I know Valentine’s Day is over and this post about love might seem a bit passé but I think there is never a wrong time to talk about love because it is always in the air! I get to see that all the time – in the parks, malls, streets, or beaches where couples are lip locked and coddled or cosseted. For an Indian coming to live in a western world and not used to such public displays of affection, my puritan sensibility did get a jolt initially. Soon I also realised I was transferred to a culture where it is really rude to stare. Controlling my roving eyes was one of the first steps to assimilation! I was so used to staring and being stared at when I was living in Delhi - not that I am someone endowed with drop dead gorgeous looks, but yes it is not uncommon to get an eyeful or give one till our heads have done the full rotation and revolution. So perhaps I get a glimpse of a Valentine’s Day moment more often than you, and in the process develop some Valentine envy too? Which brings me to the moot question of what is love, why do we crave for so much love, why do people die and kill for love?
I have a sudden academic interest in love after listening to a few talks on the subjects by experts who are also researching on what ticks the brain to love, romantic love to be precise. It is something that strikes people of all ages – from the 17-year old to the 70-year old. Around the world, people of all ages kill for love, pine for love, and do anything for love. The obsession is such that it is like the person is always camping on your head, a researcher noted. Chaucer said, “Love is blind”, and friend at university once added “dumb too”. I couldn’t agree more. Recently I had a Facebook chat with a friend who was up in the wee hours of the morning (India time). I asked her why she was awake at 3 am (11:30 am my time) and she promptly replied ‘insomnia’. I immediately commented she must be in love because I have always associated falling in love with insomnia and loss of appetite. But that was not the case with my happily married friend! I have also often joked with friends that the best way to fight the battle of the bulge is falling in love.
So researchers have scanned human brains it seems and found “the part of the brain responsible for love is the same area that lights up when a person becomes addicted to drugs — leading them to conclude that love is habit-forming.” Apparently, there are two regions in the brain called the insula and the striatum. “The insula is a portion of the cerebral cortex folded deep within an area between the temporal lobe and the frontal lobe, and the striatum is located nearby, right inside the forebrain,” according to researchers. “Love and sexual desire appear to activate different areas of the striatum. Sexual desire lights up the area that's activated by things that are pleasurable, like sex and food. Love, meanwhile, activates an area that's involved in the process of conditioning. This is the effect of having feelings paired with reward or pleasure. Consequently, as feelings of sexual desire develop into love, they are processed in a different place in the striatum –- the exact same area that's associated with drug addiction.”
The good news is that cynics can no longer say love is an abstract concept because there is a science to it but researchers also warn that no discovery is conclusive or final or could be true. But at least they seem to have found a pattern based on studies of groups of individuals. For those people who fall in and out of love quickly, they now have an excuse to say that their brain is overworking. Maybe for the few men I dumbed in my life, I can no longer be apologetic and for those who rejected me I can accept their apologies. Researchers also say when one is dumbed one is likely to love harder because studies of the brain reveals that one becomes more active and desperate when one does not get what one wants. That is a bit scary, unless doctors come up with a pill to kill or control that desire. I don’t want to be pining forever for a lost love and cling on to crappy clichés such as time is the biggest healer. It does, but why waste precious time to move on and on and on.
However, I still wonder what part of the brain works for infatuation-centric individuals like me. I meet an Aamir Khan for an interview and I come out feeling giddy-headed for the rest of the day. I experience too many highs and lows, which would also explain my childishness to an extent.
All this talk about love has evoked some wonderful memories. Romantic love is a happy experience but romantic love is an idealised concept and romance is not always about candlelight dinners or romantic getaways. They do not last forever. In today’s age and time, before a man marries a woman he would have gone through two, three or more romantic loves and vice versa. Although in India’s marriage market that is a no-no subject for discussion especially for women. Whatever the number, in the pages of wisdom and love, romantic love is best shared in the experience of it and not the re-telling of it. I wonder what wisdom and love I know now, the way I did before except to say with surety that it is a mental balm to cultivate love and not most part of it is romantic after a point of time. But when I am old and down, I would like to wear that retrospect with a smile on my face and say “I have lived and loved.”