Have you ever kicked your toe on one of the legs of your bed? I once did so severely I limped for two days.
Falling in love is like that.
By that I mean, falling in love is something that happens to you, and it can sometimes leave you limping, i.e. not quite functional. Falling in love is not an act of will but more like tripping over one of your shoelaces; any idiot can do it.
Falling in love is different to ‘Real Love’. Real Love is an act of will.
M. Scott Peck described Real Love as:
The will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.
From Peck, I also learned about the concept of ego boundaries. To understand the experience of falling in love, it is necessary to know about ego boundaries…
A new born infant does not distinguish itself from the universe. When the infant moves its arms and legs, the world is moving. It cannot distinguish itself from the room, the world, and it’s parents. It and the world are one. Therefore we say the infant has no ego boundaries.
In time the child begins to experience itself as a separate entity. When it is hungry, mother doesn’t always appear to feed it. When the child wants to play, the parent does not always want to play. The child experiences it’s will as something separate from its mother/father’s behaviour.
With age, ego boundaries continue to be defined and by adolescence, young people know they are individuals. Some people feel protected by their ego boundaries (e.g. if they believe the world to be an unnurturning place), but for most people, to varying degrees, there is a sense of loneliness associated with the separation.
Until they fall in love…
The essence of falling in love is the sudden collapse of a section of ego boundaries, permitting one to merge with another. It is an explosive pouring out of oneself into the beloved. Bam! Loneliness is no more!
According to Peck, falling in love, in some respects is an act of regression. We re-experience the sense of omnipotence and feel that the strength of our love will conquer all obstacles, and that all problems will be overcome. But the unreality of these feelings is essentially the same as the 2 year old who feels their demands should be met and will throw a tantrum if they are not.
Turing our attention to biology, Anthropologist Helen Fisher states that romantic love is a basic mating drive. It’s a need like hunger and thirst that feels impossible to stamp out. Romantic love can be like an obsession or addiction. While studying the brain activity of people in love, Fisher found that the parts of the brain activated when feeling romantic love are the same as for wanting, motivation and craving. And all create a sense of reward in the brain when the desires are met.
When reporting on why romantic love evolved, Fisher says ‘We are not an animal that was built to be happy, we were built to reproduce’.
Similarly, Peck admitted he did not really know the purpose of falling in love but suspected that the sexual specificity of it meant that it is a genetically determined response which increases the probability of sexual pairing, so as to enhance the survival of the species. “A trick our genes pull.”
Does this mean I am a cynic about the notion of falling in love? Absolutely not. Romantic love, and the way it can be created from apparently nothing is like magic. People have lived and died for love. Love makes the heart sing and the soul catch fire. This experience has been translated into songs and poetry and art. Similarly, many great singers and poets have used the anguish of lost love to manifest some of the greatest work of our time. Indeed, singer Adele, wrote the biggest selling album of 2011 while inspired by her relationship breakdown.
That said, I am able to take a step back from my admiration for romantic love and realise that it can cause more anguish than it probably needs to in everyday life. With respect to romantic love, confusion, sadness, longing and frustration are just some of the emotions I encounter regularly in people in the work that I do, often causing them to go into a kind of paralysis, living ineffectively.
Most, if not all, of us have been there. Fisher reported results that almost 95% of men and women reported having experienced both being dumped by someone that they really loved, and dumping someone who really loved them. Virtually no one gets through life without having been scathed by love.
But then, would you really want to get out scar free?
The experience of having lost love is part of evolving a profound respect for Real Love (as Peck refers to it) and the discipline that is require to create it.
When we love someone, the love only becomes real through exertion. Through the decision for ourselves, or for someone else, we take an extra step, or walk an extra mile.
Many who desire to love are not in fact loving. The desire to love is not love. Love is as love does. To love is a choice, and it often requires discipline and exertion. Hence, choosing Real Love is equivalent to choosing spiritual growth.
While I did start this article by comparing falling in love to the randomness of kicking a toe, the experience of falling in love is part of growth too. So embrace it. Embrace love with a sense of balance between allowing yourself to free fall into love and keeping your eyes open. You are a body, grounded in a human experience and with this comes the biological drives required for species evolution. You are also a soul, capable of spiritual and emotional expansion, that knows no ego boundaries.
Embrace falling in love! And embrace self-awareness and knowledge about your desires. With a little self-awareness about how the body and brain effect each other, you can also alleviate some of the downside when romantic love inevitably leaves, and even be a little more wiser about the love you choose to embrace – both of which create greater possibility for Real Love.
P.S. When asked if her intricate knowledge of romantic love spoiled the experience for her, Helen Fisher replied, “No I still make the same mistakes. Mostly it has just deepened my understanding and compassion for human life.
Kylie Zeal is the author of Seven Freedom Elements, launching globally on 6th February 2018, through Morgan James Publishing (New York). Click here to learn more about the book and get your copy. Kylie’s second book is currently being edited and scheduled for release in the second half of 2018.