A humble look at love.
What is love? The eternal question, asked through song and dance, paint and photo, art, and music. Catharine MacKinnon, Judith Butler and Anna Jónasdóttir all produced paradigm shifting ideas about sexuality. But they all look at sexuality from a feminine or even feminist viewpoint. As a man, I want to ask why does love offer women such shackles, or what seem to be shackles? Are women obliged to submit, or can love and sex have an equal and healthy place in relationships? Those three words, are they really meaningful anymore? Or in a time with virtual networks where everyone has thousands of so called ‘friends’, do these ideas need reassessing?
The Ancient Greeks identified 4 types of love, eros, agape, philia and storge. Are these ideas still relevant? Is one word enough to cover the spectrum of love?
Is love just a chemical reaction to oxytocin or is it more than this? Is a crush the same as love? How long do we stay in love? Can we have love without sex? What is the role of the sexual act, and the kiss in a relationship? Who do we fall in love with first?
Do other animals experience love? Can we tell?
Can we explain communities, solidarity and even society through the idea of love? Were the Beatles correct when they said ‘Love is all you need’? Is Jesus’s/Christianity’s message of ‘Love your enemy as yourself’ or ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ really achievable? Or do we see ourselves as valued through the love of others? Can we love ourselves? Or do we fall into Narcissus’ pool?
Hate is seen as the opposite of love, but is it really a kind of love? Or do we fall into the trap laid by Orwell? ( “WAR IS PEACE,” “FREEDOM IS SLAVERY,” “IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.”)
Can love have any place in our politics? What should we do about love when it becomes negative, for example a love for too much money or power, or even sex?
How can we touch, reach and influence people in this busy world unless we use love?
I will humbly try to explore all these ideas, and who knows, even find or discuss some of the answers.
Love as shackles or love as liberation?
Discovering love, discovering sex.
Young women and men flee the family home and the control of parents in the search for love and freedom from controlling parents. When parents or teachers or other figures of authority forbid sex, children and adolescents seek out this forbidden fruit as an act of rebellion, regardless of the consequences.Young girls (and boys)seek boyfriends (and girlfriends) due to peer pressure and social pressure. They look to the rebellion of losing their virginity without really understanding the emotions of the sexual act. Young boys often see girls as objects or opportunities, rather than as stable relationships and as an opportunity for forming family units.
The key is to educate young boys and girls about what love is, and how to cope with that. Allowing people to discover sex and sexuality in a no pressure environment is very important. Choosing which sexual path to take isn’t a childhood choice, as the decisions we make have ramifications way into adulthood.
In the homosexual world:
There is still a stigma associated with homosexuality and openness and public shows of affection and displays of love are socially uncomfortable and rarely seen. Homosexuals are still ‘The love that dare not speak its name’ as observed by Oscar Wilde, even though perhaps some people also say now it’s ‘The love that won’t shut up’ with recent demonstrations and controversies over homosexual marriage and adoption in many European countries.
Personal experience with young people: Ten years ago, I was a science teacher in a secondary school and as a teacher I taught sexual education, and we did emphasize the legal aspect, moral aspect and social aspects of sex and relationships. Sex without a relationship isn’t bad in itself if it’s an adult consenting act, but teenagers can’t consent to sex legally in the UK until 16, (among their own age group, however with adults in a ‘position of trust’ e.g. teacher, doctor, priest, nurse…) the age is 18 making sexual acts before statutory rape. There are also questions of disease, and pregnancy and reputation.
Sexual activity leads to its own problems in schools and wider society, with children and parents having conflicting ideas about sex and its implications.
15 years ago as a newly qualified teacher I saw a young girl aged 14 who was pregnant in a school.
Certainly the UK had and has a reputation for teenage pregnancy. However, the UK rate was 42.7 women under 18 per 100,000 in 2001 and in 2009, this had fallen to 38.3 per 100, 000. So still work to be done if society wants to reduce this rate, which can be very low in some areas, for instance in Windsor and Maidenhead
( source http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2011/feb/22/teenage-pregnancy-rates-england-wales-map#_) having a rate of 32 per 100, 000 and Southwark in London having 63 per 100,000, almost double.
