Part 9. Humans are (Blank)-ogamous: Love Is an Evolutionary Compromise


This is part 9 of a series on the evolution of human mating behavior, comparing evidence for promiscuity and pair-bonding in our species. Please see the introduction here.

____________________________________________________________________

I want love to roll me over slowly,
Stick a knife inside me, and twist it all around.
I want love to grab my fingers gently,
Slam them in a doorway, put my face into the ground. – Jack White (Love Interruption[1]  

“Everything is a double-edged sword… Even single-edged swords are a double-edged sword. Because you can cut something with it, but the other edge is kind of flat and it doesn’t cut very well.” – Louis CK (comedian)

.

.

Yesterday’s post looked at the neurobiology of romantic love, asking whether evolutionary perspectives are sufficient to explain this highly significant part of what it means to be human. It also raised the question as to why love seems to be a painful experience for so many people.

Before going further, it’s important to remember that while humans are undoubtedly evolved, biological organisms, we are also animals with complex behavior, language, and culture. Others have said this better than I can. To Jon Marks (2010), we are “biocultural ex-apes,” while Agustin Fuentes wrote that “human behavior is almost always ‘naturenurtural’ ” (2012:16). Just as human modification of the environment can affect natural selection (Hawks et al 2007; Laland et al. 2010), so can culture profoundly influence the way we interpret powerful emotional impulses, including those related to desire and love.

A good guess is that much of the neurobiology of romantic love is pretty consistent across different populations and individuals. However, we also know that variation is the norm in biology and that our neurobiology is in constant interaction with our physical and social environments as we grow and develop. Specifically regarding sexuality, Anne Fausto-Sterling called it “a somatic fact created by a cultural effect (2000: 21).” Greg Downey and Daniel Lende help us understand how this process might unfold, referring to the brain as “our most cultural organ,” adding that:

“brains can be grown into different configurations, not because we are, at birth, fundamentally and irreducibly different, but because we become ‘en-brained’ as a result of our own distinctive combinations of genes, epigenetic influences, environmental factors, experiences, learning, and even understandings of ourselves.” (2012: 32)

I take the lessons from Downey and Lende to heart. In the search for broad patterns it’s easy to forget that context and individual, subjective experiences assuredly count for something, and that individuals will experience romantic love in their own particular … idiom. As F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, “There are all kinds of love in this world, but never the same love twice.” For example, individuals have different attachment styles, which recent longitudinal data suggest is correlated with early life experiences (maternal sensitivity, father absence, social competence, and best friendship quality) as well as with one of the serotonin receptor genes (Fraley et al 2013).  Again, it’s complicated. Just as it is possible for some people to be resistant to certain recreational drugs (Ersche et al, in press), some may be more or less susceptible to falling in love. Therefore, individual experiences can provide some insight into the various ways people love.

.

The Fog of Love

“Clouds cover love’s barbed wire snares.” The Black Keys

At her site ‘Brain Pickings,’ Maria Popova did a great service for her readers by compiling a series of quotes on romantic love from literature over the last few centuries, spanning Shakespeare to Susan Sontag. Going through them, it is apparent how difficult love is to comprehend and describe, particularly when one is in the middle of it. Even the great authors seem to flail at converting the visceral into the verbal and fall back on metaphor, suggesting love has an incomprehensible, ineffable quality to it. It has been referred to by some as “a fever which comes and goes quite independently of the will” (Stendahl); “mysterious” (Sontag); “a fog that burns with the first daylight of reality” (Charles Bukowski); or “a temporary madness” that “erupts like volcanoes and then subsides” (Louis de Bernières).[2]

Still, opinions on romantic love are quite divergent. To some, it is a temple, or higher law. The online dating site Christian Mingle advertises itself as a way to “Find God’s match for you” through love. On the other hand, here is author Neil Gaiman’s view:

 “Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means someone can get inside you and mess you up. You build up all these defenses. You build up a whole armor, for years, so nothing can hurt you, then one stupid person, no different from any other stupid person, wanders into your stupid life… You give them a piece of you. They didn’t ask for it. They did something dumb one day, like kiss you or smile at you, and then your life isn’t your own anymore. Love takes hostages. It gets inside you. It eats you out and leaves you crying in the darkness, so simple a phrase like ‘maybe we should be just friends’ or ‘how very perceptive’ turns into a glass splinter working its way into your heart. It hurts. Not just in the imagination. Not just in the mind. It’s a soul-hurt, a body-hurt, a real gets-inside-you-and-rips-you-apart pain. Nothing should be able to do that. Especially not love. I hate love.” 

