Love: Neurochemical Trickery or Something Else?

 

"Romantic love is mental illness. But it's a pleasurable one. It's a drug. It distorts reality, and that's the point of it. It would be impossible to fall in love with someone that you really saw." -Fran Lebowitz

For those of you who missed my previous post, I briefly explained that I’ve only ever experienced the unconditional love of modern lore once in my entire life. Since then (September 4th, 2014) I have been ruminating on what real love is and if it can exist outside of transcendental experiences. In the waking world, there are so many factors that contribute to being in or having love for a certain individual. There are unspoken rules that need to be followed (an obligation to have mutual love and respect for one another, and some sort of platonic or romantic bond) and many social constructs like courtship and monogamy. These things are conditions for loving one another and through those conditions, I think the purity (or at least the unconditionality) of love can become a bit sullied. By having so many extraneous parameters, we turn love into a job of sorts. It is no longer pure, honest and singular; And with the advent of things like social media, love has become heavily objectified, even more so than it was in the days before the arrival of the internet. 

Whenever we speak of unconditional love, we usually think of small children and domesticated animals as the perfect examples of what it’s like to love without boundaries or impurity. But as we grow older, we begin to need love for more biologically practical reasons. Reproduction, social standing and even survival can depend on one’s relationship standing. Love, intimacy and camaraderie can even temporarily alleviate angst and loneliness but is that really it? People today use love as if it was a legitimate narcotic. Or maybe they do so because, well, it is. Researchers are quickly discovering that the brain of a person who is in love (especially the brains of teenagers) looks strikingly similar to the brain of someone who is under the influence of cocaine. Our brains are essentially big squishy transponders filled with crevices, veins and networks that are optimized to and hardwired for the distribution and redistribution of several narcotic like feel good chemicals. Cocaine is an external stimulant but love seems to be able to trigger the same type of activity endogenously via human connection. It is somewhat fascinating until you think about how commodified and mainstream love has become.

I was recently watching a VICE documentary that discusses how lucrative the divorce industry is and how lawyers are making a killing in the western world. Divorce rates in the United States have reached a staggering 50%. This would explain why the industry is worth billions of dollars annually. Ouch. Keep in mind that, that’s JUST the divorce industry. Love and separation seem to be an extremely lucrative undertaking for most people involved. The irony is, it is often beneficial to the parties that are not actually involved with the relationship in question. The people who benefit the most from this are the wedding planners, haberdashers, caterers, jewelers, travel agencies, and of course, divorce courts. We are constantly being sold the notion that true love can bought via rings, flowers and other knick-knacks and that perseverance is the key to a successful union. Marriage is supposed to be the ultimate symbol of spiritual and romantic solidarity but if that’s the case, then why does it fail so often?

I look at it like this, we are sold a feeling and an image. We see it EVERYWHERE. Commercials that glamorize supporting the horrible diamond industry for the sake of suburban decadence and social status, entire movie plot lines centered around someone looking for the all important love drug, and there are tons of songs with this same message. We’re all addicts but the worst part is that this is almost a completely endogenous (and therefore legal) experience. You don’t even need to be with the person anymore to still feel the effects of love. There is only one soul-mate for you on this planet, one person that you can never love too much and they most certainly won’t need a fifty-thousand dollar story book wedding for Facebook pictures. You. We live in the “you’re incomplete” culture. You never have enough, you’re never smart enough, aesthetic enough and you most certainly can’t be complete unless you have someone else to oversee this process. “You complete me” as noble as it sounds, is actually destructive. It implies that if you hadn’t found that person, you’d always be less than what you could be and that if they leave, they take something from you. It is a well intentioned expression of love but an unhealthy one nonetheless.

You are worthy of your own love and you don’t need a brand logo or person by your side to validate that. You already have everything you truly need spiritually and emotionally but you have to see that for yourself. My time in the transcendental space has proven to me that you can connect with yourself spiritually, emotionally and psychologically on an almost masturbatory level. I once told a friend “the reason so many of us end up unhappy is because we look for happiness outside of ourselves. It’s like losing your wallet in your house and looking for it in your neighbors bathroom.” Real, honest and unconditional love is at the core of your very being but you have to be willing to look deep inside of yourself for a while before you can truly find it. Problem is, it’s hard to do that because we’ve spent so much of our lives looking outside. Our subconscious minds probably look like giant Times Square advertising boards but if you can wade through all of that, you’ll find the true source of pure, ethereal love. Once you find yourself, you can love someone else properly, fully, and this union adds to your experience, not completes it. So love on my friends, but don’t ever forget about who needs your love the most.

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