Sunday, September 2, 2018

Is Love Real? Is It A Real Emotion?


You and me, baby, ain't nothing but mammals
So, let's do it like they do on the Discovery Channel
The Bloodhound Gang

What's love got to do, got to do with it
What's love but a second hand emotion
Songwriters: Graham Hamilton Lyle / Terry Britten
Sung by Tina Turner

Birds do it, bees do it...
Let's do it, let's fall in love
Cole Porter

Alfred Kinsey, the famous biologist who studied human sexuality the same way he might have studied the mating behavior of giraffes or hyenas, did not believe in love. Marriage was essentially about mating. And without that our species would not survive. 

love graphic
A recent summary of Kinsey's extensive studies about human sexuality said this:   His team wanted to show that humans could not escape their mammalian (read 'animal') heritage; in relation to sex, we were bound by our physiology to have certain responses in relation to stimuli. Although we like to think of the sexual act as being about love, Kinsey aimed to show that it was less about the higher mind than we liked to believe.

So this got me to thinking. Is love real or is it just sex in a cultural disguise? The answer is more complicated than I originally thought. The answer is both yes and no.

Young love.
Young love.

There were three different impulses/forces at work here:
  • Sex
  • Love
  • Marriage or a committed relationship
Now to begin at the beginning, sexual relations can occur without love, but Romantic Love cannot exist (until perhaps old age) without sex. So sex is at the core of Romantic Love. 


Marriage and children.
Marriage and children. 
The photo on the right is Elizabeth Taylor with husband Mike Todd and their baby Liza.

Marriage can be something quite different from either love or sex and it has a different meaning from culture to culture. 

In general terms, marriage is a civilized custom which attempts to contain and keep the animal desires of a couple within their marriage. However, its primary purpose is to provide a safe environment for children and an orderly inheritance process. Its primary purpose is to create order.

Almost like our own natural drives, the culture has its own driving forces, its own agenda which is not concerned with the happiness of individuals but with the society as a whole.

From Kinsey's point of view, marriage customs and expectations have a way of molding us like a horse slowly getting used to the feel of a saddle. This molding starts in childhood so that girls play with dolls and boys dream about finding a princess. By the time we are adults, we have learned to move and be ridden as though the demands of the culture were natural. We accept the custom of marriage and we plan on being with our spouse for the rest of our lives.

But, to be fair, not just civilization but biology and nature are also at work here. For the survival of the species, a couple needs to stay together long enough to bring up their children and to provide their children with a safe nurturing environment. And with the so-called 'long childhood' of human beings, our biology encourages us to remain in a long-term relationship.


But to get back to the question: What is love? 

This blog is about the human experience of time, and it turns out that time is fundamental to the emotion of love.

Love is about wanting to mate with someone and be with that person for the foreseeable future and wanting an exclusive relationship. So love is about sex, but it is also about time.

If you have not read my other blogs, I need to make this point: I believe we are the only animal who has a unique concept of time, i.e., we are the only animal who has a concept of linear time. No other animal can indicate 'when' in time. We can say when in the past, present and future plus we have a sophisticated concept of time from the past to the future. (Read my blog on this.)

In addition we human animals are always thinking about the future, according to the new science of Prospection. Our feelings and ideas about the future are critical to our sense of well-being and our survival. And loving someone is about your future with that person. Read more about this at this blog post:

So, it should not be surprising that our desire to mate could also have a time element. Love is that desire *over time*. While sex is immediate, love is thought of as long-term or forever, for example. And this is entirely consistent with our own animal nature which includes a sense of time.

A quick survey of songs -- which are often about love -- shows that time is frequently part of the love song, either stated directly or implied.

I did a search at and got the following results when I searched for 'Love you forever' »Search results for 'Love You Forever'Yee yee! We've found 309,506 lyrics, 116 artists, and 100 albums matching Love You Forever.     
And the interest in and passion of love continues from generation to generation. The somewhat cynical crowd-sourced Urban Dictionary, for example, has more definitions about love than any other word. Most of these definitions were written by young people. And most definitions include a sense of time.

