What is love?

I got a request to write a post about love, but when I asked what it was, I didn’t get a good answer.How about this for a theory: love is connection.dogs in love

Mammals begin life connected. Even before birth the connection between mother and child influences our brains, making nerve fibers that will affect our temperament. Some of the way we perceive love and what it means to us, begins before we even take a breath. Motherhood drug use,  exposure to toxic chemicals, or stress will affect our development and our ability to love in the future.

The mother-infant bond sets the stage for the offspring to be able to take and give love and to handle stress. The mother and baby need to look at each other, work together to establish mutual rewards, and generate oxytocin and cortisol (the first to relax us, the second to create vigilance). Believe it or not, the development of a form of ambivalence is a part of the bond. Babies are exhausting. Motherhood is tiring. Our very first experience with love is that it’s too much to maintain intensely. Such is the tragedy of love, but if we are healthy, we can love and do so with some autonomy.

Of course, one can’t talk of love without mentioning erotic love. Kissing boosts the immune system and increases our sense of well-being.  It makes us invincible even though the search for erotic love can bring us to some crazy places of insecurity about our worth and appearance and rightly so, erotic love is stimulated by visuals. Yes, it’s shallow and also wonderful. Even just having a crush releases some feel good chemicals.

Attachment is a phase of love and it is just as chemical as erotic love. As the song goes, “be careful who you love.” There are those who don’t think twice about doing another in emotionally. People who treat others poorly, who fail to attach, have a chemical imbalance. Break ups or “love rejections” are chemically harmful. They might take up to two years to recover from. But it’s better than casting your lot with someone who can’t attach.

Alcohol and love do similar things to the brain: they take away fear, make us feel better about ourselves but also, surprisingly make us more judgmental of people outside our social sphere, creating a special connection with the one you love, be it a person or a bottle.

I personally get a strong sense of connection working beside someone and I’m not alone. This is why a person can love their job or a group they are a part of. It’s no accident that I became a laboratory scientist. Working in lab on an experiment is a delicious form of connection and ever since fictional Victor Frankenstein worked in secret on his creation and subsequently abandoned the hapless creature, the message has been clear: don’t work alone in lab. To be a scientist is to never work alone. It’s true that if you love your job, you don’t have to work.

We love our pets and they can love us. The owner-pet bond is real, healthy, and less dependent on visual cues than erotic love. It’s as true as any love.

The other day I was visiting my dad. My mom, died almost three years ago. He was telling me how much he missed her. I asked him what I could do. He said, “Just listen.” It turns out that feeling listened to is one way that people feel loved.A person will feel loved if they know that you understand what they are going through and that you share the same emotions about it.I was glad and surprised that loving him was so simple as that.I didn’t have to fix anything or make a grand display.  Guess I had a thing or two to learn about love.





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