“To say ‘I love you,’ […] is to submit to a cliché,” and “in saying [it] a certain ‘I’ is installed in one of the most repeated phrases in the English language,” wrote Judith Butler. Writing about love is not less hackneyed. However, since we tend to think of individual experience as unique, we believe that we feel love in different ways. We bring up this time-worn subject confident that we would couch it in hitherto unattempted combinations of words that reflect the intensity and singularity of our feelings. Along with being experienced in distinct ways, love has several types. Some of them are exalted over others but all have a place in our lives. One might say, thus, that no one is impervious to love or ignorant about it. In its universality, it can alleviate the burden of individual existence. Hence, it is legitimate to ask the question of whether “love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.”
Evolutionary psychologists argue that love has evolutionary underpinnings. They assert that mother-infant bonding and caregiving has laid the ground for other types of love to evolve and that romantic love might have helped our ancestors form stronger communities and hold out. Professor Stephanie Cacioppo asserts that “the oldest parts of the brain are involved in attachment […] and pair-bonding.” The fact that some forms of love have existed since the dawn of time evokes the idea that love might have been necessary for our survival. The question of love was also studied by neuroscientists. Their research has shown that love can relieve pain, reduce anxiety, and make unpleasant experiences more tolerable. Its effect has even been compared to that of painkillers. Could the Beatles have been right when they said that “all we need is love”?
When we think of love we often extol romantic love and view it as the prospective remedy for all our woes. “Finding the one” is often deemed the mainstay of a fulfilling and meaningful life. Hence, we pursue love and pin all our hopes for happiness on it. The hankering for it drives us forward and imbues us with a sense of purpose. The ancient Greeks recognized eight types of love and hailed their virtues. In Plato’s Symposium, Aristophanes delivers one of the most prominent speeches about love. He talks about the existence of a connatural force that propels us to find our better “halves”. In Greek mythology, Zeus cut humans in two and the severed parts were left with a perpetual longing for becoming whole again. Aristophanes refers to this yearning for oneness as “the wound of human nature”. He describes love as “the helper and the healer of the ills which are the great impediment to the happiness of the race.”
Love may have the power to save us. But is it the only “sane” answer to mankind’s problems? The correlation between love and sanity might be put into question. Friedrich Nietzsche avers that “there is always madness in love.” Love, in fact, fluctuates between sound judgment and undiluted foolishness. It can be bereft of reason or replete with clarity. It is probably one of the most complex emotions and pinning it down still eludes us.