Have You Ever Fallen in Love? Why Isn’t It Simple?

“What is This Thing Called Love?” is a beautiful song about the enigma of romantic love, but surely we don’t need a pop love song to tell us what romantic love is all about, do we?

After all, most of us have experienced the ecstatic feelings of “falling in love” at some point(s) in our lives, not to mention the sadness which sometimes occurs. “Falling” is an apt word, because in that heady “in love” state we might lose our emotional balance, just as we might stumble when we suffer the poignant feelings of lost love.

Definitions of romantic love don’t convey those feelings, nor the magic and music, and the poetry of those moments. Not that we humans haven’t tried to translate those feelings into different idioms: The themes of yearning for love, falling in love, the ebbing of love, and bemoaningthe loss of love have filled volumes of poetry and prose, operas and plays, films and art, music and architecture.

All our bodily senses remind us of past loves: Memories of touching and kissing are embedded in our minds and hearts. We recall shared films or plays, concerts or people, mutual enjoyment of meals, familiar aromas (perfumes, cooking, clothing) and other mindful and visceral memories.

We especially remember the love songs of our youth, no matter where and which ethnic group or language we stem from. The love songs we grew up with during our adolescence and decades onwards are particularly riveting and ingrained, never to be forgotten.

At my age, songs like “What Is This Thing Called Love?” (sung by Ella Fitzgerald), “Unchained Melody” (Righteous Brothers), “Something in the Way She Moves” (Beatles), and other evocative songs move me. No doubt some of you are baffled by my choices, as you might be into the current  music of Taylor Swift, John Legend, Adele, Beyonce, Adam Levine (no relation) or other singers.

Each generation has its own music reaching into our souls, but “my” music might turn you off completely, and I daresay, vice versa. Love songs which captivate young people can sound like noisy cacophony to their parents, whose music is totally boring to their offspring.

We first learn about the feelings and bonds of love in infancy and childhood, usually in close interactions with our mothers, fathers, or other loving caretakers. This nurturance is critical in developing the ability to form love attachments. All our senses are involved in this important process: Familiar warm faces and sounds of loving voices, tastes and aromas, gentle touches and kisses. These repeated demonstrations of caring are deeply imprinted in infants’ brains and emotions.

We’re of course familiar with other kinds of love, like parental or sibling, friendship or other close relationships. But romantic love is in a class of its own. When someone is in love, they are in a trance-like state where everyday worries seem to melt away. Attention is focused on “the one” beloved individual who seems like the incarnation of perfection.

The deep adoration of romantic love has been expressed in myriad classic works of art: The poem “How Do I Love Thee?” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning conveys these exquisite feelings, the beautiful Taj Mahal in India, Beethoven’s, “Fur Elise,” Rodin’s sculpture “The Lovers,” the painting “The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt, William Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet” (and Tchaikovsky’s orchestral rendition), the novel “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen, and Verdi’s opera “La Boheme,” all blend masterful creativity with deep expressions of love.

Romantic feelings actually provoke neuronal activity in specific parts of the brain which literally “light up” in neurological brain imaging scans. (It seems that the old pop song, “You Light Up My Life,” was ahead of its time!)

That magical feeling of falling in love was beautifully described a century ago in Irving Berlin’s classic song, “(You’re Not Sick), You’re Just in love.” Enraptured lovers feel they’ve achieved nirvanas, and dream of lifelong idylls of commitment, caring and companionship.

Our need for love commonly evokes deep craving. The Beatles’ “I need somebody to love” describes the poignant yearning for a soul mate. Loss of love can also be agonizing: When love mysteriously ebbs from a beloved, one can feel lost and forsaken. A broken heart brings a deep sense of “aloneness” and yearning for the return of the lost love,feelings poignantly conveyed in many love sonnets, operatic arias, in the Blues, and Country and Western songs.

Implausibly, in our new technological reality, millions of people now use internet dating websites in a search for “Truly, Madly, Deeply” (Shakespeare) kinds of love. Technology or not, people still crave the romance of “falling in love.”

We are social beings, and bonds of affection and intimacy are our very lifeblood, emotional equivalents of oxygen and nourishment. We need love from our first breaths in infancy until our last inspirations of life.

Without love our hearts can ache and atrophy. Without love, children don’t develop as well, and adults are prone to depression and even physical illness.

Without love, our human essence diminishes. A life without love is lonelier, emptier and bereft of meaning. “A World Without Love” (Beatles) is not one we wish to inhabit.

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