Is Love Real?- An Essay for the Heartbroken Existentialist
You pass hours of adolescence in tiresome fantasy, vividly materializing every feature on the boy of your dreams: the lively wisps of deep auburn hair that flounce in loose ringlets clipped just below the nape of his neck, the dusting of freckles that dance across his face with its crisp, fairy-like features. He writes insightful poetry, patches of an inexplicable sorrow that resides deep inside of his pale, lanky body. When he looks at you, his own luminous sadness floats inside of you, an imagined orb of pale blue light.
This was the sort of soulmate I generated in my own childish hopefulness- piercing, mysterious, but damaged. Someone so dynamic, so intimate in his very being that I myself would see, taste, the world around me underneath such a raw scope of emotions. This is the sort of preview for love which society releases to us- it is to be so potent, so intoxicating in its wondrousness, an indivisible, pulsing connection between ourselves and the perfect partner.
I ignorantly held these lofty expectations entering my first serious relationship, and as one might imagine, I was greeted by initial disappointment. While our time spent together was joyful and freeing, it was not earth-shakingly captivating. We did not dwell in every whimsical moment together, contemplating our emotions in grandeur awareness. We did not own “every particle of each other’s soul and flesh,” nor did we stare at one another for hours with undying fascination (Source 9). Upon such shortcomings, I began to ponder the question of those who have loved and lost- is love even real? Despite the lack of fantastical elements in this budding connection, I developed a sense of devotion I had never felt prior to meeting my boyfriend. I decided that, in our simpler ways, we did in fact love one another. While romantic feeling may not be the sorcery it is presented as by society- history, biology, and personal experience prove that it still exists.
Of course, such a revelation may be difficult to grasp with the living examples around us. After all, human beings are flawed, and living with such imperfections will ultimately prove to be undesirable, especially beneath the expectation of a fairy-tale life. Although love does not exist in the mystical form it is commonly portrayed as, it is a real emotion with inherent value in human interactions. By revising our understanding of this puzzling emotion we call love, we can ultimately nurture relationships with greater insight, building deeper connections than the superficial romanticism exemplified in our culture.
From an evolutionary standpoint, the presence of love in human psychiatrics and behavior is vital to our species’ survival. With extensive, energy-depleting gestation periods and traumatic labor, reproduction would be largely avoided had our brains not been programmed to constantly seek out mates. As the only species in existence that can be sexually aroused throughout the year, sex is a large aspect of human brain activity. This continuous motivation to produce more offspring is one that ensures a surplus of population, combating a high risk of failure due to birthing complications.
However, sexual allure is just one of many aspects of love which are adventitious for species vitality. With the abundant presence of STIs in the human population, the onset of attachment stemmed from romantic relationships ultimately promotes monogamy, preventing the spread of such disease. Such loyalties also affirm consistent reproduction between mates, a more dependable source of spawn than restarting the previously completed efforts undergone in finding an initial mate. These theoretical benefits of love are supported by physiological evidence of various human adaptations. For example, dopamine is released in the brain to “help make love a pleasurable experience similar to the euphoria associated with the use of cocaine or alcohol” (Source 1).
This concept of hormonal signaling affirms the flurry of emotions accounted by our favorite infatuated authors, from the poetic Vladimir Nabokov to the tragic William Shakespeare. “Fresh” love creates a physical change within the body.
By considering the biological grounds of love in our species’ survival, we can better comprehend the emotions we experience in our attraction to someone. The raging obsession plaguing you over the girl you saw in the coffee shop is not some flighty magic spell setting forth your destiny, but rather a tangible message produced by your body not in the interest of romance, but as motivation to procreate. Assessing these situations as moments of sexual impulse, rather than genuine connection, can help normalize this attraction and reject the cultural glorification of falling in love.
Chemical signaling can also help validate transitions in aging relationships from passion to companionship- the release of oxytocin in the brain influences the stronger sentiments of love as well, since it “deepens feelings of attachment,” that could reinforce the commitment involved in a long-term relationship (Source 1). As couples grow older and less enthralled with one another, the love has not died, but rather taken a different form of hormonal messaging. The biological concern is no longer centered around reproduction but rather with connectivity, helping to ensure both parents in a mating couple will serve as providers for their offspring, increasing their chances of survival.
