Is our ancient susceptibility to falling in love fading? Will love in the new millennium be more rational?by Sheila Sullivan / January 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
The millennium is a time for big thoughts. But there is one thing we hardly stop to question, because it seems to have been forever a part of our human landscape-and that is our habit of falling in love. For many people this is the most volcanic and compulsive experience of their lives, often dragging untold consequences in its wake. At its happiest, there is no joy so glittering, so plangently memorable; for all the agonies it may trail behind it, the early stage of love offers lovers impassioned sex, a heady measure of self-esteem, raging energy, capacious generosity, a profound sense of the value of another person, the conviction of being truly alive. This is happiness, and happiness is good for us. But at its worst, falling into unrequited love, or into a love later rejected, can generate pain so terrible that the lover is shaken by turmoil or frozen in grief. Love leads to abandonment, desolation, humiliation, despair-often illness, depression and sometimes suicide. Of course love is not always like this; its range is vast and it may emerge as no more than a passing interlude, bitter or sweet, and easily forgotten. However, great or small, happy or wretched, this phase of falling in love is brief, illusory, self-absorbing, obsessional, irresponsible-and inordinately time-consuming. Perhaps we should do something about it?
But if falling in love is the ancient experience it appears to be (in the west we go back not only to 12th century Provence, but to Homer at least), then our attempts to abolish it or ignore it will founder. If love is rooted in a process which evolved to care for the helpless human infant, if it is inextricably tied into our infant experience of trust, if indeed it is directed by unconscious archetypes and “love-maps,” then how can we change it?
Despite the huge cultural edifices we build around love, it does look as though its substance billows out of our remote ancestral past; moulded, modified, up to a point refined, but indelibly ancient and intractable. The core emotions-sexual passion, ecstasy and despair, jealousy and rage-are still housed in the hypothalamus of the “old” brain. Of course, the activity of the hypothalamus is profoundly influenced by its environment, but it is not obvious that this cultural counter-traffic could ever be dominant enough to overwhelm the unruly material that lurks within.
So if we accept…