It's February, the month of love and I just adore it! The shops are full of treats, there's valentines in all the aisles, pink and red in the windows, a feeling of romance in the air, proposals given and new relationships beginning...what's not to love!? Whether I'm single or attached, February always gets me thinking about the sensation of being in love, of loving someone and of being loved. Is it really better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all? And what is love, actually?
So this month I've set my mind to figure it out!
It's a little bit of science. Recently there was a program on TVO's Mysteries of the Mind week, part of Alzheimer Awareness Month, about the science behind love. Love is actually an addiction to chemicals in our brain. When we are in love, our bodies produce cortisol, the same as when we're in a dangerous situation, and it makes us crave more of whatever's causing the rush; it also makes us blind to negativity (and not notice our partner's faults, for instance).
What's more, we can experience unconscious feelings of bonding after thrilling or scary experiences that make us fall in love with someone, which can explain why you might fall for someone you meet on a daring adventure like skydiving! Women produce more chemical reactions in their brains than men, making them feel love longer. And after sex, your brain can trigger feelings of romantic love, which may also explain why men have more casual partners than women do. But did you know you can feel the same sensation of being in love after taking a warm shower or bath, or even drinking a warm drink? Statistics show that single people take longer and hotter showers than couples! It's fascinating how something that feels like conscious decision can actually be guided by unseen hormones and chemicals.
Love is a journey not a destination. Like life, love is about the path we take to get where we want to be, just as much as the end result. It's something we need to work at, sometimes work through, and always strive for. It can take us on a ride, with its ups and downs, and maybe those emotions are influenced by brain chemicals -- but love is also about how we interact with others, the choices we make, and the perspective we choose to take. In the movies, people don't really talk about the science of love; the characters show us the way love affects our lives. And art really does mimic life. Who hasn't seen a romantic film and thought -- that's just like what I'm going through?
For me, some of my favourite movies about love are Love Actually, Serendipity and Celeste and Jesse Forever co-written by and starring Rashida Jones. This movie really speaks to what I believe love can be like: you're with someone you love...but you lose them...and then you try to find yourself again...only to discover the love of your life is not the person you were with at all...they are just around the corner...but you need to let go of the past before you'll find them. Marilyn Monroe had a saying about this: "Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together."
Our capacity to love deepens with experience. Science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein said, "The more you love, the more you can love -- and the more intensely you love." I completely agree! Every love we experience allows us to love deeper the next time. It's a learning curve, and although losing love hurts so much...it can teach us many lessons. In the movie Her, a futuristic Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with his operating system (in a really believable way!) and admits that he's never loved anyone so deeply before. His OS (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) replies that at least now he knows how.
Love songs portray this the best; a lot of the best are about lost love. I have so many favourite love songs...my favorite these days is "Stay" by Rihanna. Sometimes you don't realize how much you love someone until they are gone...when you can't take them for granted...and your love grows in a strange way when you experience that loss.
True love thrives on a solid foundation. Every relationship needs to be built on trust and respect, but love does especially because there's so much at stake. We are most vulnerable in our love relationships; more so than our friendships. Who doesn't have a friend they can argue with knowing they will always have your back? But in love, we can get insecure or jealous or afraid. The best way to share a true love with someone, and move past those issues, is to build the relationship on a solid foundation. I often look to celebrity couple success stories and Beyoncé and Jay-Z...and Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck...stand out to me because there seems to be a lot of mutual respect and admiration between them. I think that's key to a healthy and long-lasting love relationship, for any couple. I believe the first couple years of a relationship are about falling in love...experiencing those chemical reactions to each other...but after that it's the foundation of mutual respect that keeps love thriving.
It really does take two to tango. Sometimes it can be easy to only think of your own needs in love; we look for partners who love and cherish us. But do we fully return the favour? Love is a two-way street, and it really does take effort and action from both partners to make it last. And love can't blossom when only one person feels it; as much as it's wonderful to be wooed...never forget to woo your sweetheart too! Having a committed, loving relationship means making someone else's happiness just as important as your own. So keep the romance alive by being an active participant in your relationship.
Despite all the science behind it, sometimes we can't explain why we love the person we love...we just do. Bruce Lee once said, "Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable." I think what makes love the most exciting is that we don't really understand it. Yet we yearn for it, we live for it and we believe in it. And in February we celebrate it!
Happy Valentine's Day
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