What is this thing called love? What? Is this thing called love? What is this thing called? Love.
First articleGray, Paul. “What is Love?.” Time, 141.7 (1993): 46.
What is this thing called love? What? Is this thing called love? What is this thing called? Love.
HOWEVER PUNCTUATED, COLE Porter’s simple question begs an answer. Love’s symptoms are familiar enough: a drifting mooniness in thought and behavior, the mad conceit
that the entire universe has rolled itself up into the person of the beloved, a conviction that no one on earth has ever felt so torrentially about a fellow creature
before. Love is ecstasy and torment, freedom and slavery. Poets and songwriters would be in a fine mess without it. Plus, it makes the world go round.
Until recently, scientists wanted no part of it.
The reason for this avoidance, this reluctance to study what is probably life’s most intense emotion, is not difficult to track down. Love is mushy; science is hard.
Anger and fear, feelings that have been considerably researched in the field and the lab, can be quantified through measurements: pulse and breathing rates, muscle
contractions, a whole spider web of involuntary responses. Love does not register as definitively on the instruments; it leaves a blurred fingerprint that could be
mistaken for anything from indigestion to a manic attack. Anger and fear have direct roles — fighting or running — in the survival of the species. Since it is
possible (a cynic would say commonplace) for humans to mate and reproduce without love, all the attendant sighing and swooning and sonnet writing have struck many
pragmatic investigators as beside the evolutionary point.
So biologists and anthropologists assumed that it would be fruitless, even frivolous, to study love’s evolutionary origins, the way it was encoded in our genes or
imprinted in our brains. Serious scientists simply assumed that love — and especially Romantic Love — was really all in the head, put there five or six centuries ago
when civilized societies first found enough spare time to indulge in flowery prose. The task of writing the book of love was ceded to playwrights, poets and pulp
But during the past decade, scientists across a broad range of disciplines have had a change of heart about love. The amount of research expended on the tender passion
has never been more intense. Explanations for this rise in interest vary. Some cite the spreading threat of AIDS; with casual sex carrying mortal risks, it seems
important to know more about a force that binds couples faithfully together. Others point to the growing number of women scientists and suggest that they may be more
willing than their male colleagues to take love seriously. Says Elaine Hatfield, the author of Love, Sex, and Intimacy: Their Psychology, Biology, and History: “When
I was back at Stanford in the 1960s, they said studying love and human relationships was a quick way to ruin my career. Why not go where the real work was being done:
on how fast rats could run?” Whatever the reasons, science seems to have come around to a view that nearly everyone else has always taken for granted: romance is
real. It is not merely a conceit; it is bred into our biology.
Getting to this point logically is harder than it sounds. The love-as-cultural-delusion argument has long seemed unassailable. What actually accounts for the emotion,
according to this scenario, is that people long ago made the mistake of taking fanciful literary tropes seriously. Ovid’s Ars Amatoria is often cited as a major source
of misreadings, its instructions followed, its ironies ignored. Other prime suspects include the 12th century troubadours in Provence who more or less invented the Art
of Courtly Love, an elaborate, etiolated ritual for idle noblewomen and aspiring swains that would have been broken to bits by any hint of physical consummation.
Ever since then, the injunction to love and to be loved has hummed nonstop through popular culture; it is a dominant theme in music, films, novels, magazines and
nearly everything shown on TV. Love is a formidable and thoroughly proved commercial engine; people will buy and do almost anything that promises them a chance at the
bliss of romance.
But does all this mean that love is merely a phony emotion that we picked up because our culture celebrates it? Psychologist Lawrence Casler, author of Is Marriage
Necessary?, forcefully thinks so, at least at first: “I don’t believe love is part of human nature, not for a minute. There are social pressures at work.” Then falls
a shadow over this certainty. “Even if it is a part of human nature, like crime or violence, it’s not necessarily desirable.”