Society often sees these girls as fallen women, or bad examples, forgetting the role played by men. The shame is for the female, the glory for the male. Pregnancy takes two.
Teenagers fancy someone different every week, lacking the adult discernment and maturity and self-worth and self-value that comes with adulthood. We see this behaviour continue into the twenties and even beyond, perhaps reappearing at moments of crises or doubt (in the 40’s and the middle aged crises).
Perhaps then, is it us loving ourselves which makes it possible to love others.
Very often sexual acts made in haste are regretted at length. So sex then at its best is a sharing of passion, desire, a mutual respect and understanding, a construction and a unit. The beginning of a relationship is often very sexually active; lust and eroticism come into play. What are couples left with when the fire cools? If the relationship is solid, they have respect, and perhaps the knowledge of love, and being loved. Perhaps this ensures a continuation of the relationship “The ever fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken’ to quote Shakespeare. However, Larkin also had a word to say on love, ‘How can you call love conquering, when its brief bloom shrivels in the sour lanes of the living’ So then, when relationships and marriages breakdown perhaps it is because of a lack of communication between couples about what they want or need. There is still a shame in talking about sex, and pressure to be perfect, rather than a healthier learning process where partners can explain and even direct, giving mutual pleasure. Is this love, speaking of what we want but accepting we may not get it, and accepting the other?
Love isn’t something we fall into; it’s something we create with another person. Of course there is an original desire, and attraction, we create a relationship because of this, and break relationships when another person seems more desirable, or differently desirable, and the relationship lasts in the long term if we can resist these temptations (again, we can quote Wilde ‘I can resist everything except temptation’), or judge the current relationship to be of higher value, so we need to be valued and value ourselves, or we will follow the push button path of ‘I can so I will, I will because I can’. And worry about the consequences later. That’s not to say that affairs can be seen as exciting, as they are socially forbidden and a risk, and give adrenaline and excitement, but perhaps the best affairs are with your husband or wife. Keeping the flame glowing needs imagination, patience, determination, honesty and humility. As we are but human, no wonder then, we fail. Some relationships do last, for example you are more likely to get divorced in your adult life than leave your bank. Do we love our bank so much? Or is this just comfortable habit? Or is it more difficult to leave your bank than your partner?
Divorce:When love ends
An annual study in the UK by management consultants Grant Thornton, estimates the main proximal causes of divorce based on surveys of matrimonial lawyers
The main causes of divorce in 2004 were: (http://seidellaw.com/top-causes-of-divorce)
Adultery; Extramarital sex; Infidelity – 27%
Domestic violence – 17%
Midlife crisis – 13%
Addictions, e.g. alcoholism and gambling – 6%
Workaholism – 6%
According to this survey, men engaged in extra-marital affairs in 75% (55%) of cases; women in 25%
(45%). In cases of family strain, women’s families were the primary source of strain in 78%, compared to 22% of men’s families.
Emotional and physical abuse were more evenly split, with women affected in 60% and men in 40% of cases. In 70% of workaholism-related divorces it was men who were the cause, and 30% women.
The 2004 survey found that 93% of divorce cases were petitioned by women, very few of which were contested.
53% of divorces were of marriages that had lasted 10 to 15 years, with 40% ending after 5 to 10 years. The first 5 years are relatively divorce-free, and if a marriage survives more than 20 years it is unlikely to end in divorce.
Regarding divorce settlements, as defined by this survey women obtained a better or considerably better settlement than men in 60% of cases. In 30% of cases the assets were split 50-50, and in only 10% of cases did men achieve better settlements (down from 24% the previous year). The 2004 report concluded that campaigns like that of Fathers 4 Justice must succeed in increasing the percentage of shared residence orders, in order for more equitable financial divisions to become the norm.
