Notes on Love: Part 1
If you spend any time with me at all occasionally you’ll hear me say, “I don’t believe anything I hear, and only half of what I see.” It's either a truism, or Edgar Allen Poe said it first. Mark Twain said it second. I'm third. Thing is, I have a hard time believing in things I can’t see. My brain just isn’t wired to believe anything that can’t be backed up by a FBI report, university study, or screenshot. It is the reason I don’t believe in God, sort of. You know, in that conventional way where he’s an older white man with a scraggly beard, who lives beyond the clouds in Heaven. I mentioned this once to a priest. He said with an assured voice that I couldn't see love either and certainly I believed in love. Not so fast, Father….
Well, it’s not that you believe or not believe in love. It exists, right? You feel love towards a pet, towards a child, a friend, a sibling and parent. Romantic love ends in a way that some other kinds of love just doesn’t. So, if you stop loving someone it wasn’t love? You don’t believe it ever existed in the first place? That seems defeating. It’s hormones, it’s oxytocin. For a time I was obsessed with oxytocin. We’re a biological species. We are hardwired to procreate; to meet a man and feel chemistry. A euphemism for we have great sex. I suppose we can’t discount the power of oxytocin. The bonding hormone. Females are flooded with oxytocin during sex and childbirth. We are predisposed to bond to the man we are having sex with, and to the child that might result. Mother Nature is nothing if not sensible.
Hormonally-speaking we haven’t evolved since the stone age. The risk of pregnancy without a man to protect you was too great. Of course, I have a theory. The females who didn’t bond to the man she was screwing had a shorter life span. Her genes eventually died out. We are the direct descendents of women who had an abundance of the bonding hormone. Next time you feel like spooning after copulating remember it’s not him, it's the oxytocin.
It’s not like Love is a new topic. There are psychological theories, evolutionary theories, spiritual theories. There is Plato’s view of love, Freud’s sexist views, erotic love, romantic love. It’s a mystical experience. It's a physical experience. Philosophers, novelists, poets, playwrights have all made a pretty good living explaining love. Shakespeare had a midsummers night dream about it, Stoppard invented it, Cathy had her Heathcliff, Elizabeth Bennett and Bridget Jones both had Darcy.
Love is the opposite of being blind. We are more alive. More alert, more inquisitive, more observant. We read books, watch movies, listen to music we wouldn’t otherwise. We consider learning new languages, moving to new places, acquiring new lifestyles – all because of Love. When we are cut off from love we see things one-dimensionally, observations become stereotypes. We label and compartmentalize, “commitment phobic,” “fling,” “friend with benefits,” “fuck buddy.” We replace reality with catchprases.
At the risk of hate mail from Emily’s List, another kind of love could be defined as the Power Differential. It is the most obvious and reasonable of all the love relationships. If sex is the great leveler then there ought better be something to level in the first place. Power differentials encourage theatrics – and theatrics are the very heart of romance. It is a partners “otherness” not “sameness” that seduces. Desire is fueled by hope and fear. When partners are too similar they must invent power shifts. Power differentials do a great deal of the work to fire both hope and fear. Equality can destroy libidos, and bore both men and women. It’s not that men don’t want more successful partners; it’s that they don’t want equally as successful partners. Perhaps they prefer, as women do, dating up or down.
I was thinking about differentials a few years ago on an otherwise uneventful Saturday afternoon. The sun was finally out after a dark cold and wet winter week. My much younger boyfriend was napping on the floor, his back hurt and he liked the hardness of the wooden floor. The sun shined through the tall living room windows. It landed on him perfectly. I stared at his beautiful face -- his long hair back around his ear, the symmetry of his face, the straightness of his nose, the space between his eyes and his perfectly sculpted cheekbones. Puffy lips framed his scraggly winter beard recently cut shorter. God had been paying attention, he even bore a slight resemblance to Jesus Christ.
I looked at him quiet and breathing slowly. I felt content -- every nerve ending relaxed, like floating in the Dead Sea. The remains of the lunch he cooked for us sat on the table. Two glasses, two plates, a shared salad. That is when I knew I loved him. I took his camera from the coffee table and snapped a picture. This is what love looks like. This is the greatness and the sadness of love. The moment everything feels so perfectly right, the moment you know it will eventually end.
Much later, I wondered if my boyfriend had ruined me for symmetrically-challenged men. Love is chemistry but it’s also mathematics. I had this in mind when a girlfriend called to set me up on a date. A date with a man near my age, who she described as “interesting,” and who had made a small fortune in the music business.
I was traveling that day and nearly canceled. It was an easy excuse. But she had gone through some trouble to organize the dinner. I arrived at her house hoping that I would be attracted to this unsymmetrical man, that he’d sweep me off my feet and I’d go home and tell my symmetrically beautiful young boyfriend that I’d met someone. Neither happened. Well, something slight did happen. He was older and yes, handsome in that way that you don’t notice immediately. We talked about music, I referenced an obscure character in Watergate, I made a joke about Julie McCoy and he laughed. He remembered where he was on the bi-centennial – my old benchmark, of the absolute outside edge of the age appropriateness of my dates.
It’s strange the rules we set up in the name of, Love.