Love is like oxygen; a many-splendored thing, but yet, it can be a Chimera. What does it take to enjoy true love? If you manage to face your romantic love with realism, you are lead to real love and there ain’t no Chimeras.
February is the month when - thanks to Valentine’s Day - you cannot escape from being surrounded by teddy bears, hearts and flowers. You encounter them every five steps you take and, to my surprise, this year I also saw them at the local super market standing next to the aubergines, tomatoes and other vegetables. Valentine’s Day is meant to be a celebration of love. But what is love? Is it easy to encounter (probably not as easy as the teddy bears next to the vegetables…), and if so, what does it take?
Love is like oxygen; a many-splendored thing
Blaise Pascal and the author M. Karagatsis call love a “Chimera”. “What a Chimera then is man! What a novelty, what a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, imbecile worm of the earth; depositary of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error; the pride and refuse of the universe! Who will unravel this tangle?” [1,2].
In his myth about the Androgen, Plato describes a primordial race of being. This being had famine and masculine elements, i.e. was a man and a woman connected. The Androgens were so extraordinarily strong that the gods became afraid of their powers, so they split them into two, diminishing their power, and making them to constantly desire to reunite and become again a single being. Thus for Plato, love (“eros” in Greek) is the aspiration of the reformation of the primordial state .
To this “tribute to love” one can add the fairy tales with the princess and the handsome prince, or the famous pieces of art such as ancient statues of Cupid (Eros), Aphrodite, Eros and Psych (Love and Soul), but also modern films and musicals such as the “Mullin Rouge”. In this films there are specific lyrics that get stuck in one’s head such as “love is all you need” (The Beatles) and “the greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return” (“Nature Boy”, Nat King Cole).
What all the above mentioned examples have in common is a passionate, romantic approach to love and the difficulty to achieve it. Love is added to the sphere of fairy tales and myths, thus to a world that runs in parallel to ours but is not ours. If approached as such, love can be called a “Chimera” (anything composed of very disparate parts, and perceived as wildly imaginative, implausible, or dazzling). But to what extend is love indeed imaginative and impossible? Is it maybe, just a hallucination?
Love calls planet Earth. Can you hear me?!
1. Love in the brain and body
Anthropologists, psychologists and neuroscientists have investigated the hormones and neurotransmitters that play an important role in love and also what is going on in the brain. An fMRI experiment showed that viewing pictures of romantic partners is associated with activation of brain regions involved in reward  . This brain circuit is the “center of pleasure” and is also affected by cocaine (i.e. surprise surprise… love and cocaine affect the brain in a similar manner).
In terms of hormones, the researcher Helen Fisher has proposed 3 stages of love (lust, attraction and attachment), and different hormones play an important role in each stage. In more detail, lust (1st stage) is driven by the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen. In attraction (2st stage; the “gotch’ya!” moment), there are three neurotransmitters that play an important role: noradrenaline, dopamine and serotonin. Noradreanaline and adrenaline are driving the feeling of excitement: your pupils delate, you can’t get your eyes out of that person, you start to sweat, your heart beat increases and your mouth goes dry. Dopamine stimulates ‘desire and reward’ and is involved in pleasure. Serotonin contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness. Attachment (3rd stage): two hormones that are probably involved here are oxytocin and vasopressin .
2. Face your romantic love with realism
Back to reality and every day practice, since human beings are raised in a culture that approaches love as sth mythical, it comes as no surprise that they search for a partner who is their “other half” (as Plato’s myth would suggest). People hope that the relationship will fill their gaps, will cure their fears, or lack of meaning of life. But this, is a big mistake. As the psychotherapists J. Bucay and S. Salinas argue, “when I choose a partner having these expectations, I inevitably end up to hate this person who doesn’t give me what I was expecting. And then? Then I’ll try to find another one, another one… or decide to spend my life grumbling for my luck” .
The thought that being in love will save us, will solve all our problems and will offer us a refuge and a constant state euphoria, can only keep us trapped in illusions. This is exactly the reason why a realistic approach is actually the savior of love and romantic relationship (even if this seems contradictory at first sight). We should approach a relationship not as a salvation but as a contact. The contacts: me with you; you with me; me with myself; you with yourself; and we with the world sounding us.
In this approach, each partner improves first himself as a unit, understands his personal desires, needs, and points of character that need improvement. He doesn’t expect everything from the beloved one. Sincerity, respect to one’s own needs and those of the partner, clarity in communication and common goals play an important role in this realistic approach of love.
To sum up
People idealize love, their partner and their relationship ( i.e. “love is blind”). At the same time, it is important to remember to be conscious and to face reality with open eyes. Love is not just sth that you feel, it is mainly sth that you create, therefore if you want it to endure through time, you need to face it with realism and hard work (on yourself, your partner and your relationship). When romance covers itself with the coat of realism, one is lead to real love and there ain’t no chimeras.
1. Pascal, B., “Pensees” A.J. Krailsheimer (Introduction, Translator), (1995), Penguin Classics; Reissue edition.
2. Karagatsis, M., “H μεγάλη χίμαιρα (i megali chimaera)/ The Great chimera” (Greek), (2002), Vivliopoleion tis Estias.
3. Palamidessi, T., “The occult constitution of the man and the woman, Introduction to archeosophical psychology and psychoscopy”, (1979), Archosophica.
4. Aron, A., Fisher,H., Mashek, D.J., Strong, G., Li, H., & Brown,L.,L. “Reward, Motivation, and Emotion Systems Associated With Early-Stage Intense Romantic Love” (2005), J Neurophysiol 94: 327–337; doi:10.1152/jn.00838.2004
5. Sprecher, S., (March 1988). "Love and the Expansion of Self: Understanding Attraction and Satisfaction by Arthur Aron; Elaine Aron". Contemporary Sociology (American Sociological Association) 17 (2): 268–269. doi:10.2307/2070652. Retrieved January 11, 2015.
6. Bucay J. and S. Salinas S., "Amarse con los ojos abiertos" (Loving Oneself With Open Eyes) (2000)