However, the same study in 2007 cited 27% of cases falling out of love had led to a marriage breakdown.
Extramarital affairs, which had been the prime reason since the survey began in 2003, fell to second place, with 25% citing this. Unreasonable behaviour was given as the reason for 17% of marriage breakdowns and 10% of couples cited a mid-life crisis. Perhaps we don’t need to blame other people so much anymore to get a divorce. Divorce rates in the UK have also fallen due to the crisis and the expense of divorce.
Submission and dominance.
Cultural and socioeconomic norms and status have rapidly changed in European and Western society over the last 70 years. My Grandmother (DOB 1908) had to resign from her job as a civil servant in the UK when she got married in the 1930’s as a woman’s place was in the home. Today, women and men have vastly different roles and expectations and the change sees men taking a more acquiescent role in an attempt to meet women’s needs and desires. However, women are still paid less than their male counterparts, and success is perhaps still more possible for white males.
Eurostat found a persisting gender pay gap of 17.5% on average in the 27 EU Member States in 2008. There were considerable differences between the Member States, with the pay gap ranging from less than 10% in Italy, Slovenia, Malta, Romania, Belgium, Portugal and Poland to more than 20% in Slovakia, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Germany, United Kingdom and Greece and more than 25% in Estonia and Austria. http://ec.europa.eu/justice/gender-equality/gender-pay-gap/situation-europe/index_en.htm
Regardless of living in Muslim or Western countries, the gap persists.
One could ask if society needs to move towards a more collaborative place and a less competitive one. Win -win solutions need to be found in relationships, but the reality is that everyone likes to win and we forget the other party.
Sexual practices and positions have also moved on, from the missionary position of the past to the Kama Sutra of the past and present. Sexual toys and images have become almost mainstream, and pornography and online sex and dating clubs have made the sexual act mundane and every day, moving it from the pedestal it was placed on by society. Sex and love are best shared, rather than imposed.
The role of a modern male isn’t to lead the community but to be its foundation, and a very important one it is too. We need to do it well, and we need to get used to it.
We need to look at justice as well as equality.
Equal, but different
George Orwell wrote in his book “1984”
“Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood. If you loved someone, you loved him, and when you had nothing else to give, you still gave him love.
We shall abolish the orgasm. Our neurologists are at work upon it now. There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science. When we are omnipotent there will be no need of science. There will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness. There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always—do not forget this Winston—always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.”
Of course, Winston takes his illegal pen and dares to write “I hate Big brother” In the end, though , after torture in room 101, he loves the figure of hatred, and he gives up on the woman he loves, giving her name up in confession instead of facing pain.
“He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”
Have we moved towards this image with the construction of the internet and the growth of mobile phones and virtual networks? One could state the glance made by many to their mobile phones, looking to an object for help rather than seeking encounters; creating a virtual world, where we are represented as successful, healthy and whole, instead of holding up our demons and working on them, or seeing weaknesses as an opportunity to improve. In some virtual networks, it is possible to ‘like’ something, and this linguistic difference is interesting; Facebook didn’t choose ‘love’ as the linguistic word, nor is it possible to ‘hate’, merely ‘unlike’.
In English and French of course we see adore as a verb, and the Greeks were really good at this semantic rainbow, with 4 words to cover different types of love.
The Ancient Greeks identified 4 types of love, eros, agape, philia and storge. Are these ideas still relevant? Is one word enough to cover the spectrum of love?
Eros refers to “intimate love” or romantic love; storge to familial love; philia to friendship as a kind of love; and agape refers to “selfless love”, or “charity” as it is translated in the Christian scriptures.
Freud and Jung both looked at these ideas, taking from Plato’s tradition. Eros (The desire to live) and Thanatos (the destructive drive) were looked at by Freud, who in early writings opposes Eros with the Ego, and later opposes Eros with Thanatos. Jung balances Eros with Logos, and creates a feminine and masculine force.