Well, love either is or is not intrinsic to our species; having it both ways leads nowhere. And the contention that romance is an entirely acquired trait — overly
imaginative troubadours’ revenge on muddled literalists — has always rested on some teetery premises.
For one thing, there is the chicken/egg dilemma. Which came first, sex or love? If the reproductive imperative was as dominant as Darwinians maintain, sex probably led
the way. But why was love hatched in the process, since it was presumably unnecessary to get things started in the first place? Furthermore, what has sustained romance
— that odd collection of tics and impulses — over the centuries? Most mass hallucinations, such as the 17th century tulip mania in Holland, flame out fairly rapidly
when people realize the absurdity of what they have been doing and, as the common saying goes, come to their senses. When people in love come to their senses, they
tend to orbit with added energy around each other and look more helplessly loopy and self-besotted. If romance were purely a figment, unsupported by any rational or
sensible evidence, then surely most folks would be immune to it by now. Look around. It hasn’t happened. Love is still in the air.
And it may be far more widespread than even romantics imagined. Those who argue that love is a cultural fantasy have tended to do so from a Eurocentric and class-
driven point of view. Romance, they say, arose thanks to amenities peculiar to the West: leisure time, a modicum of creature comforts, a certain level of refinement in
the arts and letters. When these trappings are absent, so is romance. Peasants mated; aristocrats fell in love.
But last year a study conducted by anthropologists William Jankowiak of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and Edward Fischer of Tulane University found evidence of
romantic love in at least 147 of the 166 cultures they studied. This discovery, if borne out, should pretty well wipe out the idea that love is an invention of the
Western mind rather than a biological fact. Says Jankowiak: “It is, instead, a universal phenomenon, a panhuman characteristic that stretches across cultures.
Societies like ours have the resources to show love through candy and flowers, but that does not mean that the lack of resources in other cultures indicates the
absence of love.”
Some scientists are not startled by this contention. One of them is anthropologist Helen Fisher, a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History and the
author of Anatomy of Love: The Natural History of Monogamy, Adultery and Divorce, a recent book that is making waves among scientists and the general reading public.
Says Fisher: “I’ve never not thought that love was a very primitive, basic human emotion, as basic as fear, anger or joy. It is so evident. I guess anthropologists
have just been busy doing other things.”
Among the things anthropologists — often knobby-kneed gents in safari shorts — tended to do in the past was ask questions about courtship and marriage rituals. This
now seems a classic example, as the old song has it, of looking for love in all the wrong places. In many cultures, love and marriage do not go together. Weddings can
have all the romance of corporate mergers, signed and sealed for family or territorial interests. This does not mean, Jankowiak insists, that love does not exist in
such cultures; it erupts in clandestine forms, “a phenomenon to be dealt with.”
Somewhere about this point, the specter of determinism begins once again to flap and cackle. If science is going to probe and prod and then announce that we are all
scientifically fated to love — and to love preprogrammed types — by our genes and chemicals, then a lot of people would just as soon not know. If there truly is a
biological predisposition to love, as more and more scientists are coming to believe, what follows is a recognition of the amazing diversity in the ways humans have
chosen to express the feeling. The cartoon images of cavemen bopping cavewomen over the head and dragging them home by their hair? Love. Helen of Troy, subjecting her
adopted city to 10 years of ruinous siege? Love. Romeo and Juliet? Ditto. Joe in Accounting making a fool of himself around the water cooler over Susan in Sales? Love.
Like the universe, the more we learn about love, the more preposterous and mysterious it is likely to appear.
PHOTO: UNITED STATES: Valentine’s Day: Romantic rituals in the West have evolved into the bestowal of flowers, candy and other sweet nothings. But the absence of such
gift giving in poorer cultures does not, anthropologists are learning, mean the absence of romance. (SANDI FELLMAN)
PHOTO: Cupid on valentine (1993 THE GIFTED LINE–JOHN GROSSMAN INC.)
