion, stay put.

My view on love? You can love another person for just about any reason. Sounds strange? It’s not. You can kill for just about any reason, though very few are good reasons. Coral Eugene Watts strangled several women because he saw evil in their eyes. Belle Sorenson Gunness slaughtered her husbands because she believed men were evil. Ed Gein mutilated, skinned and gutted his graveyard goodies and his only live victim because he wanted to be a woman and believed he needed body parts for a sex change (or maybe to make a replica of his mother). None of these reasons are good reasons to kill, and not all reasons are good reasons to love. Still true love can, in principle, be love for any reason.

This idea that true love can occur for any reason is at odds with the view that true love is love for a good reason. In his acclaimed article "Love as a Moral Emotion” NYU professor J. David Velleman writes: "Being loved does not entail being valued on the basis of our distinctive qualities, such as our yellow hair; on the contrary, it entails being valued on the basis of our personhood, in which we are no different from other persons" (1999: 366).

In my humble opinion, our loved ones must possess particular physical attributes or personality traits in order for our love to be rational but they need not possess any particular physical attributes or personality traits in order for love to be true love. Or to put the point differently: Not all love is rational but rationality is no more of a constraint on love than rationality is a constraint on action.

Love is an emotion. Emotions can be rational. Your fear of Ted Bundy whispering in your ear that he is going to continue to have intercourse with your corpse until it putrefies is rational. So is your anger at the two 10-year old British boys who kidnapped 2-year old James Bulger and took him on a 5 kilometer walk, only to throw blue paint in his eyes, kick him and hit him with bricks, stones and a 10 kg iron bar, molest his tiny penis, place batteries in his mouth and anus and leave him on train tracks where he died before his corpse was cut in pieces by a goods train.

Like actions and beliefs emotions can be irrational. Ethan’s fear of flying is irrational because he knows that flying is safer than walking from the pool table to the restroom at the local pub in Detroit. Your anger when you first met John and he said, “Awright me old fruit, what gender are ye?”, is irrational because you know that half the people you meet are below average, that John is too stupid to be a smart-ass, and that his remark was meant as good-spirited humor. Anger in this circumstance is like borrowing cash from a pessimist because you believe that they won’t expect it back.