(Carl Jung, Aspects of the Feminine, Princeton University Press, 1982, p. 65)
C.S Lewis looks at these four types of love in greater detail in his book “The 4 Loves” and his novel ‘Til we have faces’
But then there are other loves, the love of a place, or a moment, or even a thing, a pet, or a feeling, the summer smell of rose blossoms in the fresh cut garden in the summertime, with the wind in your hair.
Those three words ‘I love you’. Do they mean anything anymore, oft-spoken, softly and tenderly, or does Larkin’s warning about the “sour lanes of the living” ring true?
The most difficult thing to do is to love yourself, without pretention, with the acceptance of all the imperfections therein. We must resist falling into Narcissus’ pool, inviting though it is with its wondrous reflection. We must gaze beyond the reflection, to the bottom of the pool, to find the other. Can we love others if we don’t love ourselves? I think we can lust after others, and have sexual desires, but creating a solid relationship becomes challenging on the quicksands of doubt. Jesus gave us a message ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’
In the Bible, if we consider Matthew 22:34-40 could ask which is more difficult, loving yourself, or loving your neighbour, or accepting the message to treat all people as you would treat yourself.
In today’s modern world we are also guilty of loving ourselves too much, of not thinking about the other in the relationship, or even the others on the planet. The ways of suffering beyond the cell phone and computer, in the bottom two billion poorest of the world’s population .They deserve our love too. We must remember, then that slaves do not love their masters, rather they fear them, or hate them.
Is love just a chemical reaction? A cynic would point to oxytocin and its influence on mice, even though it has borderline influence on humans. Some key work was carried out in the 1990’s by Dr Rebecca Turner who looked at voles and found that oxytocin was a chemical produced by these animals and that was why they pair bonded for life. Only 3% of mammal species pair bond for life, and the scientists wanted to know why. The Prairie vole pair bonds for life, the Montane vole doesn’t, and the difference is just a few genes. Genes which produce oxytocin, a chemical which helps pick out and identify individual characteristics and which help the reward centres in the brain. Prairie voles mate, because they secrete the oxytocin and get a kick out of it with dopamine being produced in the brain. Researchers injected oxytocin into prairie voles and they ‘fell in love’ or whatever the vole equivalent is of that; They wanted to have sex, and get the emotional reward of dopamine from that act.
In the July 1999 issue of Psychiatry magazine, Dr Rebecca Turner talks about the paper thus
Turner and her colleagues tested the idea that oxytocin is released in response to intense emotional states in addition to physical cues. Twenty-six non-lactating women between the ages of 23 and 35 were asked to recall and re-experience a past relationship event that caused them to feel a positive emotion, such as love or infatuation, and a negative emotion, such as loss or abandonment. Because massage done on rats had previously been shown to influence oxytocin levels, the participants also received a 15-minute Swedish massage of the neck and shoulders. Blood samples were taken before, during, and after each of the three events to measure baseline oxytocin levels in the bloodstream and any change.
The results, on average, were of borderline significance – relaxation massage caused oxytocin levels to rise slightly and recollection of a negative emotion caused oxytocin levels to fall slightly. Recollection of a positive emotion, on average, had no effect.
What surprised the researchers, however, was how differently each woman responded. Some participants showed substantial increases and decreases while others were largely unaffected.
“We decided to look at the interpersonal characteristics of individual women to see if there was a correlation with changes in their oxytocin levels,” said Turner, who is also the director of Student Research at the California
School of Professional Psychology, Alameda campus. “We found a significant difference between women who reported distress and anxiety in their relationships and women who were more secure in their relationships.”
So the response to the cynic is that love lasting power is due to chemical and emotional factors ; feeling respected in a relationship and being respected are important. Spraying the room with chemicals won’t make women or men swoon at your feet. However, insecure relationships seem more prone to chemical manipulation.
Friday and 7 years, or a day and a year, or till death us do part?