An Urban Dictionary Definition of Love:
Love is wanting to hold her in ur arms till the end of time. Love is wishing ur time with her never ends, that your lips would be locked together forever, that she'd be in ur arms till the end of time, that u could cuddle with her for all of eternity. By ~Sabes~ November 15, 2004                    
A study of societies worldwide found that the experience of love was known to almost all of them. A recent anthropological study showed that love was multi-cultural and the effect on our brains and our emotions was almost exactly the same. Scientists did brain scans and found no difference between cultures.


Yet how each culture dealt with this emotion was quite different. 
“How we go through the process of love can be very culturally defined,” but the experience of love is really not so different from culture to culture.

Neolithic Venus figurine (left), Isis-Aphrodite (middle), Greek Aphrodite (right).
Neolithic Venus figurine (left), Isis-Aphrodite (middle), Greek Aphrodite (right). 
These figurines and statues which go back perhaps 5,000 years depict the Goddess Aphrodite who was the goddess of love, procreation, beauty and sexual pleasure. Isis-Aphrodite, the middle goddess (above), was a merging of the Egyptian fertility Goddess Isis with the Greek Goddess Aphrodite.

However, since love occurs over time, and since it usually results in the birth of children, cultural norms and expectations come into the picture. As anthropologists have found out, some cultures emphasize certain emotions and suppress others. 

When freelance producer Rebecca Kanthor talked to people on the street in Shanghai about love, the word that kept coming up was “responsibility.”“Being involved in a romantic relationship is a lot like having a job, actually,” says Jessie Chen, 24, a Shanghai accountant. “Both of them are very risky, can be risky. Having a job is risky. Having a romantic relationship can be risky.”

Also in Asia, some cultures see love as selfish and some see it as interfering with the traditional customs of marriage.

In countries with a tradition of arranged marriage, falling in love is disruptive and dangerous. Historian Stephanie Coontz studies marriage, and she says only recently has there been an assumption that love would come before marriage.Historically, “falling in love before marriage in India was considered an actively antisocial act,” Coontz says. “In ancient China, the word for love connoted a very socially disrespectable relationship.”Falling in love is arguably about pleasing yourself, and some cultures put more emphasis than westerners do on serving your family or your community.

In a society with many written and unwritten rules about marriage and affairs, love could be quite disruptive. In Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, for example, Anna's crime was not that she was having an affair but rather that she loved Count Vronsky and openly showed it.

Love was particularly dangerous in a stratified class society since it was well known that the classes did not mix. But love knows few boundaries and mutual attraction is hard to predict. So a prince might fall in love with an illiterate peasant girl or a duchess might seduce a stable boy. The novel by D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley's Lover, shocked many people at the time not because she was having an affair, but because she was having an affair with a lower-class uneducated gardener whom she loved. 

Today in the modern democratic societies of the West love between different levels of society has been less of a problem, but this problem has never gone away. If a college boy wants to marry a lunch counter waitress with a high school education, for example, his friends often disapprove.


"Love is all you need." 
The Beatles

In the West, love has an elevated status which creates its own set of problems. From an early age, most girls and boys believe that can find 'the one' and be happy for the rest of their lives. As psychologists have pointed out, these cultural expectations are much too high. And because they are so high, the euphoria of a new marriage or falling in love often fades into deep disappointment. 

The excitement of falling in love.
The excitement of falling in love.

However, this ideal of true love has a long history in the West. While some scholars have said it came from the Middle Ages and troubadours singing about love, its roots go much deeper.

Soul-mates: Plato 
In his dialogue The Symposium, Plato has Aristophanes present a story about soulmates. Aristophanes states that humans originally had four arms, four legs, and a single head made of two faces. The men were children of the sun, the women were children of the earth... It is said that humans had great strength at the time and threatened to conquer the gods. The gods were then faced with the prospect of destroying the humans with lightning... Zeus developed a creative solution by splitting humans in half as punishment for humanity's pride... These split humans were in utter misery to the point where they would not eat and would perish so Apollo had sewn them up and reconstituted their bodies with the navel being the only remnant harkening back to their original form. Each human would then ... long for his/her other half; the other half of his/her soul. It is said that when the two find each other, there is an unspoken understanding of one another, that they feel unified and would lie with each other in unity and would know no greater joy than that.

