He whom love touches not walks in darkness.
Written July 2018
"The question is: can you fall in love again once you've had your heart broken?"
A friend argued no. That what facilitates that reckless abandon to the "falling in" of love involves the novelty of it. That youth is a part of it. That getting older and experiencing enough "falling in" love relationships come to an end forever tarnishes the exuberance of the feeling.
The woman we asked answered yes. Hers was not a philosophical argument but an anecdotal one: she had given up on falling in love and then fallen in love with her boyfriend. It had happened for her, again. It could happen for us all, again.
In classical Greek tradition, Eros fits our modern day concept of romantic love and is best understood as a type of mania. The myth goes: Cupid's arrow to the heart delivers a reverberating pleasure and pain of extraordinary longing for another. In contrast to us, for the Greek storytellers, this "lovesickness" was not extolled. In fact, the fiery passions of Eros were considered destructive, both to the gods and humans. Heightened emotions of the heart led to dangerous decisions.
I'm a lover. Another friend told me this, a few months ago, over FaceTime. She was laughing, gently. I was bemoaning the fact I felt I loved my lover but had not of yet fallen in love with him. I usually fell in love quickly. Was I afraid to fall in love or was it simply never going to happen again, with him or anyone?
You're already in love with him, she said. You're a lover, you can't help it.
She wasn't right. She wasn't wrong.
There are five primary neurochemicals that produce the feeling of love: testosterone, estrogen, dopamine, oxytocin, and vasopressin.
Testosterone and estrogen are sex hormones that manage lust.
Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that creates attraction.
Oxytocin and vasopressin are hormones that facilitate attachment.
The last time I "fell in” love with a person was the summer of 2014. It surprised me. It was fast. It was floaty. It was what you read about it literary works of art. It was what pop stars croon about.
It was not going to last. For a few blissful weeks I ignored this fact and basked in the potency of what we felt for one another. Poetic and chemical.
The ancient Greeks defined other types of love, aside from Eros.
Storge: Familial Love
Philia: Friendship Love
Philautia: Self Love
Agape: Universal Love
For all its downsides, I miss the wild abandon and neurochemical surge of Eros. I did not appreciate the full beauty and wonder of that love when I felt it, for I did not know then the rarity of it. There is a unique alchemy to falling in love. No wonder there exists a great many myths and stories about love potions.
In "A General Theory of Love", written by psychiatrists from UCSF, the authors argue that our individual nervous systems are reactive and responsive to one another. According to their research, by early childhood, the limbic system of our brain synchronizes with those closest to us, and the experience and navigation of our moods and emotions becomes closely tied to those around us.
Essentially, we are not the siloed individuals we think we are. Simply put, you feel what I feel and I feel what you feel. Especially if we are in love.
While Eros remains elusive, the depths and breadth of the Philia I experience expands. This is the type of love I carry for all those I'm emotionally intimate with, including recent romantic paramours. To a certain extent I find it to be a more evolved love. I suspect this is a result of a more relaxed view on friendship. In contemporary times our romantic partners must meet many needs to support us on the path to self-actualization. This can result in the playing out of childhood attachment patterns, for better or for worse.
In contrast, friends can simply serve as enjoyable companions. Philia feels steady and stable to me. I require less soothing and attention from the objects of my Philia than from the objects of my Eros; yet, unlike Eros, I hold them to far higher standards for reciprocity of action. I expect respect. I'm not afraid of rejection. I'm not afraid of departure.
Recently I have begun applying these standards to the practice of loving myself, Philautia.
For the Greeks, self-love was not necessarily the cure-all our society claims it to be. Philautia could be taken too far, to a point of ego inflation, where a man thought himself more mighty than the gods. In the classical myths, Philautia results in deceitful and immoral actions.
Beneath the light of truth, however, Philautia becomes self-respect. Not born of external motivations or agents, but from an inner source of belief in one’s abilities and resiliencies. A belief wherein one is no more above nor below their fellow human in value or consideration. A belief in inherent human dignity.
I do not believe in the adage that we cannot love others until we love our self. I have loved many when I did not know how to love myself. To discount the Eros, Philia and Storge that I've felt, as wild and varied and gorgeous as each experience was, because I had not yet discovered Philautia, seems preposterous to me. Learning to love my self has been a process of navigating the depth and altitude of love I've felt for others and directing those chemicals inwards. The dopamine surge when I see my new lover inspires my creativity. The oxytocin release when I hug my brother allows me to traverse my insecurities with ease.
I also find a subtle danger in the trite emphasis on self-love without deeper contextual examination of our society. Particularly when viewed alongside neurobiological evidence that the self as we've constructed it is meaningless within our evolutionary basis. Individualism promotes a healthy level of self-agency and dependability in populations, but taken to an extreme causes a frightening amount of selfishness that is harming our planet and species. We need to learn how to love in a way that invokes compassion for every relationship we hold, including the one we hold with ourselves, never inflating nor debasing the self or others. After all, there is no you and I, neurochemically speaking; there is only us.
We need to learn Agape love.
I like to believe we can fall in love again after heartbreaks. I hope that Eros is once again an experience for me. Regardless I know there is a lifetime of loving ahead of me. Loving you, loving myself, loving humanity.
After all, I can't help it, I'm a lover.