In French Friday is vendredi and in English Friday. Frīġedæġ, meaning the “day of Frigg”. Frigg or Fraya, (like Venus, the Roman equivalent) was the Norse goddess of love. We still see then, in the names of the days of the week, the importance of love. But we stay in love with people longer than a day and perhaps if we look back to those divorce statistics, we can state that almost no one gets divorced before 5 years of marriage and then the ‘seven year itch’ comes into play, until after 20 years of marriage when divorce rates fall. However, one can’t rely on statistics to save relationships. We could talk of inner qualities and outer qualities. Being with someone because of their outer qualities (beauty, hair colour, eye colour, breast size, etc.) perhaps helps start relationships and inner qualities (kindness, patience, generosity,) help to maintain relationships. The best relationships take time, and 5 minutes isn’t enough. We forget also that people change, with age and illness, professional challenges and stress, children change relationships and so perhaps it isn’t realistic to expect marriage to be ‘until death us do part’ anymore. Perhaps a rolling contract valid for 5 years would be more realistic, as people could decide if they wanted to continue of not. People choose marriage rather than being forced into it in modern western society, in contrast to the organized marriages so common in medieval Europe and perhaps which still happen in some cultural environments. Pagan ceremonies such as Handfasting had periods of a year and a day, which were renewable, or even multiplied to ten years and a day, and couples would promise to be faithful for that period. Couples would avoid taking each other for granted, and even in the Christian tradition couples renew their wedding vows.
Love without sex, kiss and tell.
It started with a kiss. The kiss is probably the remnants of when females chewed food into a mash to give to children to feed when young .Or was it cavemen tasting the saliva of cavewomen to see which were the healthiest? Or is it learned behaviour as in different cultures we have different kisses. In France, you have a kiss in every region, and of course the hand kiss. And the passionate kiss, so called ‘French kiss’ with tongues. Or the ‘Air kiss’ where it’s blown across the room. Even in slang expressions of contempt, such as ‘kiss my arse’
The kiss seems universal, even Eskimos rubbed noses as kissing with the lips was too dangerous. It seems that kissing on the mouth became less popular with diseases such as Black Death and people kept their distance more and more, kissing on cheeks and hands.
Of course we kiss other things, ranging from the Blarney Stone to the Pope’s ring, or even kissing the ground.
Andrea Demirjian talks about the evolution of the kiss and her book
Kissing: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About One of Life’s Sweetest Pleasures ISBN 039953234X in great detail. As children we played ‘kiss chase’ in the vain hope of being kissed. Kissing certainly reduces stress and encourages dental hygiene.
Love without sex is in my opinion possible. We love our parents and our children and our families without, on the whole, having incestuous relationships. This isn’t a sexual love, but a love nevertheless. We also love pets, places, and even products, or we say we do, ‘I loved his latest film/book. Nuns and monks and unmarried Catholic priests are celibate and so have a deep love for their faith, tradition and God.
However, does this denial of sex spill over into child abuse and hidden homosexuality or paedophilia without confusing the two? We do need to be aware of the biological need for sex and the dangers of imposed celibacy. We need to heed the warnings of forbidding things and making them exciting, or dangerous. We were all created in a sexual act, for the most part consentiual ,and despite our varied and even blighted family backgrounds we are loved, and we love.
Mind the gap.
So many songs, plays, films and so much art, so much energy is aimed at, caused by love. The Beatles said “In the end the love you make is equal to the love you take’, and that ‘all you need is love’, and as humans we’ve been in love and in sex for upwards of 5 million years. But it’s a drop in the geological ocean, as the world has been around for 5 billion years. What happens when we forget love? Look at the crematorium at Auschwitz. Love was forgotten and people were turned into numbers because of dogma. The end justified the means, and the distance between the humanity and the act were forgotten. We produce enough food to feed 10 billion people, according to a recent Oxfam report,( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-holt-gimenez/world-hunger_b_1463429.html) (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v485/n7397/full/nature11069.html)
but The Lancet in 2008 said that children still die from preventable starvation, at a cost per life in the hundreds of dollars.