So. That’s another perspective.

Gaiman is not alone. We have words like ‘lovesick,’ ‘heartache,’ or ‘broken heart’ to evoke what it feels like when love goes badly – when it’s unrequited, forbidden, suppressed, lost suddenly, or slowly turns to rust. Many of the quotes in Popova’s compilation contain similar notions of confusion and suffering, describing love as “confused adoration,” a flood from the heart and “full of tears” (James Joyce); or an untamed force with the potential to destroy, enslave, and leave us lost and confused (Paulo Coehlo).

These themes also exist in cynical, cross-cultural proverbs about love and in modern songs. For example, ‘The Guardian’ put together a list of over 100 songs about heartbreak. And I’m sure it’s an incomplete list. In my own superficial delving into popular culture, I can find examples that emphasize the perplexed irrationality of love, describing it as crazy, crazy, or crazy and stupid. Still others have themes of despondency, such as feeling broken and mentally overwhelmed (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), bleeding (1, 2, 3, 4), or being trampled, falling apart, being left in the dark, having the lights go out, or a private internal death (this list could go on). While some of these lyrics are obviously exaggerated for effect, it seems clear that romantic love does not always lead to the expected Valentine’s Day experience. You won’t find many of the sentiments above on a Hallmark card.

Whether the outcome of romantic love is positive or negative, it should be obvious that it is an incredibly powerful emotional experience and not something to be toyed with. The psychologist Barbara Fredrickson (2013) refers to it (actually, love in a general sense) as “our supreme emotion.” In fact, Damasio and Carvalho (2013) refer to love not as an emotion at all, but a drive that evolved to satisfy a basic instinctual need, like hunger, thirst, libido, or parental care. By comparison, emotions include things like disgust, fear, anger, sadness, joy, and shame and are triggered by an external stimulus.

Even the evolutionary anthropologist/ psychologist Robin Dunbar, in his book “The Science of Love and Betrayal”, acknowledged this inability to firmly grasp what love is, suggesting it is deeply seated and occurs at a level of consciousness that is not easy to articulate:

 “the emotions that well up and create our inner feelings are not well connected to the conscious, language-accessible brain… This ought, I think, to alert us to the fact that all this falling in love stuff might arise from a bit of deeply buried emotional machinery that we don’t acquire just by reading Mills & Boon novels. Rather, it is something that is very ancient, something that we inherited from our ancestors before they acquired language…It reinforces the fact that we are just not very good at describing what’s going on inside us. We feel our emotions, but we do not always understand them.” (p. 29-30)

The question is why those feelings are often beyond our immediate understanding. I think it’s helpful to remember that nature did not half-ass our emotions (or drives), and that of all these emotional experiences love seems to be ‘the big one.’

.

“A Bundle of Careful Compromises”

O, I loved too much, and by such and such, is happiness thrown away.  – Patrick Kavanagh, On Raglan Road

In their book “Why We Get Sick,” Randolph Nesse and George Williams asked: “Why, in a body of such exquisite design, are there a thousand flaws and frailties that make us vulnerable to disease? … Why hasn’t it shaped ways to prevent nearsightedness, heart attacks, and Alzheimer’s disease? (1994: 3). Their answer was that “the body is a bundle of careful compromises.” Evolution has given us a patchwork of serendipitous mutations that were just good enough to get the job done, a series of hacks and shortcuts laid over prior hacks and shortcuts. Matt Cartmill recently put it this way: “Evolution doesn’t act to yield perfection. It acts to yield function.” As a result, the human body today is a wonderful, functional work of nature, but it is also susceptible to the aforementioned diseases, as well as bad backs, weak ankles, and love that is sometimes painful. Even Helen Fisher referred to the neurobiology of love as capricious and fickle. It is a compromise.

