So I don’t usually go in for this type of balls, but due to emotional exhaustion, a sore throat, new job fatigue and six cans of Coors Light, this image from the Burning Man Festival stopped me dead. It’s by Ukrainian artist Alexandr Milov, and is called (you guessed it) “Love”.
Having recently been saucepanned around the head with the stuff, I thought I’d do some research into it. This has been a wide-ranging study, from biologist Jeremy Griffith (love is ‘unconditional selflessness’) to Virgil (‘love conquers all’), all the way to Def Leppard (‘love bites, love bleeds, love begs, love pleads’).
Now Helen Fisher (a ‘love expert’, which is what I want to be when I grow up) sounds like she knows what she’s talking about. I like this. She divides the experience of love into three partly overlapping stages: lust, attraction and attachment. We all know what lust is. And it’s not that famous organic cosmetics chain. That’s Lush. The romantic attraction bit is the chat and the decision phase. You share insights and laughs, music and words. And you pursue. And are pursued.
Attachment involves sharing a home, parental duties, mutual defence, laundry, phoning the gas people, childcare, lifts to the station, an abundance of pampering, and in proper human beings involves feelings of safety and security.
This bit sounds tricky, though. A distinct neural circuit, including a neurotransmitter, and a particular behavioural pattern, is fired up for each individual phase. That’s a lot that can go wrong. And it often does.
It does explain why online dating is fundamentally fucked, though. Online dating switches around the first two phases, and we’re not built for that. Speed dating. That’s the thing. Or chance meetings on the 7:52 to Marylebone. Not that I’ve tried either.
Evolutionary psychology suggests some frankly absurd things, including the proposal that love has evolved to stop the spread of gene and foetus damaging STDs, by making genetically and psychologically healthy people (i.e. good parental material) into monogamous individuals who will have relatively few sexual partners. Hmmm. The sexual antics of all the psychologists I’ve ever met gives this view a deep irony.
This sounds better, though. There are speculations that the evolution of the human interest in music and creative art is a potential signalling system for attracting and judging the fitness of potential mates. Yes, cavemen and women drew lovely things on cave walls to get shagged. I sort of knew that already.
Actually there’s still an unquestioned assumption in archaeology that all those beautiful renderings of bison were done by a bloke. Why is that? It’s patently balls. Due to the paternal history of Western art. Or something. Anyway. Digressing.
So yes. Okay. There’s a reason I learned to play the guitar and sing, and it wasn’t to spend late nights in a dingy rehearsal room with a bunch of sweaty male bandmates.
The same for language. There’s a theory that it was generated to attract love. When we talk, we’re trying to signal to others who we are, and our potential value as a tribe member or mate. Your use of language will signal your handiness as a provider, or lover. And you listen, too. And sometimes you really like what you hear. Yes. It seems there is a reason why I started blogging, why I left it for three months, and why I’m back.
Taking these things into account, it helps me explain why relationships with articulate, creative people can be so bloody intense. Everything’s working overtime. Almost too fast. But, fuck, I’d do it again.
So what am I trying to say? Maybe I’m picking at my own heartbreak. After my breakup, everything in my brain is still wet-wired into the attachment phase. You might have stopped the car, but the engine’s still running. My brain is telling me to do selfless things. To give of myself freely and joyously. To phone the gas people. To rub backs and do the laundry. To take her on holiday. To pamper around the clock. To fundamentally change my behaviour forever. It’s a mammalian thirst. A hunger. It’s deeply atavistic and primal, and would last a lifetime. But she won’t let me sate it. And it hurts like fuck actually. I’m with Def Leppard.
But whatever. Love works. And it seems I’m in love with being in love (work that out, Bertrand Russell). And I’m just going to throw love at every problem I have. Parenting, potential partners, ex-partners, heartbreak, friends, enemies, the lot.
I love you. In case you hadn’t realised.