Statistics say every 10 seconds a child dies from preventable hunger, and if we add in the illnesses and diseases caused by poor nutrition, a lot a children do go to an early grave without our thought. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-22935692
However, the world is a changing place!
We become detached from these images until they touch us personally, as for me when I visited Haiti in 2009.
Do we love enough to ensure everyone gets a fair share of the resources, opportunities and benefits available to communities and society? Or will we continue in our consumer bubble where if we can pay, we can have? Where everyone can have rights but no responsibilities? Have we forgotten the post war socialist experiment at our cost? Will Malthus be proven right finally, as resources run out and populations crash? I call on the audience here and now , and on humanity in a wider context to share signs of love with each other .
The democracy of love
Love, like psychology, and death, seems democratic, in that everyone can do it. Everyone access their own thoughts, their own feelings, everyone ultimately dies. Love seems a normal, natural thing, accessible to all, yet it is chased, desired and searched and sought. Everyone wants to be loved, and to love. When people fall in love, or in lust, and this isn’t a mutual feeling, rejection and depression, and loss happen. Death also has a part to play, as long term relationships do ultimately end with death. We measure our worth through the love others give to us, and they measure theirs through the love we give them. How important then it is to love, and be loved. Is it possible not to be capable of loving? I certainly think
that love means different things for a 4 year old and a 16 year old and a 40 year old, and for a man, and for a woman, yet we use one word to encompass all of this. Many religions will say that atheists are not capable of love, or that if you belong to this or that religion or faith or nationality or culture (normally different to the one who claims to be “pure”) or if you have this or that handicap or disease or psychological problem, or if you are this or that colour you cannot know love. We should treat these statements for what they are, a manipulation of people towards a “desired” behaviour. In the end, if we follow this logic, we finish by throwing witches on the stake, or Jewish people into the oven or gas chamber, or Catholics or Protestants into the Loire, keeping slaves because they are a different colour, refusing women the vote and whatever other ethnic cleansing or atrocity or unjust act that fleets before our eyes across the screens of our TV’s phones and computers. We see so much we become numb. Personally I think the research shows that if primates can experience feelings approximate to love, then certainly humanity’s wide spectrum can love, or be taught love.
How this love is shared and demonstrated also differs. Chats and discussions, hugs and cuddles, kisses, holding hands, touch, sexual acts, all of the spectrum of human contact and tenderness. We have social norms which outline what is and isn’t appropriate and legal frameworks to control and protect children and adults. When people leave relationships , be it for a new partner or because of mid-life crisis or even death, the partner who is left often feels a period of loss, even if the relationship was far from perfect, even if it was abusive. A kind of Stockholm syndrome or Lima syndrome feeling. When the pain stops, we miss the attention.
Faith Hope, Love. Philosophy of Theilhard de Chardin and Syntropy
Love is a very human act. We search forward, into the unknown, at the edge of error, and hope for what is and what will be. Every decision is human and we always feel forward for what is to be hoped. Love, like science, as Jacob Brunowski observed, is a tribute to what we can do and know and feel although we are fallible. We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power and absolute love, closing the distance between the push button order and the human act. Love, like science is a human act.
Negentropy and the Noosphere are not so far away from each other. In a note to What is Life? http://whatislife.stanford.edu/LoCo_files/What-is-Life.pdf Schrödinger explained his use of this phrase.
[…] if I had been catering for them [physicists] alone I should have let the discussion turn on free energy instead. It is the more familiar notion in this context. But this highly technical term seemed linguistically too near to energy for making the average reader alive to the contrast between the two things.
Indeed, negentropy has been used by biologists as the basis for purpose or direction in life, namely cooperative or moral instincts [ http://www.worldtransformation.com/what-is-the-meaning-of-life/]
We are all connected, and our actions as our inactions touch . Perhaps we are damned if we love, as Larkin says in “This be the verse” http://www.artofeurope.com/larkin/lar2.htm but we are certainly damned if we don’t love. Love is perhaps where physics, biology and ethics combine.
Let me finish then with the Bible, Corinthians https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+13&version=NIV