Bono syndrome

Bono syndrome

While romantic love is a real thing – and potentially beautiful – it often falls short of our cultural expectations. And why should it conform to our expectations? It was here first. From a functional point of view, the intrusive thinking and idealization of one’s partner that are integral to romantic love are highly effective ways of forcing our hand to pursue the bond or to keep it alive. Love would not be very good at its job if it was left to rational choice, or if we knew where the ‘off’ switch was. Instead, it is much more effective because it seems to grab us by the throat. But that’s also where the pain seems to come in. To Helen Fisher, the earliest and most intense part of romantic love is something like an addiction – “a blissful dependency when one’s love is returned, a painful, sorrowful, and often destructive craving when one’s love is spurned” (2004: 53).

Last November, Richard Friedman, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times about suffering in romantic relationships (I Heart Unpredictable Love). His specific focus was on-again/ off-again love affairs, and he argued that one reason people are drawn to them is that our neurobiology is particularly susceptible to unpredictable rewards.

The reason this happens is simple. The brain’s reward circuit has evolved over millions of years to enable us to recognize and extract various rewards from our environment that are critical to our survival, like food and a suitable sexual mate. Unlike predictable stimuli, unanticipated stimuli can tell us things about the world that we don’t yet know. And because they serve as a signal that a big reward might be close by, it is advantageous that novel stimuli command our attention….

If you are involved with someone who is unpredictably loving, you might not like it very much — but your reward circuit is sure going to notice the capricious behavior and give you information that might conflict with what you believe consciously is in your best interest.

This is reminiscent of something Robert Sapolsky described about research on monkeys who were given a reward for completing some task. When the reward was given out only 50% of the time (compared to 100%), the uncertainty caused a much larger surge in dopamine, as the monkeys anticipated getting the reward. As Sapolsky put it “ ‘maybe’ is addictive like nothing else out there.” Many have noted how the role of dopamine has been oversimplified, and that it has many functions. Among those functions, it is more appropriate to see it as having a ‘pay attention’ effect than a pleasure effect. I’m speculating here, but it’s possible that there could be a similar mechanism in play with ‘maybe’ romantic relationships – will (s)he or won’t (s)he? – to the point that people get stuck and end up writing song lyrics like those mentioned above. This sounds a lot like the author Paulo Coehlo’s quote: “Waiting is painful. Forgetting is painful. But not knowing which to do is the worst kind of suffering.” Or, we could call it ‘Bono syndrome.’

.

Consequences of Compromised Love: Loss, Rejection, and the Tripartite Conundrum

‘Maybe’ is not the only path to suffering for love. There is also loss and rejection. Kross et al (2011) noted that somatosensory brain systems overlapped in people who experienced social rejection and physical pain, suggesting that the former developed in evolution “by coopting brain circuits that support the affective component of physical pain.” By contrast, some research suggests that being in love can actually reduce physical pain in experimental situations (Younger et al 2010).

Then there is loss. One large Finnish study showed that risk of mortality increased substantially soon after the death of a spouse, particularly in men (Martikainen & Valkonen, 1996). Similarly, in an American study, Mostofsky et al. (2012) reported that the risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack) increased 21-fold within the first day of learning of the death of a significant person (e.g., spouse, child, parent, sibling, friend). This risk declined each subsequent day, but stayed elevated for at least a month. The authors speculated that there could be a number of causes for this, including depression, anger, anxiety, loss of sleep and appetite. Another factor may be something called “broken heart syndrome” (aka stress myocardiopathy), which is apparently a real phenomenon marked by an abnormal electrocardiograph and dysfunction of the left ventricle following sudden stress (Wittstein, 2007).

