By Rev. Jesse Herriott, M.A.
What is love? Is it possible to quantify the sporadic beat of our hearts, the watering of our mouths, the butterflies in our stomachs, or the tickling of our ears when we think of our beloved? Is love simply a product of our physiology, and if love is quantifiable, can its effects be duplicated at will? Some of these very same questions have been posed by the scientific community regarding whether or not meditation and other stages or states of consciousness can actually be measured, and the answer in both cases is “yes.” The challenge in the case of love then becomes how to use this knowledge to improve our long-term relationships.
To determine whether or not love can be scientifically or psychologically proven is to identify what it is that one feels when they “feel” loved. The scientific community has contributed a great deal to our understanding of the neuroscience behind love by pointing out the basic chemicals that are released into the brain whenever a person feels as if they are in “love,” and the research helps to shed light on why divorces and breakups hurt so badly.
Love is a powerful drug, and it’s highly addictive in nature.
Some of the “good-feeling” chemicals that are released by your brain during the “love-process,” including adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin, are some of the same chemicals that are released when a drug user “gets high.” Therefore, the experience of separation from the person that you love can mimic the withdrawals that an addict exhibits when being weaned off of an intoxicating substance.
During what could be call the “love moment”, not only are specific chemicals released in the brain, but our brain experiences various degrees of strong cognitive activity. For example, during states where individuals describe the feeling of being in love, certain areas of the brain associated with cognition are stimulated, and chemicals such as oxytocin are released throughout our body systems. So, to say that love is blind would not be completely accurate; a more truthful statement would be that love can make a person “one-tracked.” As a result, someone consumed by the grips of love could be tempted to “forsake all others” just so that they can reach that feeling.
Psychologically speaking, love, in terms of selecting a mate, is best viewed as a human emotional exchange between two or more persons. There is an emphasis on the “humanness” of love here because, if you ask someone who’s experienced the initial stages of what we would call “romantic love” to define it, that person would describe it as a super-human, out-of-this world feeling. The problem with this state of consciousness is that, like all other highs, romantic love only lasts for a moment.
One of the major problems with romantic love is that it forces an individual to project divine qualities onto the object of their affection.
At that moment, which is often found in the beginning of a relationship, the person receiving the projection seems perfect, god-like, and beyond scrutiny. Romantic love doesn’t consider how bad a person’s breath smells when they awaken in the morning, or their terrible mood swings. Romantic love places individuals far beyond what an average person could ever hope to become, which is why it can be misleading if it is the sole reason why we decide to form a bond with someone.
Beyond the Euphoria
There are individuals in the dating world who just love being in romantic love. Love is their “drug of choice,” and they spend their entire lives bouncing from one relationship to the next in search of euphoria. However, romantic love or “eros” is not strong enough on its own to sustain a long-term relationship. If we analyze most long-term relationships, we find that true love partners exhibit a humanistic quality. Their relationship has a foundation rooted in “storge-philia,” which are Greek words used to roughly describe a strong friendship in which the parties embrace each other’s complete selves, including their faults. Once that foundation is cultivated, we can easily add just enough eros to keep things spicy and fun.
If you are really searching for your ideal mate—someone you can love without limits—it is best to look for someone that complements you, not someone that completes you.
Whenever you are searching for someone that completes you, the biggest message in your awareness is that you are not whole.
Carl Jung, one of the pioneers in the fields of “Spiritual Psychology” suggests that at that moment, one would be tempted to project parts of their anima or animus (which is a contra-sexual, masculine/feminine soul-energy within your unconscious) out into the realm of experience. This act of desperation happens almost unconsciously because of the ego’s need to self-correct. You see, our egos are not our enemies. In fact, our egos (“I-am”) have more of a bodyguard-like character, which prevents us from doing anything to disrupt the deepest layers of who we are. Therefore, individuals are inwardly forced to make up for their belief of being incomplete by unconsciously searching for a suitable candidate that reflects what they already contain deep within their soul.
Love is a path on the road to individuation, which is described as complete acceptance of who we are as perfectly-imperfect beings. The ideal relationship in which a healthy love can express itself is one in which mates complement each other by supporting one partner’s weaknesses with their strengths. So we don’t need to wantonly chase everyone we meet; deep inside of us there’s an awareness that recognizes that we are already built for love and we are complete just as we are.
Your complementary mate is right around the corner. Get to know your strengths and weaknesses and you will quickly discover the behaviors and strengths that she or he will possess.
Jesse Herriott is an ordained priest, writer and adjunct professor in Atlanta, GA. Jesse is completing a Ph.D. in Gender Psychology from NorthCentral University, and he researches and writes about relationships, psychology and spirituality. In addition, he hosts a weekly radio broadcast airing every Tuesday at 9 a.m. Central on Unity Online Radio entitled, “Living on Purpose.” Listen to the show at www.unity.fm/program/livingonpurpose or visit www.jesseherriott.com.