PHOTO: MEXICO: Shawls in the Marketplace: In the highlands of Chiapas, weaving skills are treasured, and a colorful, well-made shawl advises potential husbands of its
wearer’s dexterity. (LAUREN GREENFIELD)
PHOTO: CHINA: Courtship on Horseback: On the plains of Xinjiang, mounted Kazakh suitors play Catch the Maiden. He chases her in pursuit of a kiss. If he succeeds, she
goes after him with a riding crop. (JAY DICKMAN)
PHOTO: INDIA: A Bed of Roses: Many hotels offer newlyweds lavishly flowered honeymoon suites. In Bombay a couple on their wedding night relax amid and upon a floral
panoply. (LOUIS PSIHOYOS–MATRIX)
By PAUL GRAY
Reported by Hannah Bloch and Sally B. Donnelly
A DIAMOND MAY LAST FOREVER, but nothing says eternal devotion like 31 lbs. of fish and an ample supply of stiff drink. In a three-minute ceremony held in her parents’
Tokyo home, Japan’s high-powered future Princess MASAKO OWADA slipped into a traditional silk kimono to receive the two sea bream (a male and a female), six bottles of
sake and five bolts of silk that served as a formal marriage pledge from Crown Prince Naruhito. Following the offering, the Prince visited ancient shrines to inform
the gods of his engagement.
PHOTO: Masako Owada (JIJI PRESS)
By GINIA BELLAFANTE
Hull, Gary. “LOVE & SELFISHNESS; the False View of Love as Selfless and Unconditional Destroys Its Sublime Value.” The Jacksonville Free Press, 18.4 (2004): 4.
Every Valentine’s Day a certain philosophic crime is perpetrated. Actually, it is committed year-round, but its destructiveness is magnified on this holiday. The crime
is the propagation of a widely accepted falsehood: the idea that love is selfless.
Love, we are repeatedly taught, consists of self-sacrifice. Love based on self-interest, we are admonished, is cheap and sordid. True love, we are told, is altruistic.
But is it?
Imagine a Valentine’s Day card which takes this premise seriously. Imagine receiving a card with the following message: “I get no pleasure from your existence. I
obtain no personal enjoyment from the way you look, dress, move, act or think. Our relationship profits me not. You satisfy no sexual, emotional or intellectual needs
of mine. You’re a charity case, and I’m with you only out of pity. Love, XXX.”
Needless to say, you would be indignant to learn that you are being “loved,” not for anything positive you offer your lover, but–like any recipient of alms–for what
you lack. Yet that is the perverse view of love entailed in the belief that it is self-sacrificial.
Genuine love is the exact opposite. It is the most selfish experience possible, in the true sense of the term: it benefits your life in a way that involves no
sacrifice of others to yourself or of yourself to others.
To love a person is selfish because it means that you value that particular person, that he or she makes your life better, that he or she is an intense source of
joy–to you. A “disinterested” love is a contradiction in terms. One cannot be neutral to that which one values. The time, effort and money you spend on behalf of
someone you love are not sacrifices, but actions taken because his or her happiness is crucially important to your own. Such actions would constitute sacrifices only
if they were done for a stranger–or for an enemy. Those who argue that love demands self-denial must hold the bizarre belief that it makes no personal difference
whether your loved one is healthy or sick, feels pleasure or pain, is alive or dead.
Love is far too precious to be offered indiscriminately. It is above all in the area of love that egalitarianism ought to be repudiated. Love represents an exalted
exchange–a spiritual exchange–between two people, for the purpose of mutual benefit.
You love someone because he or she is a value–a selfish value to you, as determined by your standards–just as you are a value to him or her.
Valentine’s Day–with its colorful cards, mouth-watering chocolates and silky lingerie–gives material form to this spiritual value. It is a moment for you to pause,
to ignore the trivialities of life–and to celebrate the selfish pleasure of being worthy of someone’s love and of having found someone worthy of yours.
Article copyright The Jacksonville Free Press.