For those spouses who outlived their mate for a substantial period, the surviving partner was less happy for at least eight years after the loss compared to when their spouse was alive (Aamodt & Wang, 2008: 117). Even prairie voles that have their mate removed show signs of apathy and despondency, performing lethargically in mazes and even seem to give up when placed in water floating “listlessly as if they didn’t care whether they drowned.”

Lastly, and perhaps the one that we seem to struggle with the most, is what William Jankowiak called “The Tripartite Conundrum.” This deserves a post (or a book) unto itself, but to summarize: as we saw in the previous post, the neurobiology of desire, romantic love, and companionate love overlap but are somewhat independent of each other. This likely has consequences for our emotions and behavior as well. Helen Fisher put it this way:

“It seems to be the destiny of humankind that we are neurologically able to love more than one person at a time. You can feel profound attachment for a long-term spouse, while you feel romantic passion for someone in the office or your social circle, while you feel the sex drive as you read a book, watch a movie, or do something else unrelated to either partner. You can swing from one feeling to another.” (2004: 94)

That independence of the three (sex, romantic love, and attachment) can lead to conflict and pain. For example, Jankowiak did a study of people in the U.S. who said they were in love with more than one person (one being the romantic love, the other as the companionate love). When he asked if it was the happiest time of their lives, they replied that it was ‘hell.’ But this was one sample. Taking a biocultural view, I think this depends on how individuals and cultures perceive these phenomena, and how these emotions (or behaviors) fit with cultural and relationship expectations. For example, one of the few published papers on consensual non-monogamy challenged the notion that relationship satisfaction was any better or worse than in monogamous ones, though data are certainly lacking (Condon et al 2012).  

.

Perennial as the Grass

For the sake of symmetry, let’s end this essay the way it began, with lyrics from Jack White.

A lot of people get confused, and they bruise
Real easy when it comes to love
They start putting on their shoes and walking out
And singing “boy, I think I had enough”
 (White Stripes, Denial Twist
)

With all the above evidence, it is clear that there is a tax on romantic love, and it can be a painful one. But it would be misguided to focus only on the tax. In our bundle of compromises, we grumble about our back pain, near-sightedness, propensity to choke when eating, or any other of our physical shortcomings. But we don’t wish to remove our spines, eyes, or esophagus. It’s just part of the package of being an evolved animal. Instead, we try to work around our physical vulnerabilities.

The same goes for love. Instead of walking out and saying “boy, I think I had enough,” it may be helpful to recognize the ways that love is compromised by our evolution. Sometimes it lasts; sometimes it hurts. I don’t think we should reduce love to “only” a psychological phenomenon (though I wouldn’t call it a mystical force either). We often revolve our lives around love, travel great distances, take risks, make sacrifices, and reorder priorities for it, so it is without a doubt more than something that exists in our heads. At the same time, the psychological part of love in our heads is a critical component that we don’t have full control over. When we face loss, rejection, or get hurt in any number of ways, it might help to remember that all relationships (not just romantic) are finite. Some last a lifetime; others are much shorter. Selfishly, we may want them to last forever, but we know that they can’t. All relationships are severed by time, death, distance, or circumstance. However ephemeral or lasting, they are still among life’s highlights.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. – Max Ehrmann, Desiderata

 

References

Aamodt S, Wang S. 2008. Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys but Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life. Bloomsbury. Link

Conley TD, Ziegler A, Moors AC, Matsick JL, Valentine B. 2012. A critical examination of popular assumptions about the benefits and outcomes of monogamous relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Review. Link

Damasio A, Carvalho GB. 2013. The nature of feelings: evolutionary and neurobiological origins. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 14, 143-152. Link

Downey G, Lende DH. 2012. Neuroanthropology and the encultured brain. In Lende DH, Downey G (eds.) The Encultured Brain p. 23-65. Cambridge: MIT. Link

Dunbar R. 2012. The Science of Love and Betrayal.  Faber and Faber Link

Ersche KD, Jones PS, Williams GB, et al. In Press. Distinctive personality traits and neural correlates associated with stimulant drug use versus familial risk of stimulant dependence. Biological Psychiatry. Link

