THE POWER OF LOVE (IS NOT JUST FOR GIRLS)
What’s the big deal with this whole relationship thing? Why is it that many of us simply can’t be alone? Is it because we’re all terrified of facing big bad 14th February or is there some other sinister force at work?
So, there goes the first month of 2014, how did you fair? How are your resolutions holding up? The promises you made to yourself and others? Good? Bad? Well, if you’ve fallen off the proverbial wagon for one reason or another, don’t you worry about it, at least you’ve survived the statistically most miserable day of the year (round about the 15th January).
I on the other hand, Mr Smarty pants, have been very busy living up to my goal list for 2014, with multiple enterprises on the go, worthy of any Jean Michel Jarre concert, (what do you mean you don’t know who that is – that’s a different story) which includes, among many, a degree in counselling! No, I’m actually not considering a career change per say but it’s something that I’ve been researching, writing about and kind of unofficially practicing for many years so it makes sense to learn as much more as I can and seek an official qualification.
Why am I putting myself through 4 years of study with everything else that is going on? Why because I need to satisfy my perpetual appetite to achieve of course. Why else?
Anyway, so, like a heartless cad, we’ve barely waved goodbye to January and we’re already looking forward to February and that all important day of the year; Valentine’s Day, loved by many, hated by some and feared by others. I say fear because they’ll be many people out there, across the globe, who will be secretly (and sometimes not so secretly) hoping that their ‘significant other’ will, and fearing that they will not, use the occasion to pop the proverbial question to a backdrop of crimson adverts, love song compilations and, not unlike its successors, such as Mothers, Father’s, grandpa, grandma, flower and your favourite pet’s day, a tsunami of merchandise. Yes, the irony is not lost on many (the cynics primarily) that a day that is supposed to be about the celebration of spontaneous love and affection is mired in abject commercialism. Some would even have us believe that these days were artificially generated and cultivated by insatiable world dominating capitalists.
Oh bah humbug! (Sorry wrong ‘holiday’, I mean very important religious calendar event in the year).
Don’t get me wrong. I don’ think making money is such a terrible thing. After all, money makes the world go round, right?
For me, the only truly ‘bad’ thing about Valentine’s Day is not the day itself and perhaps not even what the day is supposed to stand for but it’s the weight of the emotional importance that is hung upon it. It’s the hopes of some, the dreams of others, the positive reinforcement of many lucky enough to be in a relationship, and the abject brutal reminder for many singletons that they are, in their opinion, alone in the world and that, for some reason or other, they are unloved. Because, rightly or wrongly (often wrongly) they’re waiting to exhale that Mr or Mrs Right will come along and ‘complete them’.
You really need someone else to complete you?
I guess the answer isn’t so much that these empty vessel human beings aren’t so much waiting for somebody to come along and justify their existence but are simply eager to erase that massive letter ‘W’ (for Wrong of course) from their foreheads. Since it’s painfully too common for singletons, especially the recently singled, once they go beyond the initial shock (and anger), to start questioning whether or not the reason why they appear incapable of forging a bond with another human being, or worse, unable to hold onto a relationship and thus condemned to suffer perpetual emotional self-flagellation for failure, is because there’s something ‘wrong’ with them.
The reality is, there may well be something ‘wrong’ with you. Relationships take work, and I could use all kinds of analogies here; they’re like plants, they need nurturing. They’re like planes, they need both engines to fly optimally, etcetera. This is true. However, sometimes, relationships simply don’t work out. It isn’t necessarily anybody’s fault, it’s simply that the one special tie, called love, has either frayed or snapped, and you drift apart. I know that sounds rather simplistic but sometimes it actually is that simple. Except for the real complicated times, that’s when you visit therapists such as yours truly (to be). Jokes aside, if somebody wants to be with you then they will be. That is the simple, unvarnished truth.
