|Careful, don't get burned.|
--Helen Fisher, Why We Love
The other day, a reader contacted me to tell me she had something I had to write about. She reported that since attending her high school reunion a month back, her old flame had been poking her on Facebook. "Every day," she said meaningfully. It was clear from her words that this virtual poking was getting her all hot and bothered. "It's knowing that, at least for some moment in the day, I am on his mind," she reported.
At first I reacted like I usually do when someone tells me something I Simply Must Write About, which is to pretend that I am interested, then never actually write about it.
But the more I thought about it, I realized the story was the crush itself. Or how this very practical woman was now obsessively checking Facebook to see if any new pokes had come in from Mr. Reunion Dude. She had actually eroticized the little cartoon poking hand icon from Facebook which, to refresh your memory, looks like this:
|Is this making you hot?|
The last time I had a crush, I could tell exactly the moment it hit me. We were talking in my driveway, he said something vaguely risque, and I felt it come down upon me, like an actual thing. Like an affliction. "Oh fuck," I thought.
Because, although a crush is delightful and exciting and makes the world shine brighter, it is an affliction. A brain affliction. An affliction as in "pain, suffering and distress."
In her (quite excellent) book, "Why We Love," anthropologist Helen Fisher identified certain characteristics of people "in love." And I mean "in love" in the sense of "God, I want to lick their neck" instead of the "We've been together 35 years and he's an excellent father" kind of love. Like crazy stupid love where you do fucked up things and act psychotic. That one governor who snuck off to Brazil to meet his lover while claiming to be hiking? His kind of love. The astronaut chick who drove across the country to confront her romantic rival while wearing astronaut diapers to hasten her trip? Her kind of love.
According to Fisher, lovestruck people exhibit certain characteristics, including:
--"Special Meaning": This is giving the loved one an elevated status above others. "Your beloved becomes novel, unique and all-important," writes Fisher.
--Focused Attention: "The love-possessed person focuses almost all of his or her attention on the beloved, often to the detriment of everything and everyone else," writes Fisher. (see above: governor ditching his job.) "Infatuated men and women also concentrate on all of the events, songs, letters, and other little things they have come to associate with the beloved." (That would be you, Facebook pokey finger.)
--Aggrandizing the Beloved: This means that although you can see the beloved's faults, you somehow reframe them as charming quirks. This what was probably happening to me when the (thankfully unconsumated) Crush above was later telling me about some penis test he got for flippin' gonorrhea. It involved a tube and his urethra, but I was all, "Oh really? That's fascinating!"
--"Intrusive Thinking": This is when you can't stop thinking about your loved one. In a 1988 survey, in love respondents reported thinking about their "'love object' over 85 percent of their waking hours." 85 percent! This happened to me with Gonorrhea boy. I would lie awake in bed thinking of him, so much so that it actually became tiresome. At a certain point, I didn't even want to be thinking of him, but my mind kept returning to him, as though he were a plague upon my brain.
--Looking for clues: This is the source of all "What do you think he really meant when he said I was 'interesting?'" conversations.
--Emotional fire: That's when you're so damn happy that eating or sleeping seems so...pedestrian.
--Intense energy: This includes exhilaration as well as the overwhelming awkwardness in the beloved's presence. Noted Andres the Chaplain in the 1180s: "Every lover regularly turns pale in the presence of the beloved." This would be the feeling of "How do I act normal around this delightful, insanely sexy person to disguise the fact that I am obsessively thinking about putting my mouth upon their upper thigh (the left one)?"
Fisher identified several others symptoms like jealousy, hope, adversity strengthening ardor, and such but I, sadly crush-less and thus unfueled by its exhilaration, grow weary upon listing them all.
Even Richard Burton was not immune to the overwhelmingly potent forces of attraction and noted upon meeting the 19 year old Elizabeth Taylor:
She was so extraordinarily beautiful that I nearly laughed out loud...Her breasts were apocalyptic, they would topple empires before they withered...her body was a miracle of construction...She was unquestionably gorgeous. She was lavish. She was, in short, too bloody much....those huge violet eyes had an odd glint...Aeons passed, civilizations came and went while these cosmic headlights examined my flawed personality. Every pockmark on my face became a crater of the moon.So why do we act like such insecure ass-wipes when we when love someone? Fisher asked herself the same question, though I don't believe she used the term "ass-wipes." She promptly stuck some lovestruck folks into an fMRI machine to see what the hell was going on in their poor, love-addled brains.
What she found was a neurochemical stew driving the ass-wipeian behavior. The ancient reptilian brain, with its dumb quest for good feelings was going crazy. One part--the caudate nucleus, if you must know--is associated with the reward system of the brain and affects "general arousal, sensations of pleasure and the motivation to acquire rewards." Also active was the ventral tegmenal area (VTA), spewing dopamine about the brain, willy-nilly, giving lovers "focused attention...fierce energy, concentrated motivation to attain a reward, and feelings of elation--even mania."
As a result, few drives are more basic and strong than the quest to bind with a lover. Fisher calls it, "a primordial brain network that drives the lover to focus his or her attention on life's grandest prize--a mate who may pass their DNA toward eternity."
I'll leave you today with these questions:--Does any of this sound familiar?
--What undesirable characteristics have you overlooked while hepped up on love?
--And finally, do you not completely love the sentence, "She was, in short, too bloody much"?