In the mood for love

Lubna Abdel-Aziz , Tuesday 8 Feb 2022

Valentine s Day

How are we to conceive of love and romance right smack in the middle of the coldest winter and a pandemic? Yet, here comes the feast when traditionally we are required to turn to “thoughts of love”.

Could it not have waited till spring when the air is gentle, flowers are in bloom and hope is rekindled by nature’s rebirth?

Romantic love is the order of 14 February, St Valentine’s Day.

Forgotten is the saint who inspired love for mankind, though some Christians still attend mass in his honour. Most of us remain captured by red heart-shaped balloons, ping greeting cards, fragrant red roses, candy boxes filled with chocolate, music and dance, love, and romance.

One would presume that Covid-19 has dulled the enthusiasm for such feasting — what with the cold weather, the expense, the effort, the stress — but surprisingly it has not.

When 14 February rolls around, lovers once again want to feast more, but maybe, spend less.

It is a tradition rooted in history for centuries. Historians believe that its origins started in the fourth century BC and was celebrated on 15 February. Lupercalia was an annual young man’s rite of passage to the god Lupercus. Determined to put an end to this 800-year-old pagan practice, the Church sought a lovers saint and they found a likely candidate in Valentine who was executed some 200 years earlier, on 14 February, 270 AD.

Romans refused to relinquish their pagan rites, until 496 AD when Pope Gelasius outlawed the mid-February Lupercalian festival and officially declared 14 February St Valentine’s Day.

It is only during the Middle Ages that the holiday became associated with romance. England and France chose 14 February because they noticed birds started their mating season. How did they know that? Birdwatchers, we presume.

What is this thing called love? Magical, mysterious, bewitching and bewildering, it weaves equal yards of pleasure and pain, agony and ecstasy. Does it really “make the world go round”?

What a blissfully, glowing, merry-go-round to look forward to.

Our charming blind cherub Cupid (Eros in Greek) has his bow and arrow all sharpened and polished, aiming at your heart.

Give in. Love is the noblest of human emotions. It deserves to be honoured.

Falling in love, being in love, and staying in love — all enchanting, delirious, and ecstatic.

Romantic love or obsessive love is merely a refinement of lust. Hmmmm?

Actual behavioural patterns of those in love are similar to cases of obsessive-compulsive behaviour. Anthropologist Helen Fisher suggests that this malady may indeed be possible as once romantic love begins in earnest, “it is one of the strongest drives on earth. It seems to be more powerful than hunger.”

How can it be possible that this feeling that makes your knees go weak, causes your palms to sweat, creates butterflies in your stomach, makes you shake and stutter, blush and stammer, is only a chemical state, “with genetic roots and environmental influences”?

This could not be, yet it is.

To us, love is a function of the heart. To scientists, it is a chemical reaction of the brain. Disappointing, to say the least.

While adrenaline is about love, endorphin is about loving. It is associated with calm mental bliss, security and serenity. It is the explosion of neurochemicals, dopamine, norepinephrine, and phenylethylamine, the love spark that we all seek.

The problem is how to keep that spark. How do we avoid the waning of romantic love, whether before or after marriage?

 To reach the heights of romance we must automatically sense the little knots and shifts in the relationship that signal a need for action. Even if we have a very high IQ, (Intelligence quotient), it will do us no good. What we need is a high EQ, (Emotional Quotient).

When falling in love we are motivated to re-educate the heart.

It will be as shocking to you as it was to us, that some of the most deeply passionate lovers are in their 80s. How can that be? Such love is for the young, compulsive, courageous, audacious individuals.

Quite the contrary it seems. Older people discover that both high EQs add up to a romance that never stops growing, never loses excitement. It strengthens them both, individually and collectively.

Relationships are organisms themselves, (we hate calling them that), and by nature must change. It is up to us to make them change for the better.

Why is it that only three of 10 marriages work? The rest end in divorce, separation, or bitterness and discontent.

Your high EQ means you could keep improving your relationship. Never get trapped by intolerant expectations of perfection. Respect all the feelings you have for each other. Stop criticising every little act you disapprove of.

Keep the laughter going in your life. Lovers who will not laugh together about themselves are not accepting of the relationship.

Let your love be known. It is a sign of a high EQ.

A University of Washington experiment conducted by John Gottman and Robert Levenson resulted in the discovery of the secret of love.

After interviewing thousands of newlyweds, older couples, etc, and followed them for five years, they came up with the conclusion that kindness makes each partner feel cared for.

The more you give, the more you receive. Remember to be kind, especially when you are angry.

 Love and be kind. Kindness works.

“Love conquers all things: let us too give in to love.”

 Virgil (70-19 BC)

*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 February, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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