 The passionate kiss.
 The passionate kiss.

This belief in soul-mates is very much alive today. Here is another definition from the contemporary crowd-sourced Urban Dictionary:
Soul mates by definition are two completely strangers who meet unexpectedly in life and feel this unbreakable bond which hides true love, unbelievable desire, passion and the wiliness to find each other in life.greekona20 July 16, 2009

In Psychology Today I found the following:
...according to a January 2011 Marist poll, 73% of Americans believe that they are destined to find their one, true, soul mate. The percentage is a bit higher for men (74%) than women (71%). The notion is also higher among younger individuals, with 79% of those under 45 believing in soul mates (as opposed to 69% of those over 45).  Jeremy Nicholson M.S.W., Ph.D., Psychology Today

But an inflexible belief that you can find the 'perfect' partner is counterproductive.

In all relationships, however, disagreement, conflict, and incompatibility will arise. Ultimately, no one is perfect - or a perfect fit for a partner. It takes work, growth, and change to keep a relationship going and satisfying over time. When that happens, soul mate believers often become upset, disillusioned, and uncommitted.  Jeremy Nicholson M.S.W., Ph.D., Psychology Today

It seems that in the West, the culture has attempted to merge marriage and love. The demands of marriage and the excitement of love have come together in our modern view of nuptial bliss. However, if expectations are too high, the marriage will probably fail. Nevertheless, that is how Western culture has accommodated this basic emotion of love.

Love and marriage, love and marriage
They go together like a horse and carriage... 
Dad was told by mother...You can't have one without the other
Songwriters: James Van Heusen / Sammy Cahn 
Sung by Frank Sinatra

Like many human urges and emotions, love presents its own problems. Each society finds ways to deal with it or mold it or suppress it. 


Nevertheless, to answer the question I posed at the beginning of this post: 
I believe Romantic Love is a very real basic human emotion. It is sexual desire and a desire for companionship exclusively for one person over time. 

Couples through the ages.
Couples through the ages.


So is a lifelong love possible? Consider:

What follows is a tune written by Irving Berlin to and for his beloved wife, Ellin, as a wedding present. He was a much older Jewish lower class immigrant who fell in love with a Catholic upper crust heiress. They were deeply in love and they married against her father's wishes. Her father disowned her when she married but then Berlin wrote this song for her and gave her exclusive rights to the substantial royalties so she would always have an income no matter what. For the next sixty years, their love continued until she died at the age of 85 in 1988. Berlin died the following year at the age of 101.

By Irving Berlin 
For the longest while
I'd forget to smile,
Then I met you.
Now that my blue days have passed,
Now that I've found you at last -

I'll be loving you 
With a love that's true 
When the things you've planned
Need a helping hand,
I will understand 


Days may not be fair 
That's when I'll be there 
Not for just an hour,
Not for just a day,
Not for just a year,
But always.




Rebel Without a Cause
toward a new understanding of love

The often misunderstood movie, Rebel Without a Cause, attempted to reshape the love relationship. James Dean presented a new masculine image that is still relevant today. Courageous yet sensitive, vulnerable and affectionate, he was not afraid to show his feelings. 

James Dean
The Dean character is often at odds with his parents. He rejects their way of relating, their distant and dysfunctional relationship, and yearns for something more. And this is why he is rebelling even though he, himself, does not really understand why.

, the James Dean character is picked up by police for public drunkenness. When his parents come to get him, they start arguing among themselves until Dean screams, "You're tearing me apart."
At the beginning of the movie, the James Dean character is picked up by police for public drunkenness. When his parents come to get him, they start arguing among themselves until Dean screams, "You're tearing me apart."

the Dean character tells his parents about the chicken car race that he was in.
In this pivotal scene, the Dean character tells his parents about the chicken car race that he was in. The boy driving the other car was killed. Dean screams at his parents, in the famous line, "But I am involved! WE ARE ALL INVOLVED!"

Love between Dean character and Natalie Wood
Toward the end of the movie, the Dean character and Natalie Wood (as pretend parents) and Sal Mineo (their pretend child) attempt to form a family unit that is new and different, one that is clearly distinct from Dean's movie parents' distant marriage.