The way I feel about love is similar to the way I feel about other potentially fictional concepts, such as God and mermaids. Which is that I am passionately attached to the feelings of hope and opportunity that having belief in them engenders, but equally distressed when my brain refuses to accept their existence.
‘Love’ is an imprecise word that we use to describe the way we feel about all people close to us. I’m not a total ice-bitch. I do understand what it means to love friends and family members. The former being people you are fond of – but don’t want to have sex with, the latter – people you are forced to share bonds of affection with due to blood or legal ties. I’m on board with that type of love because it usefully helps me separate everyone in the word into three groups a) people I love – i.e: those I know and want or have to spend time with, b) people I don’t know and don’t care about, c) people I actively dislike and avoid at all costs.
The kind of love I’m referring to here is the other kind, what we might think of as romantic love – i.e. the type often depicted symbolically on cards via pink hearts and cherubic, curly-haired archers wearing nappies. The type that includes sustained sexual attraction, and which will, according to Western mythology, intimately unite us with a stranger, give us rushes of joy and affection, and lead us on a path to everlasting peace.
I know that I’m not alone in my love-scepticism, as I occasionally see other women and men, undertaking solitary journeys through life, looking at couples and muttering ‘this all seems like total bollocks’ under their breath. This breed of doubters are disillusioned by what life has left to offer: spending every weekday hour at work attempting to find fulfilment, and blacking out the lonely weekends by getting smashed on all the available intoxicants.
I’m blaming science for this. Even though my knowledge of the discipline is limited to what I can remember from GCSE and stuff they say in the Big Bang Theory.
Science has managed to bugger our sense of well-being right up by disproving the existence of almost all concepts that make living bearable.
Physics type scientists – doing complicated things with telescopes, equations, and microscopes – have discovered that there’s no God. There are particles that came from nothing. Humans are just a collection of these particles bound together for a short period, dying and renewing repeatedly in cycles, until age, illness or violence causes our bodies to give up the good fight and disperse the particles back into the universe, leaving no trace that we ever existed. These scientists have confirmed the darkest fear of all depressives by establishing that life is actually pointless.
Other, different types of scientists, more, sort of, biology ones – doing things in the sea with submarines and waterproof cameras – have proved that there are no mermaids. Half-human fishes with long, wavy hair, who sit on rocks and sing seductive tunes to sailors are imaginary. Or at least well camera shy. I don’t know about you, but I think this takes a lot of the fun out of climate change predictions that suggest we will all, very soon, need to adapt to living under water.
The ones I’m most upset with though are the chemists – studying the effects of drugs and other substances on the human body and its behaviour. These types of scientists have found out that drugs can be administered to replicate the symptoms of love (of course, this is not news to anyone who has taken MDMA at a festival and subsequently spent eight hours stroking some bloke from Stockport because his skin felt gold). When we take social drugs – like cocaine and ecstasy – our brains release feel-good attachment hormones, such as oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin – the same ones our bodies
release after sex, and that are thought to help us build meaningful connections with other human people so that we want to find shelter and procreate with them. Love doesn’t exist as a magical, other-worldly gift that gives meaning to life. It’s just receptors in your brain going all zingy at squirts of hormone pumped out elsewhere in the body.
I find this massively depressing, having been raised on fairy tales and Disney movies about the transformatory potential of fated love. I want blue birdies singing outside my window while I dance to their chirrups in a crazed trance of adoration over a prince sent from afar. I don’t care if it’s unrealistic. What is the point of love if it’s just a series of chemical reactions happening in gooey electric brain tubes?
The way I see love is that if you can create it at any time with a chemical substance and a stranger you met in the queue outside Nando’s – then it’s not worth having.
So, yeah, cheers science, you’ve taken all the mystery out of everything, and made the most elusive, exciting parts of our existence transparent and predictable. Thanks for that.