Poets throughout time have extolled the mysteries of love. According to ancient myths, the overpowering, inexorable pull of desire has both led men into battle and lured them out of war. The legend of Helen of Troy, who had a “face that launched a thousand ships,” and the Greek play Lysistrata, which recounted the tale of women withholding physical love to force wartime peace, have endured over thousands of years. Why? Because love and desire have confounded human understanding at least as far back as recorded memories exist.
More recently, scientists think they have uncovered some rational explanations for love and attraction. According to Scientific American, the discovery of pheromones, the elusive chemicals that may be responsible for the giddy feelings of infatuation, could account for the inexplicable pull of a crush.
Scientists have also pinpointed other chemicals released during the phase of romantic love. In an article in The Economist, a chemical cocktail may spark attraction, affecting the brain much in the same way that heroin does. In other words, love can be as addicting as a drug. (Luckily, though, rehab after a breakup often only requires a container of Häagen Dazs).
Larry Young, a professor at Emory University and author of “The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction” has studied, among other things, the molecular mix responsible for pair bonding or long-term love relationships. When chemicals create pleasure, attachment begins because people (or the voles featured in Young’s study) associate pleasure with their desired partner, which can eventually lead to a more mature and lasting type of love.
But is love more than simple chemical reactions? A non-chemical scientific approach to looking at love was described in the New York Times last month. Based on a psychological study called “The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness,” the work is essentially an attempt at mindful intimacy.
By answering a series of 36 questions, which escalate in self-disclosure, followed by four minutes of gazing into each other’s eyes, a couple of strangers bond by sharing their once unspoken hopes, deepest vulnerabilities, and sometimes painfully honest truths.
If chemical attraction and forced intimacy seem too … well … scientific, then by all means take the traditional route to romance. Whether it’s the all-consuming first love or a late-in-life crush, a candlelit dinner and roses may be the simplest (and most easily understood) path to love this Valentine’s Day.