Photo By Miriam Cooper
Love has remained one of the most enduring and primitive ideas since the birth of humanity, and yet its significance has not diminished in the slightest. Frankly, it could potentially be the most commonly discussed complexity in all of human history. Upon analyzing it, it is not all that dumbfounding that humans are so captivated by the quest to find and understand love. After all, since the very beginning, we can see individuals who differ in every other way imaginable repeatedly finding themselves in agreement upon at least one thing: the belief that being in love is one of the most beautiful and intoxicating adventures of the human experience. At one point or another, we have all wanted to love and be loved in return, and most of us do at least once, but that’s not to say it always comes easy or on time.
Since childhood, most of us have been exposed to distinct narratives that idealize love and imbue the idea in our heads that that perfect person will stumble into our lives and serve as the sweet remedy to all of our problems. However, as we age and experience, we come to learn that love isn’t always as lovely and simple as the films portray it. With a bit of heartbreak or unrequited love, reality sets in and very tactfully dissolves our unrealistic fantasies. We end up learning that apart from all the magic, love can sometimes be excruciating, and if not, it still almost always comes with a profusion of obstacles and learning lessons.
Why do we keep choosing love?
To truly experience love in all of its glory, we are forced to put ourselves in a terrifyingly vulnerable position, an openness that can allow for either love to flow in and consume us with unbounded pleasure and joy or, on the contrary, an absence of protection that leaves our hearts completely exposed and ravaged in the event of betrayal. However, despite all the possible pains that love can bring, we continue to choose it over and over again for the perceived pleasures. Why? Why do we not only agree to hop on this roller coaster of emotions that has the potential to make us suffer so much, but eagerly wait in line?
Science and psychology have not yet been able to determine the end-all-be-all purpose or reason for this precisely. Nonetheless, various psychologists, neurologists, philosophers, and lovers have developed intriguing theories that attempt to answer these questions.
To be happy
Some argue that people pair up to find happiness, or at least reach a more pleasant state of being than before. In a 2012 study conducted at the University of Utah, two psychologists used brain imaging to plunge into the neural basis of love and uncovered findings that suggest we are wired to seek love because its presence delivers pleasurable chemical rewards. To emphasize, when we experience romantic love with another person, particular regions of the brain, notably the ventral tegmental area and the caudate nucleus, which release oxytocin, vasopressin, and dopamine, are activated, leaving us feeling euphoric and satisfied. Interestingly, these unique neural signatures are not present in the same way when it comes to non-romantic love like platonic or familial affection.
To proliferate humankind
Love is also considered a simple trick of biology that has been crucial for the evolution and propagation of humanity.
Unlike other species, children rely on adults for many years to survive and develop enough skills to nurture a successful living. That is one reason why love is considered a simple trick of biology, as it is the crucial glue that binds us to the force which fosters our success and evolution. In this instance, love keeps parents and children bonded long enough for the young to survive and reach sexual maturity.
To nurture our sexual desires
Along the same lines, love is also believed to serve as an outlet for our sexual desires. Having a partner allows us to meet specific emotional and social needs, including our sexual desires, vital to our well-being. Of course, these can be covered in various ways and not exclusively by pairing up. However, most people prefer to live these fantasies out in comfort and security with someone they share intimacy and affection with.
To give our lives meaning
Others argue that love is so important and valuable because it gives meaning and purpose to our lives. According to different existentialist philosophers, the lack of direction that plagues people also propels them to embark on an endless odyssey with an ambiguous and undefined destination: meaning. For many, love appears to come as a solution to this grand pursuit. When we have love, we have more meaning in our lives. By the same token, being a part of something greater than ourselves is special and sought after; it allows us to step outside of ourselves, be selfless, and escape thoughts that make us feel anxious and incomplete.
To be whole again
This is where the classic idea of soulmates comes into play. The great philosopher Plato believed that love is the longing to find the person who will make us whole again–literally. He based his belief on the myth that humans were originally created with four arms, four legs, and a head with two faces. But after angering the gods, Zeus split everyone into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in tireless pursuit of their other halves in order to feel complete once again.
The ancient Greeks weren’t the only ones who dealt with this topic; various cultures value legends of a similar nature. One that I like a lot is the Japanese myth of the red thread. Legend has it that the Gods tie a red string to everyone’s little finger and upon meeting your other half, the strings will become knotted as one, regardless of time or circumstances. The red thread can become tangled, stretched, taut, or frayed, but it never breaks.
Soulmates? Do they even exist?
Throughout time, the idea of soulmates has been heavily romanticized. However, if we come at it from a practical perspective, we can quickly recognize that the chance of fate spontaneously bringing you and your perfect partner together in a world of almost 8 billion people is near impossible. If it were true that there is one random person somewhere on the planet who is imminently meant for us, then mathematically speaking, the chances of finding this person are slim to none. Furthermore, from a psychological perspective, finding your soulmate is not only close to impossible but, ironically, may not even be conducive to a healthy, lasting relationship. Research suggests that thinking you’ve found your match made in heaven puts an undue amount of pressure on a relationship to ensure that everything stays perfect all of the time—an unattainable fantasy regardless of how compatible two partners may be. To demonstrate, a study revealed that couples who implicitly believed they were destined for each other had significantly more difficulty in moving past unforeseen conflict versus those who viewed themselves as simply two people on a journey of loving and learning, who instead treated hardships as a natural, expected element of an evolving relationship and and could similarly thereafter view the hurdle as an opportunity to adapt and grow as a unit. To sum up, ordinary conflict only leaves a lasting burden on those who perceive their relationship as a union of star-crossed lovers, rather than a journey shared by two people with the mutual expectation of learning how to better love and understand one another with time. So then what? Not only does our perfect partner probably not exist, but even if they do, finding them will do more harm than good? Not to fear. Foremost, some psychologists believe and have plenty of evidence to support that people can become each other’s soulmates with time in the right setting–a deep and lasting romantic relationship with plenty of clear communication and understanding. And ultimately, there’s a reason nobody has a map or recipe for love, it’s just something that comes and it’s generally pretty awesome, irrespective of whether or not you’ve landed “the one”.
Final thoughts on love
With all things considered, it is clear that there is no single specific reason as to why we fall in love nor its purpose. There is no user manual that tells us what to do and what not. Each relationship and amorous encounter is unique and comes with its own amalgamation of perks and pitfalls. In order to feel love, you must surrender the shield that protects you from heartbreak. Nevertheless, while the path to finding love comes with intrinsic risk it also brings with it immeasurable joy, growth, excitement, and fulfillment. All one can do is take the gamble with the hopes of finding that sweet paradox of finding yourself while simultaneously losing yourself in the enthrallment of blissful romance.
Diamond, Lisa M., and Janna A. Dickenson. “The Neuroimaging of Love and Desire: Review and Future Directions.” Clinical Neuropsychiatry 9 (2012).
Lee, Spike W. S. and N. Schwarz. “Framing love: When it hurts to think we were made for each other.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 54 (2014): 61-67.