Fausto-Sterling A. 2000. Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. Basic Books. Link

Fisher H. 2004. Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love. Putnam. Link

Fraley RC, Roisman GI, Booth-Laforce C, Owen MT, Holland AS. 2013. Interpersonal and Genetic Origins of Adult Attachment Styles: A Longitudinal Study From Infancy to Early Adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Feb 11.  Link

Fredrickson BL. 2013.  Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become. Penguin. Link

Fuentes A. 2012. Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You: Busting Myths about Human Nature. University of California Press. Link

Hawks J, et al. 2007. Recent acceleration of human adaptive evolution. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 104(52):20753-8. Link

Jankowiak W. 2008. Intimacies: Love & Sex across Cultures. Columbia Univ Press. Link

Kross E, Berman MG, Mischel W, Smith EE, Wagerd TD. 2011. Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain PNAS 108(15):  6270–5. Link

Laland KN, Odling-Smee J, Myles S. 2010. How culture shaped the human genome: bringing genetics and the human sciences together. Nat Rev Genet 11(2):137-48.  Link

Marks J. 2010. Off human nature. American Anthropologist 112(4): 513. Link

Martikainen P, Valkonen T. 1996. Mortality after the death of a spouse: rates and causes of death in a large Finnish cohort. American Journal of Public Health 86(8): 1087-93. (Link)

Mostofsky E, Maclure M, Sherwood JB, Tofler GH, Muller JE, Mittleman MA. 2012. Risk of acute myocardial infarction after the death of a significant person in one’s life: the Determinants of Myocardial Infarction Onset Study. Circulation 125(3): 491-6. (Link)

Nesse R, Williams GC. 1994. Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine. Vintage: New York. Link

Wittstein IS. 2007. Broken heart syndrome. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine 74 (Suppl 1) S17-S22. (Link)

Younger J, Aron A, Parke S, Chatterjee N, Mackey S. 2010. Viewing pictures of a romantic partner reduces experimental pain: Involvement of neural reward systems. PLoS ONE 5(10): e13309. Link

.


[1] I don’t think Jack White really wants those things to happen.

[2] And poor Thom Yorke may still be up in the clouds, unable to come down.

.

.

23 thoughts on “Part 9. Humans are (Blank)-ogamous: Love Is an Evolutionary Compromise

  1. I need to add that my conversations with the brilliant Sandra Aamodt helped me to flesh out many of the above ideas. Though any stupid mistakes are mine. Oh, and the excessive music references are mine too. And a few other things. You get the idea.

  2. A few more points: two serious, one not so serious.

    1) The intensity of early stage romantic love can be overwhelming to many people, which is why I think understanding it from a bio perspective might be helpful for some (maybe). At least it could give people an answer *why* they feel what they do. In part 5, I mentioned an outbreak of ‘love suicides’ among the Lahu in SW China, highlighting just how powerful those feelings can be. Romeo Vitelli has just written about ‘Volcano suicides’ in Japan, many of which seemed to be the result of romantic sentiments gone wrong.
    http://drvitelli.typepad.com/providentia/2013/02/the-volcano-suicide-craze.html

    I don’t know if this information might help, but the same fact that many couples find distressing – that the intensity of early-stage romantic love has a shelf-life (the neuro studies suggest it lasts perhaps 1.5 to 3 years; see part 5) – could be a relief to people spurned by love. Suffering for any length of time stinks, but it could help to know it is not forever.

    2) In a way, our relationships never really end. The psychologist Barbara Fredrickson talked about “micro-moments of connection,” even briefly with strangers, which she likens to love. She said these moments have a quality of “positivity resonance,” which is about finding some degree of commonality with another person (or perhaps another species). Of course, the moments themselves are impermanent, but the fact that those moments happened is infinite, and they may shape us in ways that are usually subtle, but sometimes profound. Hmmm. That sounds new-agey, but it’s why we are social primates. It’s also why this blog is called ‘kevishere.’ Our relationships become a part of us.

