Two cures for love by Wendy Cope
- Don’t see him. Don’t phone or write a letter.
- The easy way: get to know him better.
Given its February and Valentines Day is fast approaching, I couldn’t resist writing this month about the matter of romantic love.
The very talented Ms Cope’s little ditty above has always been a favourite of mine. It makes me smile as there is truth to what she writes. She essentially alludes to the saying ‘love is blind’ (i.e. when we take the blinkers off and see the other person in reality, we can easily fall out of love). But why is it we can fall in and out of love so quickly? Is love really that fickle?
Crazy in love
Falling for someone activates areas in the brain that scientists have also found activated in the brains of cocaine addicts. So love is a drug, literally. When this brain area is activated, all those good feeling hormones gets released including dopamine, oxytocin and adrenaline, hence why feel so exhilarated or high when we first met someone.
Scientists have also discovered that people at the start of a new romance have less serotonin in their brains, which is also a condition common amongst people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorders.
And just to add to the drama of initial infatuation, it has been suggested that the areas of our brain used for critical thinking (the amygdala, frontal and prefrontal cortex) are less active at this time. No wonder we get ‘crazy in love’ as Beyonce predicted.
There is so much going on physically and chemically we can’t know whether we are coming or going. However all these hormonal changes do start to die down and things chemically return to normal after a year or so. Interestingly enough I would suggest that a year or so is normally when ‘the honeymoon period’ of a relationship is over. So maybe the return of chemical balance helps trigger a new phase of the relationship.
You complete me
Oh boy, it’s that Jerry Mcguire/ Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah’s sofa moment all over again! Am sorry to burst the romantic bubble, but in my opinion no one completes you. You are already complete. Admittedly though some parts might be in hiding, (that’s where therapy can help).
When Jerry/Tom first uttered those fateful words, he was essentially telling a partial truth. As when we fall for someone, we try to attribute qualities in our beloved, which are lacking in our selves (so the 2 people together represent a complete set of qualities). The phrase ‘opposites attract’ relates to this too. For example singer John Legend describes himself as a ‘button-up type’ when it comes to voicing his opinions, but he married Chrissy Teigen who has been quite outspoken. The soulful singer has said he has learnt to speak up more through his marriage, so in other words that part of him he saw in his wife, he has now been able to access and integrate.
We seek in others, parts of ourselves we believe are missing. Of course we are also seeing our prospective partners in a very skewed light. We only see what we want to see (idealizing them in the process) and ignore the bits that don’t fit (and don’t forget our diminished critical thinking is helping with this). We essentially project onto our partners a fantasy of what we believe them to be.
Psychoanalyst, Joan Raphael-Leff writes: “when adults come together to form an intimate relationship, each person releases into it unresolved issues from their transgenerational pool of unconscious fantasies”.
A perfect example (and one under a very peculiar microscope) are romantic relationships formed on TV shows such as Big Brother or I’m a Celebrity. The confined and foreign space protects the new couple from the reality of themselves and allows projections to multiply. An added aspect could be that being in a relationship can help relieve the understandable anxiety of living in such a strange goldfish bowl. This can also be seen in therapy when some clients embark on a new romantic relationship just as they begin their therapy in order to avoid themselves and difficult material. This very instance with a client inspired well known psychotherapist, Irvin Yalom to entitle his 1989 book “Love’s executioner”.
Yalom writes: “The person who has fallen in love, and entered a blissful state of merger, is not self-reflexive because the questioning lonely I (and the attendant anxiety of isolation) dissolve into the we… This is precisely why therapists do not like to treat a patient who has fallen in love.”
And so the challenging time of any relationship is when this idealization (honeymoon) period fades replaced with reality. As Yalom also writes, “romantic love is sustained by mystery and crumbles upon inspection.” It can be a painful process when we begin to see our partner for who they really are. With some couples, it can take years to come about (such is the strength of projection mixed with a unhealthy does of denial). We take back our projections and own them for ourselves. This is crunch time for any relationship. Reality bites.
Is the person we fell for still suitable when we take back the fantasy we created around them? Can we essentially forgive them for their own humanness and imperfections? Can true and meaningful love and intimacy emerge? Can we love someone despite of themselves? (And by the way the first step towards this place is to forgive ourselves for our own flaws).
If the answer is yes, then that is when the fun can really begin! Happy Valentines.
Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash