Falling In Love

According to the BBC (Nov. 18, 2004), a 1990 study in Italy indicated that people who have recently fallen in love have some of the symptoms of 'Obsessive Compulsive Disorder' (OCD). People with OCD behave obsessively about certain things, and in the case of love, it's their partner. OCD people not in love may have behaviors like constantly washing their hands, or needing to continually check to see if the doors are locked. These researchers seem to equate falling in love with mental disorders.

Another study indicated that, rather than making you happy, love can actually make you depressed. One symptom of OCD appears to be unusually low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Low levels of serotonin have been associated with anxiety and depression. Students who claimed they had recently fallen in love were found to have serotonin levels 40% lower than their peers. I had a former girlfriend who couldn't sleep at night and was prescribed serotonin. She broke up with me shortly there after. Perhaps I should sue the drug company.

The biochemical effect of falling in love doesn't last forever. When the same ‘in-love' students with low serotonin were tested after their relationship was a year old, their serotonin levels had returned to normal. Of course, in most love-relationships, the intense, romantic phase of love has passed, so these results are not surprising.

There are various ‘stages' of love, depending on which source you believe. Jay Leno, on the Tonight Show, says there are four stages of love: 1st base, 2nd base, 3rd base and ....  A more scholarly study says there are three stages: Lust, Attraction, and Attachment. I always thought that attraction had to precede Lust, but the study says that the lust stage comes first, brought on by sex hormones that get you out there and looking for someone attractive. This may explain how college students hook up, but I don't think it applies to senior citizens. The older one gets, the more attraction it takes to generate lust.

Suzanne Harrill (Womensmedia.com) says the three stages are Romantic Love, Power Struggles, and Unconditional Acceptance. These don't sound anything like Lust, Attraction and Acceptance. Ruth Kerce (Singlescafe.net) says there are five stages of love: (1) attraction, (2) romance, (3) passion, (4) intimacy, & (5) commitment. The ancient Greeks said there were four stages of love: Epithemia, Phileo, Eros, and Agape. I have no idea what these are, but "Agape" doesn't sound like a nice ending. One “expert” claims there are nine stages. From my own personal experience, the stages are Blindness, Stupidity, Realization, and Luck. We blindly fall for someone, do stupid things, come to a realization of what has happened, and then luck out, either by escaping or by having a lasting relationship.

MRI brain scans show that early in a relationship, the brain seems to be very focused on planning and pursuit of pleasurable reward, according to Helen Fisher, an anthropologist from Rutgers University in New Jersey. The same brain regions also become active when a person enjoys the pleasure of eating chocolate, so cover yourself with chocolate and double your chances.

After reading what some of the experts had to say, I figure it's time for me to weigh in on the matter. First of all, I don't like the analogy of falling. Falling is usually bad. Of course falling in love can also be bad, but if it is, you will be the last one to realize it. And when your friends all tell you it is bad, you won't believe them. Falling in love is similar to falling asleep. In both cases, you don't actually fall. You simply lose conscious awareness of reality.

Falling in love always feels wonderful at first. I've been told that so does snorting cocaine and eating chocolate. With cocaine and chocolate there are limits beyond which we can't proceed without being hospitalized. Love doesn't have such constraints, so we can really go full speed ahead – and therein lies the problem. People in love often make irrational decisions and commitments that they eventually regret – like marriage. There is nothing inherently wrong with marriage, and I'm really jealous of the good marriages. It's just that too many people make that commitment too soon. Love needs to mature through the first couple of stages, however you define them, before long-term commitments are made. And even then it's a gamble. That's where my “luck” stage comes into play.

Like many others, I am very vulnerable to falling in love – or perhaps it is lust or wishful thinking. Two verses from a poem I wrote years ago describe it best.

I saw her on the corner
of Second Street and Main.
She was waiting for a taxi
just standing in the rain.

There was no doubt about her looks
or personality.
The girl who stood there in the rain
was just the girl for me.

What years of experience have taught me is that wishful thinking and a willingness to fall in love at the drop of a hat (or other garments) is not bad, and can actually make life fun and interesting. What's very important, but very difficult, is the ability to do so while maintaining awareness that you might be an idiot. The ability to maintain a proper perspective about your emotions and behavior is essential if you are to make intelligent choices that serve the long-term interests of both you and your partner.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained is a good philosophy if it is approached under the best insurance protection we have – common sense. But then some philosophers would say that ‘love with common sense' is an oxymoron. The idiot who jumps off a high cliff into a river on a dare from his friends may end up just as dead as the aware person who jumps because he loves heights, but the latter person gets more satisfaction from the experience and can justify it. And if you are a philosopher, that is very important.