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A close-up of a newly opened delphinium flower (Summer 2013).

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Romantic Love's Deception

"Falling in love is not the most stupid thing that people do
but gravitation cannot be held responsible for it."
~Albert Einstein

Have you ever fallen in love in the past and wondered why it didn't last? You thought about the reasons for its failure: Perhaps you were worlds apart. You were more intelligent than the other person. He drunk too much. She was the gold-digger type. He womanized behind your back. She was a shopaholic. He was irresponsible. She was a nagger. And the list could go on.

This "falling in love" experience, which is the early stage of romantic love, happens not just to young people but to middle-agers as well. No one is immune to the magic of this type of love, which has many aliases, including "romantic love," "passionate love," "erotic love," and "obsessive love".

Falling in love is like an accidental tumble which you have little control of. Yet you feel so sure that he/she is the only one for you. You pledge your undying love. You cannot live without this person who has become the center of your world. Your world expands to allow this person to become an inner dweller and the rest of the world recedes when you are with this person. He/she is the only one that matters.

Theories of romantic love link it to sensual feelings, sexual desire, and attraction. Helen Fisher, whose research on romantic love is focused on the brain using a functional NMR brain scanner, has characterized romantic love as an intense craving, an "intolerable neural itch". She found out that those who are madly in love are obsessed, they lose their sense of self, and  it's like "somebody is camping on your head."

In her book, Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love, Helen Fisher describes romantic love as lust and attachment. When you are romantically in love, your brain releases dopamine (the liquor of romance) which in turn stimulates the release of testosterone (the hormone of sexual desire). Novel experiences increase levels of dopamine in your brain that triggers the chemistry of lust. This explains why a new relationship can feel so wonderful and you feel giddy with happiness and desire.

However, romantic love has a time limit. You cannot always be sexually excited and passionate. As time goes by (a few months, a year or more), predictability grows, erotic satisfaction becomes readily available, and the sexual stupor, characteristic of falling in love, wanes. For instance, studies show that sexual activity in married couples declines with the partners' age and length of marriage (see Berscheid, 2010).

It is no wonder that some married people engage in extramarital affairs. They think that because their relationship no longer brings excitement and unabashed sexuality that they have "fallen out of love" and that the whole thing was a mistake. Enters the new person in the extramarital affair who brings novelty and excitement. Again, the same thing happens--they fall in love. However, if they live with their lover for some time, the same thing happens afterwards--love wanes. The newness disappears and in it familiarity sets in. The falling out of love happens again.

Romantic love's deception gives us a false perception of eternal love. This perception of eternal love is really clothed in temporality. Romantic love gives us a false sense of security, and a flawed belief that the other person is the only one.

Perhaps romantic love is necessary for the propagation of the species. Or to make us feel intensely about another human being, knowing that we can die sooner or later. If it were not for death, we would not have hungered for love, even the romantic kind.

What to do to evade romantic love's deception? Or how do you go beyond the "falling in love" stage into the "standing in love" level?

That is my next article. Watch for it.

Meanwhile, I am inviting readers to participate by sharing their ideas or stories about their experience of romantic love. You can now post your comments below without awaiting moderation from me.


Bercheid, E. (2010). Love in the fourth dimension. Annual Reviews of Psychology, 61, 1-25.