But is this so called ‘tie’ with another human being really that important? Do we really need another warm blooded creature to ‘complete’ the puzzle that is us or should we just be happy with who we are? Well, any therapist worth his or her hourly fee will tell you that you can’t truly love someone else unless you truly love yourself. Yes, yes, I know that sounds very much like psychobabble. (If you think that’s bad, wait until you read the next paragraph). The truth is, you’ll never be able to allow your partner to do the things they need to do in order to grow and lead a healthy mental existence unless you allow them their own space, their own thoughts that do not include you. I’ve often written about this common sense theory; different friends bring different things into our lives. Some may enjoy the same movies as us whilst others may enjoy the same music tastes, some are good listeners and some are not. Each and every one of our friends enriches our life in different ways. Why would anybody think it’s okay to change this just because we happen to be in a relationship with somebody else? In fact, the need to be able to share and vent thoughts (often about our partner) increases as the process enables us to deal with the events of everyday life. How many times have you just talked something through with somebody and have felt better for it? A problem shared and all that. You can’t always do this with your partner, especially since your partner may well be the cause of your aggravation. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for talking things through with the person who may be displeasing you but the fact that your partner keeps leaving the toilet seat up (or down), despite all of the times you’ve told them about it, doesn’t necessarily need a therapy session that’s simply a good old fashioned moan with somebody else who may be able to relate. This is how, as humans, we process some of the negative stuff we deal with everyday life. The point being, demanding to spend every waking hour with your partner (beyond the time you’re at work) is unhealthy for both of you. Everybody needs ‘me’ time and if you don’t then ask yourself why you aren’t content with yourself.
So, what’s the big deal with this whole relationship thing anyway? Why is it that many of us simply can’t be alone? Is it because we’re all absolutely terrified of facing big bad 14th February or is there some other sinister force at work?
Well, believe it or not, researchers have actually established a scientific reason for why we humans are compelled to seek out partners or, more specifically, affection (a human connection) with our partners. Apparently, it’s all to do with the neurohormone.
Neurohormones are responsible for our ‘love compulsions’. So much so that one of them is actually called the ‘love hormone’; Oxytocin. You may have heard of it. Oxytocin is not just a hormone but it’s also a neurotransmitter, hence the name. It’s Oxytocin that is responsible for the bonds we forge with other human beings; family, friends and, of course, lovers. It’s one of the reasons why, for many around the globe, hugs feel so damn good. Often, just interacting with, talking to the object of our affection releases the good ole’ hormone making us feel all good, more than often, less stressed and, you’ve guessed it, loved.
Although an interesting historic study has found that that those who did not have a positive relationship with their parents (or a parent) find it much more difficult to fully exploit the benefits of Oxytocin.
The research focussed on a group of women (how many it doesn’t say) but they were subjected to the wailing sounds of a crying baby, given ‘puffs’ of Oxytocin whilst being asked to intermittently squeeze or relax their grip on a measuring device. Their response to the Oxytocin differed between those women who had a tactile, loving relationship with their parents versus those who disciplined more severely and deprived of affection. Women who had not be disciplined severely by their parents relaxed their grip whilst those who had been disciplined did not. In a separate study, women were given Oxytocin or a placebo. They were then given a questionnaire about how loving (or not) their parents were. When the study was over, the women were paid for their time and then given the chance to donate to charity. It was found that the women of loving parents who were given Oxytocin gave much more generously than their counterparts who received less maternal/paternal love. The conclusion is that our relationship with our parents during our most impressionable years actually serves to build our Oxytocin system.
More specifically; if you’ve come from loving parents then you’re more likely to get a reward from Oxytocin than if you did not.
This would also explain why often the ‘first cut is the deepest’ as in an unhurt heart the Oxytocin is more likely to be in free flow versus a system that has been damaged by multiple romantic disappointments. It also believed that this explains why those of us who were not raised on tactile, affectionate relationships seldom go on to require this in adulthood; we’re able to function quite happily without the receipt of constant or regular affection. It also sheds some light on why men, often stereotypically, tend be less demonstrative of affection (as this is often perceived as a sign of weakness) than the fairer sex. Although, generally speaking, this is a myth. Many of us will all too often have found that if you take the manliest of men away from his peers, into a safe space where he doesn’t feel the pressure (or social obligation) to ‘perform’ at being a male, then he is capable of far greater emotive expression to rival even the ‘fluffiest’ of girlies.
That said, whilst it would be easy to surmise that only those who have been showered of affection as children are capable of giving and or receiving it as adults it wouldn’t necessarily be true. Some of those raised in a family landscape baron of affection actually go into adulthood overcompensating for that which was denied them as children and or teenagers, more so when the proverbial ‘first cut’ happens later in life, this often results in a much needier and or clingy individual.
Similarly, just because you had a bad childhood, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doomed! Far from it, conditioning, be it by therapy or own self-motivation can quite easily influence the makeup of your Oxytocin system. For example, I tend to ‘condition’ all of my friends to give me a hug both when they meet and leave me. (I’m talking strictly man hugs you know). If I were to analyse the results of my own study, I can safely report that these ‘men’ are 100% conditioned into this act now. There’s no doubt in my mind that if were to shun them upon their departure they’d feel as if something fundamental were missing from our friendship. This is one of the simplest examples of self-conditioning.
