Monday, February 14, 2011

Michael Novak Discusses Romantic Love

The Myth of Romantic Love

No doubt it was occasioned by V-Day. Some, in particular the recently "singled," on FB use the same day to "observe" Singles Awareness Day.

We can't talk about love without referring to Denis de Rougemonet's Love in the Western World. (Still haven't finished reading it.) Eros might be analyzed into certain chemicals involved in passions consequent upon the senses (or maybe even chemical signalling like pheromones), but it cannot help but be pulled towards something higher -- the desire for permanence, friendship/communion?

Is "love" given to different psychological/physiological, behavioral, moral reactions to desire? Most Catholic writers avoid saying eros is immoral. They may talk about how it is a natural response that nonetheless needs to be elevated or subsumed into charity. The moral imperative is to integrate the natural desire to pair off and procreate with reason.

What are the steps of "falling in love" and "being in love"? Does the release of one hormone lead to the release of another? Dopamine is released when we are in the presence of the other to whom we are attracted, we converse with her or act with her. It is not necessarily grounded upon a judgment of deep compatability -- it may simply result from the natural dynamic between men and women, the pleasure one has when one is in the company of a member of the opposite sex, in the initial excitement of attraction. One is no longer alone in the way Adam was alone, and pleasure results from the attaining of a certain good, companionship with a member of the other sex. The basis of marital communion is the natural dynamic between men and women. (Granted, this sort of loneliness will not be satisfied by having friends of the same sex, since what is lacking is not just a friend but a friend of the opposite sex--this loneliness is determined in a peculiar way by the instinct to pair off. So heartbreak may not be taken away through the company of friends, but the sadness of heartbreak can be eased through consolation and distraction.) People will often talk about chemistry, which is a rather vague notion since it covers a variety of things -- affinity, emotional and physiological reactions, and so on. This reinforces that initial pleasure.

But what causes the initial attraction? Is it merely the sex drive and testosterone? The object of attraction must first be recognized, and there are many influences other than instinct (e.g. being attracted to someone with certain physical features because they signal health, fertility, strength, masculinity, etc.) on our idealization of a lover.

I suppose the point of this post is simply to hash these thoughts out, and to think about how the senses (and the body) operate in conjunction with reason with respect to "romantic love."

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