Thursday, October 22, 2009

What is it about Love?

I read this article about Love in the Sunday times some time back which made me plunge into the age old debate as to what is love. A long time back, when the mind was more pholosophical, I did discuss with my would be husband about my take on love. I thought it as a positive emotion on a scale with centre marked as 0 i.e. no emotion; to the right where positive feelings exist and left where the negative feelings exist. Human being is a pendulum, in equilibrium its stable at 0, and then a force pulls him/her to its side. The analogy is obviously too simple and cannot explain all aspects of this complex phenomenon, except that the more you get pulled to one side the more likely you are to swing back to the opposite.

This time I still think of it as a positive emotion but would explore a little further. As an ardent admirer of Freud's observations, I too believe in the primal instincts of eros and thanatos, and the pleasure principle. Anything we humans do serves one purpose- survival of self and species and we do it for one thing- the pleasure. Love serves the purpose of survival of self and the species. In basic neurochemical science, it shouldnot be such a complex issue. But it is, the more I read about the issue the more confused I became.

According to; Love, affection, devotion all mean a deep and enduring emotional regard, usually for another person.I am fine with 'deep', but 'enduring'?? Further refrences suggest that there are innumerable definitions and types of love; there is the maternal, the paternal, the amorous/romantic, the religious, the platonic and all different varieties of love. Have we ever talked of so many kinds of sadness/happiness/anger/jealousy or in more basic instinctual terms- hunger/pain etc. This makes me reflect that love cannot be one basic emotion or feeling. Invariably, love between adult humans especially unrelated (opposite sex is no more a neccessity) gets associated with sexual felings - after all that is the basic drive that serves the nature's purpose of propagation.In one of the searches it was mentioned that while sex is a biological concept, love is a social concept. I like the statement as it makes sense- we have to have a social concept so that mother can take care of an infant, man can take care of a family, humans can take care of other humans. So, through evolution, those sentiments which could activate the reward centres of brain were prized, moulded into moral codes of conduct, fed through romantic stories/ stories of sacrifices made for the sake of another human/living being in the name of love - leaving us with ideals to follow.

Well one thing is for sure, research suggests that love and sex are mediated by different centres in brain, of course it doesnot mean there is no association. Another study suggests that sex could be a primer for love; so if you have sex you are more likely to fall in love??? (theory behind falling in love after marriage!)

All said and done, the myth of eternal love, the unconditional love, the selfless love- confuses the simple reward centre theory. Then we make associations through learnt and taught experiences of others before we experience them ourselves. We tend to colour our experiences in the colour of our expectations, so we associate feelings with the fairytales; and end up with the sense of something missing!

I am a romantic by nature, somebody who would like to believe in something more than the chemical reaction, but could it be another form of fantasy, nature's way of keeping our species alive; society's way of keeping social system in order, a MATRIX of sorts to keep wayward instincts under control. Whatever it is, it sure is intoxicating (and is associated with release of dopamine in brain, like other intoxicants), but gradually tolerence develops, so I refute the word 'enduring' in its definition.

The discussion can take innumerable twists and turns, there is no mystery here but a craving to get the thrill again and again and because it doesnot happen we keep searching for meanings. What is the question again?


  1. Jyoti, I agree with you. Love is intoxicating.I am looking for an answer, may be you can help me in knowing - does love fade with time? Or the way we express our feelings changes with time?
    Reply if possible,
    Your classmate - Aradhika. (

  2. Hi Aradhika
    Aren't we all looking for an answer to this!
    And each one has his/her own take on it. For me relationships are dynamic, so the feelings associated with each change over time. Love doesnot fade away, it changes form.