Whilst it would be easy for all of this to sound somewhat tounge-in-cheek there is a lot of seriousness in our ability to express affection in a relationship and whilst there may be some sceptics out there (especially the men reading this), make no mistake, you too, not unlike your wife and or girlfriend and or family members need to express and have reciprocated your acts of affection. Be that a kiss, acts of kindness or the ubiquitous act of sex. This is the very reason why many feel somewhat ‘lost’ when there is no one with whom to make that proverbial ‘connection’, be that lover or family member. There’s a need in all of us to ‘connect’ with another human being. It’s the other reason why females are much better at being single than men. Women are able to easily express and or receive affection from friends and family members thus satisfy that ‘need’ to make a connection. Men, on the other hand, have that whole bravado to project, they aren’t easily able to express affection. For them, the generally logical and socially acceptable relationship in which to act somewhat ‘gooey’ is with their girlfriends, wives, children and their mums! Note the common denominator here. Take away the female element and what are you left with; children. And if our particular male lacks offspring then he’s left with nothing but an affection grey area, since unlike his female counterpart he’s unable to glean and or express affection elsewhere, such as with friends. I should point out that there appears to be a social shift in this theory over the past decade. If I were to go out on a limb and pin it to something specific, I’d say that the expression of affection between modern men is becoming almost as acceptable as confessing to a moisturising routine! It starting to peak amongst the brave (despite the boom in the male cosmetics industry) but not everybody is quite ready to confess the inner ablutions of the man cave.
Matters of the heart are blissful as they are complex but how exactly did the heart come to symbolise ‘lurve’? Well, wise men, such as Aristotle, believed that the heart was responsible for everything that takes place in the human body, including emotions. Many centuries ago, the human brain wasn’t believed to be anywhere as important as we all know it to be now. The heart was responsible for everything. This came to be because the heart is one of those organs that transmits a physical shift each time a situation arouses one of our senses; be it fear, nervousness, or simply that old thing called love, the moment when the mere sight or smell of the object of our affection (or desire) is enough to send the organ into a whole pitter patter. It’s believed that one of the earliest depictions of the heart in the context of love is a French painting dating back to the 13th century. In it a lover hands what looks like his heart to his mistress.
There’s no doubt that, in its basic form, love is one of the most powerful of human conditions, it gives us the strength to overcome the impossible and the weakness to give our own life for another human being. Powerful and dangerous stuff indeed. And like most dangerous things, it should be used with caution. If you’re lucky enough to love or be loved by another human being then you have the responsibility to treat it with care. Don’t smother, nurture, don’t paw at nor take it for granted. Treat it with respect and never assume it will be there forever, some of the most disintegrated humans have made that mistake and have suffered for it.
Have a LOVEly relaxing Sunday. See you (or write you) at the end of the month.
RELATED ARTICLES: THE DEATH OF MARRIAGE/ UNFAITHFUL / BEAUTY & THE BEAST / LOVE OR LOATHE VALENTINE’S DAY / THINGS WE LOSE IN THE FIRE / SURRENDERED LIVES
What a great article! The study was interesting. There’s no doubt that the world just wouldn’t be the same without emotion. I am very lucky to have wonderful friends that help to ‘complete’ me, but I have also learned to like myself & to enjoy time alone. Maybe it’s a case of finding a balance. I hope that all your readers find their ‘peace & balance’. Valentines day is just just commercial, but really it’s finding that permanent, every day happiness that truly counts x
This is a well written article, Tony. I appreciate the balance and the scientific tie ins. I am one of those fortunate ones who can both abase and abound. I am filled and surrounded by love and exchange with friends and family on a daily basis. It is always a joy to find people who allow their love to flow. The last thing I ever dreamed of doing at my age is learning to love ad appreciate myself at a much deeper degree than I thought possible. Thank you for your gift of meaning expressed in your article. Best of all things for you new career adventure 🙂
There is also “The Final Cut” as in the Pink Floyd album. I had great parents. I was never spanked. My Dad thought I could do no wrong. But outside of that environment I was bullied and abused. It seems I have spent my life moving from one emergency after another. After the first cut, my divorce and effectively being cut out of my children’s lives it seemed perfectly natural to become an EMT. I found it was far easier to race off to help someone else with their problem than to deal with my own. I also did it to impress a nurse I had a crush on and it worked. Our son is now a nurse too. But when he was 10 my wife and best friend died at age 38 from a heart attack right in front of me. All of my skill and training could not save her. All that “Until Death Do We Part” didn’t work on me. I am still faithful to her. One a year, every year, I take fresh flowers and a balloon to our graves on January 20th and let the balloon go. I envy you all.