The other night an audience member at one of my talks asked me a question I’ve never been asked before; does studying love ruin my own experience of it? Does understanding that at the most basic level love is biological bribery selected for by evolution to ensure we reproduce and cooperate to raise our children, despite the many stresses this may cause, take away the wonder? Does knowing that some of our most creative romantic urges – for example conjuring up affectionate sweet nothings to whisper in our lover’s ear – are controlled to some extent by our genes make it mundane? Does being aware that when a woman nuzzles a potential new lover’s ear she is actually giving him a good old sniff to see whether he is genetically compatible with her, and hopefully healthy, bouncing babies will be result, definitely remove the magic? Does all this, and much more hard science, make it rather everyday?
‘The more I study love the more I am in awe of it’
The answer actually is no. The more I study love the more I am in awe of it. Of its immense complexity – how you experience love is, in part, a mixture of your genes, neurobiology, psychology, physiology, environment, culture, religion, politics and history. Of its uniqueness to the individual – how I love and how you love are going to be different. How there actually isn’t and will never be an answer to the question ‘what is love?’ Rather than scaring me I am excited by that. How amazing must it be that however long we study we will never arrive at a formula – love is ultimately unknowable. It will always be a challenging but exhilarating voyage into the unknown. And I like it that way.
‘Love is fundamental to being human’
But at the same time understanding what we do know confirms to me how fundamental love is to being human. It sits at the centre of our very being, infiltrating every aspect of our lives. And because of this researching it has real purpose. We now know that the quality of your close relationships is the most influential factor in your happiness, life satisfaction and mental and physical health, beating smoking and obesity. So by striving to understand it as much as we can we can help those who struggle with love or find it missing from their lives.
‘The monumentality of love is never more apparent than when I have the privilege of watching the moment love develops between two people’
And love comes in many different forms. This is Valentine’s week but human love is experienced in many contexts. For our lovers but also our friends, family, children, pets, even our god. The monumentality of love is never more apparent than when I have the privilege of watching the moment love develops between two people – baby and parent, friends or lovers. It is a transformative moment.
So no studying love does not make it mundane. It makes it fulfilling, exhilarating, wonderous, precious and so vibrant. And it makes me thankful to be lucky enough to have love in my life.