Saturday, February 14, 2009

10 things that might not come to your mind when you think of the word “love”

Today is Valentine’s Day and as a special tribute to this annual occasion, this post shall all be about “love”.

1) According to Dr. Gary Chapman, there are 5 love languages that we all need to know in order to communicate with the person we love in the language that only he or she can understand. These 5 love languages are “Words of Affirmation”, “Quality Time”, “Receiving Gifts”, “Acts of Service” and “Physical Touch”. For instance just because you think “Receiving Gifts” is what appeals to you does not make it so for your partner when in fact his or her love language is “Physical Touch”. Even if that is not your love language, you should always learn to speak that to your partner in order to guarantee his or her satisfaction and fulfilment in the relationship.

2) Testosterone is the principal male sex hormone while the female counterpart is oestrogen. These hormones are released in greater quantities when a person experiences passionate sexual desire, better known as “lust”. The effects of these hormones last a maximum of a few weeks or months. On the other hand, “attraction” is a more targeted desire for a specific mating candidate and is developed out of lust as the commitment to an individual mate builds. The chemicals released by the brain from “attraction” are pheromones (a hormone which triggers a natural behavioural response in another member of the same species), dopamine (a neurotransmitter hypothesized to have the function of transmitting reward prediction error and is believed to provide a teaching signal to parts of the brain responsible for acquiring new behaviour), norepinephrine (a stress hormone underlying the fight-or-flight response) and serotonin (a neurotransmitter playing a range of roles from the modulation of body temperature, appetite and sleep to anger and human sexuality). Research has shown that the effects of these chemicals can last up to three years. Interesting sidenote–kissing reduces both women and men’s cortisol levels (a stress hormone) but increases only men’s oxytocin levels (a hormone linked to social bonding). Are females then less social creatures?

3) Should incest be illegal? Before you jump to an answer, imagine this–you are 45, married with children and happily working towards an early retirement. Then you meet your long-lost sister and fall in love with her with such passion it consumes you. In this age when it’s getting increasingly common to have more than one sample of your egg or sperm floating around (a.k.a the plight of egg- and sperm-donors), the above scenario is slowly becoming more truth than fiction. This is called “genetic sexual attraction” and is written in our psychology–50% of reunions between siblings, or parents and offsprings separated at birth result in obsessive emotions and there are clinical studies to back that up. So when we now ask ourselves the same question about incest, do you see another angle to it, even when it involves a concept as (seemingly) black-and-white as love? The more appropriate question to ask should thus be–should we criminalise something that is hard-coded in our genes?

4) Can we love more than one person at any one time? “Polyamory” is defined as “the desire, practice, or acceptance of having more than one loving, intimate relationship at a time with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved.” Although this might be hard for some to comprehend, not to mention accept, it does not mean that it cannot work (in fact it does for thousands). In a society that is becoming more evolved and intelligent and when people should ideally accord to each other nothing but total respect, this formula of total acceptance and transparency when it comes to love might very well be the direction we all are heading towards.

5) In ancient Greece, the concept of love manifests itself in 5 different words. “Eros” means love of the passionate kind coupled with sensual desire and longing and is also known as “love of the body”. “Agape” or “love of the soul” refers to a pure, ideal kind of love as opposed to physical “eros”. Philia” (“love of the mind”) describes dispassionate and virtuous love exemplified in the loyalty to family, friends and community which requires equality, familiarity and virtue. “Storge” is natural affection, like that felt by parents for their children whilst in social psychology, it takes the form of love between friends. Finally there is “Xenia” which revolves around the concept of hospitality where courtesy and generosity is expressed in a reciprocal relationship between a host and his guest and can be translated as “guest- or ritualized-friendship”. Which love are you currently giving and in recept of?

6) When someone tells you “I will never date Malays”, what is the first impression you have of this person? Does the word “racism” come to mind immediately? Now take a step back and examine the dividing line between sexual preference and bigotry. If one is not sexually attracted to the features of Malays, does this make him or her a racist? In this age of political-correctness to the nth degree, this issue gets even cloudier. Perhaps if one finds flaws in potential mates based on character and not physical attributes, things might not look so superficial and hopefully with this greater depth, he or she can see that line more clearly or at least better convince others of that.

7) Emotional love and physical love sometimes cannot be found in a single partner and as a result many couples develop open relationships in which they are not sexually monogamous yet stay committed to one another. However for this to work, some relationship ground rules often need to be set. Some examples of these rules: “no kissing of other people”, “never sleep with someone more than once”, “always tell your partner when you sleep with someone else”, “only have sex with other parties together with your partner”, “no exchange of contact information”, “no staying the night”, and so on. This approach is common among gays but is definitely not uncommon among married heterosexual couples (eg. swinging). Open relationships in the homosexual realm tend to be purely physical (my personal observation) as opposed to polyamorous ones.

8) As we all know, one of the side effects of love is marriage and apparently this side effect can persist beyond death (involving other non-love issues). Spirit marriage is common in the Chinese culture when one or both parties are dead. It is usually arranged by the family of the deceased out of several reasons–because the couple was engaged prior to one member’s death, to incorporate an unmarried daughter into the dead husband’s lineage, to ensure the continuation of the family line, or to maintain that no younger brother is married before an elder brother. Something similar known as posthumous marriage is also practised in France where it is apparently legal after a law was created when President de Gaulle was in power. Also in the days of immigration, spirit marriages were used as a means to cement a bond of friendship between two families. Knowing this, should we now all relax in the assurance that we will get our fair chance of marriage, even after death?

9) Some might not know this but the world is much more complex than homo- and heterosexuality. There is a whole spectrum when it comes to human sexuality. You might be familiar with the term “bisexuality” but do you know the term used to describe a person who is sexually attracted to all genders or is “gender-blind”? The correct answer is “pansexuality”. There is yet another term called “polysexuality” which is used to describe those who sexually desire genders outside the binary norm of male and female–they distinguish themselves from bisexuals because they do not see the world made up of only two genders and they are also different from pansexuals because the latter includes all genders into consideration when it comes to sexual love. And at the other end of the spectrum is asexuality with asexuals experiencing no sexual attraction at all (a blessing or curse?). Interestingly, asexuals make up 1% of the world.

10) As with all rewarding experiences, human beings can get addicted to love but what are some of the symptoms of love addicts? Here are some of the stronger ones–when one cannot stop fantasizing when in love, when one feels that one’s life ends and experiences suicidal thoughts when a relationship fails, when one is only interested in love and relationships, when one cannot stand being alone yet not enjoy one’s own company, when one is willing to suffer neglect, depression, loneliness, dishonesty and even abuse just to avoid the pain of separation anxiety, when one chases after people who have rejected him or her and try desperately to change their minds and when one has spied on one’s lover more than once. When symptoms of love addiction seem so common and familiar, we cannot help but wonder if all of us are addicted to love and if that is necessarily a bad thing.

PS: To my bibi...

Happy Valentine's Day!