Revising our understanding of this puzzling emotion we call love can help us accept its transition- our affinities for one another dim for a logical and necessary reason. As any other physiological process, love can be validated in its presence as a hormonal reaction- not a potion that has worn off, but a series of transitioning sensations made by our bodies.
While the scientific purpose behind love is compelling, it provides us with a very primitive understanding of modern relationships. The sociological conventions orchestrated for love throughout history are equally as important in helping understand romanticism as it exists in common practice, proving love to be more significant than a mere biological impulse.
From a shockingly young age, children are conditioned to believe in their domesticated futures- marriage, with the perfect, forever partner, with whom they will buy a home and produce beautiful children. Conventionally, every person we date is a test run in search of the forever mate. For many, this form of commitment is horrifying, especially when they are living it themselves. Their partners are not the person they sold their souls to twenty years ago and these changes may not have been expected or welcomed. Whether it be their taut, youthful bodies or wild spirits melted to nothing, the loss is still traumatizing. The bubbling attraction we once experienced flattens, leaving us disappointed and drained of the romantic hopes we once held in our youth.
Maybe the falsehood, however, does not reside in love but in our cultural manifestation with marriage. Being married in youth no longer signifies a 20 year contract it during previous eras of shorter life expectancies. Instead, saying “I do” is a 60 year commitment, under the security of modern medicine. Is it natural to spend this much time with one individual? The origins of matrimony were constructed in a “desire of both men and women to see their children survive,” but is the contract still applicable in a modern era of surplus populations and high offspring survival rates (source 9)? Thanks to innovations in medicine, people live longer than ever before.
In this context, the survivalist origins of marriage are no longer beneficial, but instead may serve as barriers that prevent future experiences of love with newer, more compatible relationships.
In an era of advanced communication, there are an abundance of individuals to discover and experience. Our dating pools are no longer limited to a village of 3 square miles, but a vast, densely populated globe of many potential partners. Is tying the knot actually tying a noose on a wealth of beneficial experiences? Perhaps love itself is not dead, but rather the outdated identity it has been assigned-the social construct of matrimony.
Love has been obsessively intertwined into our society throughout human history. It is the inspiration of famous works of art, the focus of the greatest pieces of literature, the basis of most pop songs blasted in car radios today. Such a strong, vivid connection must be worth something, if so much attention and care has gone into its description by artists.
Its glorification by our culture is compelling, forcing us to believe in its prevalence and its importance, but we must not allow such romanticism to become the definition of love. These beautified standards are not obtainable, nor are they significant.
Reflecting upon the scientific and sociological nature of romantic attraction, we can find a greater purpose than mindless joy and untamed emotion-love is a form of unique understanding, valuable in its voluntary companionship. This interpretation can greatly benefit us- our comprehension of love can greatly influence the way we receive and demonstrate it towards our partners, strengthening relationships and ultimately drawing greater significance from such a connection.
In a nation where 50% of its marriages end in divorce, such understanding is not merely useful, but necessary. Entering a relationship with the glorified expectations of society behind us, one will only uncover disappointment. Unless Americans can find solace in the rare pleasantries of long-term companionship, as well as learn to value what is truly meaningful in their commitments to one another, the cycle of heartbreak will continue to lapse-love may not make our lives into fairy tales, the experiences it provides us with are raw and tangible, deserving of real affirmation.
For those who remain wary of love in avoidance of its shortcomings:
You may not rise to fresh rose petals scattered through your hallways each morning, but you will have the privilege of waking up to someone right beside you- someone who has made the active decision to see your face when they first stir, using your presence to numb the disappointing shock following the end of a wonderful dream. Perhaps you will not remain bound by marriage forever, perhaps the bitter flavorings of age or the stress of your finances will be too much to bear. But in this departure, you will have completed a journey of shocking proportions- built your lives around one another, created new ones in the children you grew and nurtured in unison. Perhaps you will never encounter the person you hoped for- dating a large variety of men and women, dissatisfied with each of them for one reason or another. In your tenacity, your determination to find a partner who fits, you will have stitched a vast array of colors on the quilt of your life story.
These hints of sweetness overwhelm the dull expanses of time discovered in the reality of love. It is not always invigorating, but its moments of passion and empathy can be infinite, if we choose to celebrate them as so. Ultimately, these instances are always worthwhile. To feel a mutual appreciation with another human being, even to sip from the potent drink of infatuation, is a fantastic experience. Despite its lackluster reality, those who love can never truly lose.