gall and gumption

Thursday, November 25, 2010

No Shit, Sherlock

"Falling in love causes our body to release a flood of feel-good chemicals that trigger specific physical reactions," said Domeena Renshaw, MD, author, Seven Weeks to Better Sex, director, Loyola University Health System Sex Clinic and professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. "This internal elixir of love is responsible for making our cheeks flush, our palms sweat and our hearts race."
Levels of these substances, which include dopamine, adrenaline and norepinephrine, increase when two people fall in love. Dopamine creates feelings of euphoria while adrenaline and norepinephrine are responsible for the pitter patter of the heart, restlessness and overall preoccupation that go along with experiencing love.
MRI scans indicate that love lights up the pleasure center of the brain. When we fall in love, blood flow increases in this area, which is the same part of the brain responsible for drug addiction and obsessive compulsive disorders.
"Love lowers serotonin levels, which is common in people with obsessive compulsive disorders," said Renshaw. "This may explain why we concentrate on little other than our partner during the early stages of a relationship."

I mean, couldn't you with equal truth say that some addictions and obsessions are like love and that's why they are so compelling?

Lyrics and translation here.

I don't really know the answer. I think of my own travails with this sort of thing, and the wear and tear on my nerves, the weight loss, the effects on my ability to concentrate, the hypersensitivity, the way it would seem to take over my whole life except when I succeeded in being distracted. And, of course, the pain of things not working out. All of it had me wondering, "Is this just me?"

The one thing, the great great thing, that got me through it was that I could always work, whatever the job was I would somehow do it. I can remember times when I felt utterly shattered, a light gust of wind would just sort of tip me into nausea and tears. It was great to realize that I could put my head down into some task and, without resolving anything of the situation (totally beyond my power at that point), breathe and lose myself. Then I remember these peaceful intervals, when I was neither looking forward to a romance nor recovering from one, and now they seem like they added up to a small amount of time in which I could feel all right in my own skin.

After I came back from St. Kitts the big thing I wanted was stability and routine so I could write, because that has to be a habit. You have to do it every day, or at least show up to do it. And I still wanted more of what I went to St. Kitts to get, which was the feeling that I was having my own experiences and not simply being an adjunct to someone else's experience. I also came back for a relationship, though, and then the relationship didn't work out partly because I kept making the choice for the things I wanted to do. We fought about time, I guess. (The rest of the reason was, of course, him. Or me, or whatever in him or me made me start going off him.)

I remember that little things were such a big deal for me--like being able to pursue my own pleasures--trying out new music, taking myself out painting. Again, it wasn't that I hadn't had such pleasures before; I think for example of all those happy years of ballet and all the fun I get out of reading, and of course the writing, and my amazing friends. And walking with the dogs, and numberless good things that come by grace. But I would get sort of besotted, and I would forget who I was. So then I'd have to figure out that I needed to rebuild my trust in myself, and then actually do it. Listening to my instincts I found that I didn't want to be bored, I didn't want to waste time, and that certain forms of dishonesty in relationships made me crazy angry. At last I got it: there were worse things than being alone.

So I've got that, anyhow. But I don't know that I've advanced in wisdom on the love business. Like for instance, while you're in that state you feel things more acutely, everything around seems to have more potential interestingness in it, it is all vivid. I get that when I draw or paint, too, and when I work at a certain level of intensity at writing--or even at editing, believe it or not--I can get that same change in quality of perception. That increased intensity of experience is a good thing to want. Of course when you fall in love with someone you associate these perceptual changes with the particular person you're in love with. Or at least I always have tended to do so. And because I was so muddled and insecure I didn't really believe I could get that kind of intensity any other way. Because I couldn't concentrate long enough on anything, because I was so insecure, I guess. On the one hand, being a lot more centered, having a lot more reliance on my own inner self, that's totally good. On the other, the inner Krazy Kat in me says that I'm missing out on something big.

Something like this, maybe:

I WONDER by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved ? were we not wean'd till then ?
But suck'd on country pleasures, childishly ?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers' den ?
'Twas so ; but this, all pleasures fancies be ;
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, 'twas but a dream of thee.

And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear ;
For love all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone ;
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown ;
Let us possess one world ; each hath one, and is one.

In novels people who are really in love almost never fall out of it, and certainly not without fighting it all the way (Mr. and Mrs. Morel in Sons and Lovers are the only ones I can think of, but I bet there's someone in Chekhov). Anna Karenina doesn't really fall out of love with her husband, Karenin, because she never loved him. I mean it's when she falls in love with Vronsky that she realizes how awful he is. That's that heightened perception thing, which Tolstoy understood so well. He's so great on the quality of perception. I mean, it's when Anna falls in love that her moral vision really reaches its full power and clarity. Suddenly she can't stand the society bores; her husband's mannerisms, that at most used to just sort of irritate her mildly, now revolt her. Her revulsion is so violent, too, because of how alive she feels. Not just feels, is. And the thing is, all her reactions are right; they are right about what she observes, and they are right in the intensity of her reaction. Her love might be blind with respect to Vronsky, but it opens her eyes to everything else around her. I have no idea how Tolstoy did it. It is just awesome, because it's true.

So, I suppose, that's what you miss. But a while back it occurred to me that maybe it doesn't always have to come from being in love with some guy. I mean, Vronsky is so, so dull. And at the moment when Anna falls in love with him she doesn't seem to be a person who needs to fall in love with anybody, much less this stick. That happens in real life too, though. So now I get it wherever I can--out of the pleasures of friendship, out of dog walks, out of writing, out of my trips to New York on the train. Listening to people and observing them. And looking at things I like to look at, reading. A year or so ago I remember taking a walk alone at night downtown, up 14th Street from McPherson Square to U Street, around midnight, after a party. Pure bliss. I was in love with the night. Most of the time this is enough. But sometimes...

I go around and around. Not too often though, these days. Nothing is solved. But there's no need to solve it either. I guess that's good.

Maybe this is all the effect of getting older, and not hard-won wisdom at all.


At 4:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 11:35 PM, Blogger Leslie said...

But there's no need to solve it either.
I think that is the hard-won wisdom.

And maybe the capacity to fall in love with the night, or a night in particular, or even just a moment, or with how you feel in that moment, maybe that is the grace that comes from knowing what it's like to get lost from yourself and find your way back.

But it's so strange, because even though love hijacks you, it also makes you more yourself and wakes you up to yourself--it's like opening doors to rooms that are always kept closed so you forget what's in there. So when does the losing yourself happen? How?

At 12:33 PM, Blogger Kia said...

So when does the losing yourself happen? How?

I don't know, Leslie. I know it used to happen to me and I think that that was because of me. I believed in the other party more than I believed in myself. For probably quite understandable reasons. I like to think I'm armed (if that's the right word) against that sort of susceptibility now. When I think about what i want I think of it as something I have to create rather than as something that will come to me packaged in a romance. I have a certain amount of "equity" built up in my emotional independence and my ongoing and daily effort to creatively produce, and it acts as a counterforce against the impulse to think a romance will make my life in some magical way. So all I can point to is the absence of that equity in earlier times. I'm not sure calling it only an absence does justice to all that I felt, though. I mean there was also simply the powerful draw of the other party. I never understood (and now would have to say I still don't) understand how other people deal with that. I've worked out my way but it hasn't really been tested in the field. Or maybe it has been and I'm passing the tests.

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