    3) Yes, I like U2.

  3. I am tolerably certain that in addition to the obvious limbic component, there is what is probably a strong right-brain component. Components of romantic love such as apparent synchronicity and constellation of archetypes cannot be dismissed as mere midbrain storms and clearly require higher cognitive (but nonverbal) function. A weakening of normal hemispheric dominance seems likely, concurrently with a weakening of the repressive underpinnings of normal adult psychic organization.

    • I agree that romantic love shouldn’t be reduced to midbrain storms. One critical component that is likely unique to human pair-bonding, unlike voles for example, is the higher cognitive function you mention. With people, there’s the added factor of thinking about what the partner/beloved is thinking about, which is not always easy to do in a species as complex as ours. This probably requires a sophisticated theory of mind.

      I’d have to agree that there is probably feedback going in different directions, but the midbrain storms do seem really powerful in romantic love. There’s a quote from Jaak Panskepp (2004:301) I’ve liked for a while that seems appropriate here:

      “Despite the appeal of (the) rational fallacy, our higher brain areas are not immune to the subcortical influences we share with other creatures. Of course, the interchange between cognitive and emotional processes is one of reciprocal control, but the flow of traffic remains balanced only in nonstressful circumstances. In emotional turmoil, the upward influences of subcortical emotional circuits on the higher reaches of the brain are stronger than top-down controls. Although humans can strengthen and empower the downward controls through emotional education and self-mastery, few can ride the whirlwind of unbridled emotions with great skill.”

      Panksepp J. 2004. Affective Neuroscience: the Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions. Oxford Univ Press.

  4. It’s interesting that research on marital happiness is somewhat consistent with the neuro data. About 2 years. From Sonja Lyubomirsky in the Dec 2012 NYTimes:

    “American and European researchers tracked 1,761 people who got married and stayed married over the course of 15 years. The findings were clear: newlyweds enjoy a big happiness boost that lasts, on average, for just two years. Then the special joy wears off and they are back where they started, at least in terms of happiness. The findings, from a 2003 study, have been confirmed by several recent studies.”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/02/opinion/sunday/new-love-a-short-shelf-life.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&

    The original study, however, highlights how much variation there is around “the average.”

    Lucas, R. E., Clark, A. E., Georgellis, Y., & Diener, E. (2003). Reexamining adaptation and the set point model of happiness: Reactions to changes in marital status. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 84(3), 527-539.

    http://eprints.bournemouth.ac.uk/15127/

    • Possibly something along the lines of an epigenetic process will turn out to be the mechanism underlying the obsessive, involuntary, durable but temporary qualities of infatuation, and one could hope that eventually an emotional version of the morning-after pill will be available to short-circuit the drawn-out process.

      • You may be right about the mechanism. I’m really not sure. As for the pill idea, that would be interesting, because it does seem to be a long process.

        There was one more part of the Friedman article on unpredictable rewards I originally had meant to incorporate into this post, but I was already getting long-winded and ran out of room. It speaks to your earlier point about love being more than a midbrain storm, which I agree with and didn’t give it the full attention it deserved. Others have noted that the idea that “my brain made me do it” can be a tempting excuse for our behaviors (I’m not sure that’s totally true – I think there is a kernel of truth to it, but behavior is complex). Anyway, Friedman wrote:

        “None of this is to say that just because our reward circuits light up in the face of unanticipated rewards, that we are off the hook. Far from it. We use conscious knowledge to override our unhealthy or undesirable impulses all the time. Except for a few limited circumstances, we are expected to be in charge of our brains.

        Still, it should help us understand those friends who find themselves drawn to unpredictable romantic partners. They are not necessarily gluttons for pain or disappointment; they might be addicted to the hidden pleasure of inconstant love.”

        http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/04/opinion/sunday/i-heart-unpredictable-love.html?ref=opinion&_r=0

        The notion that we are expected to be in charge of our brains (always?) is a philosophical hornet’s nest, and perhaps overly idealistic.

