“Love hurts, love scars, love wounds, And mars, any heart, Not tough or strong enough, To take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain, Love is like a cloud, Holds a lot of rain, Love hurts……ooh, ooh love hurts” so go the lyrics recorded by a host of artists including the Everly brothers, Roy Orbison, Cher and Nazareth.
And yet, while most of us have felt the stinging truth of those lyrics at some time, have suffered the anguish of a broken heart at some point in our lives, we are still creatures who crave romantic love. According to a USA today poll, 91% of women and 86% of men in the U.S. say they wouldn’t marry if they were not “in love”.
“Oh! I wanna dance with somebody, I wanna feel the heat with somebody Yeah! I wanna dance with somebody/ With somebody who loves me/ I’ve been in love and lost my senses/ Spinning through the town/ Sooner or later the fever ends, And I wind up feeling down,” sang Whitney Houston. Anyone who has ever been in love recognizes that fevered craving.
We are beings obsessed with finding love in one form or another. Turn on the radio and it doesn’t matter if it’s country and western, rock or pop, hip hop or rap, the vast majority of songs will be about love in its myriad forms and if you listen to the lyrics, the majority are about pain, craving, and hurt.
So what is romantic love? Why do we crave this “crazy thing called love” that “hurts so good”?
Love is a cross disciplinary subject being studied by anthropologists, psychologists, neuroscientists and a host of other –ists. We know more and more about what happens to our brains in love, even if we have made little progress in figuring out how to engage it without the pain. Could it be that the pain is what makes it feel so good, so precious, so delicious?
Well, what we do know is that the brain in romantic love is a brain on drugs. We are quite literally “addicted to love” when we are in it. “In love” we lose our sense of reality about the object of our desire. That person becomes more perfect, more desirable than any person can objectively be. We are a species that will sometimes kill for love and die for love.
One of the more irksome facts is that when we are dumped by someone, it turns out that our brain actually convinces us that we are even more in love with the dumper. This seems extraordinarily unfair but biology doesn’t care.
If you want to understand more about what is happening in your brain when you fall in love or when you are dumped and broken hearted, watch Helen Fisher’s Ted Talks: The Brain in Love (2008) and Why We Love, Why We Cheat (2006).
Will learning more about the chemistry of love make us any less likely to fall in love, for better and/or for worse? Will it help us avoid the swoop down into crazy addiction love with all its attendant soaring sweetness and wretched anxieties? Will it stop us from mistaking lust for true love? Will it stop us from feeling dizzy with the desire for the object of our affections?
No, not really. However, knowledge is a kind of power. Equipped with a better understanding of your brain and love, you may be better equipped to handle the vicissitudes of its extremes, to be able to recognize the symptoms when they happen, to realize that to be madly in love is, indeed, a kind of madness and accept its beauty and its anguish, its deliciousness and its frenzy, its fire and destruction with equal measure.
Ingrid Michaelson’s “Girls Chase Boys” is a good reminder that no matter how bad a “broken heart” can feel it’s been going on forever and, most of the time, those broken hearts still beat, they mend, and go on to love again.