        • I’m not at all sure about the mechanism, but I suspect it will have a lot in common with that for PTSD, tho’ I suspect a cure will be more complicated that taking propanolol at the right time, and MDMA, another promising PTSD treatment, might only make it worse. I can say with considerable assurance that psycholytic therapy is not effective.

          I suspect the sense of smell will be fundamental to the mechanism and there might even be something resembling an immunological component ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_histocompatibility_complex_and_sexual_selection ).

          The main reason I suggest a common neural substrate with PTSD is the involuntary intrusive sensual memories, actual flashbacks rather than normal memories. PTSD does seem to be of longer duration (possibly permanent unless the beta-blocker or MDMA treatments prove out), but I feel there is a strong symmetry.

          I would encourage you to consider not just the cortex-midbrain axis but also the left-right axis:

          *Miller and Gazzaniga have also started to study the right hemisphere’s > role in moral reasoning. It is the kind of higher-level function for which > the left hemisphere was assumed to be king. But in the past few years, > imaging studies have shown that the right hemisphere is heavily involved in > the processing of others’ emotions, intentions and beliefs what many > scientists have come to understand as the ‘theory of mind’.*

          http://www.nature.com/news/the-split-brain-a-tale-of-two-halves-1.10213

          I took up surfcasting with artificial lures for a while. This involves a great deal of fishing and very little fish, but is oddly satisfying. Based on this experience, I decided that gambling and looking for romance are both sublimations of a more fundamental urge to fish: A sort of tongue-in-cheek Hierarchy of Needs joke, if you will.

  5. The PTSD analogy is an interesting one, and I can see some similarities. In general, I think it’s also interesting how many analogies exist for romantic love: OCD, PTSD, addiction. Like the great authors using metaphors to describe love, we compare it to other phenomena as well. The utility of analogy is based on trying to understand one concept based on our previous understanding of another concept, and I’m wary of losing some understanding in the transition.

    Yesterday’s NYTimes had a story about computer apps & programs designed to remove digital traces of an ex-. That seems to speak to the unpleasant addiction component. One person said this about getting rid of gifts from her ex-:

    “I mean, cathartic isn’t even the word,” she said. “I feel like I am puking this stuff out of my life.”

    What a flawed system we’ve inherited that makes relationships this potentially messy.

    I’ll look more into the left-right brain distinction. Thanks.

    p.s. I liked the fishing joke. 🙂

    • Requited love is boring (to observers) and thus, like a happy country, creates little history. It is unrequited or broken love and the aftermath thereof with which we most concern ourselves, in which the compulsion, involuntary flashbacks and obsession become an addictive poison rather than a healthy and rewarding habit.

      Should you ever be interested in Jungian/Transpersonal psychology, allow me to recommend “The Ego and the Dynamic Ground” by Michael Washburn, a concise exposition of the best form of the theory. Washburn is a Kant scholar at IUSB, and his thinking is dry and rigorous, not bloated New-Age fantasy. What Washburn refers to is experientially real: whether it corresponds to any actual objective reality is a philosophical or religious question.

      Love is perhaps the most obvious manifestation of an inherent conflict in the present prevailing organization of our mental hardware, which is that of a conscious rational actor finding itself tacked onto an animal, or an animal pestered by an annoying chatterbox, as you prefer. One would hope we are a transitional form leading to something a little less chimerical, barring nuclear accidents and such.

  6. Being a happily married man, I know nothing about love. But when it comes to finding a place for Bono to live, I suggest that the overlap part of the two circles (can’t live with you, can’t live without you) is not the place where Bono can’t live, but the place where he CAN live.

    Getting there requires temporary non-immigrant status on the far right and the far left. You know you’ve arrived when you don’t lock up all the knives in the kitchen.

  7. Pingback: The Zen Master and the Infanticidal Primates | Patrick F. Clarkin, Ph.D.

  8. Pingback: Early Romantic Love & Seeking Mates | Patrick F. Clarkin, Ph.D.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s