Don’t follow your heart
We’ve all been there.
The butterflies, the daydreaming, the staring into each other’s eyes. All those signs that unmistakably let you know you’ve fallen into the hands of cupid.
But what is this all about? Is it sexual? Is it biological? Is it a romantic fantasy? Is it meant to be?
The idea of romantic love is neither universal nor old, at least not as a prerequisite for marriage.
Although there are many famous cases of people falling madly in love — Romeo and Juliet, Cleopatra and Marcus Antonius, Marie and Pierre Curie — that was not the norm at all.
In fact, the idea of marrying for love was laughable until the 19th century and the introduction of romanticism in the arts and literature.
In the west, we grow up with the conviction that falling in love is a prerequisite for marriage and it’s an inalienable right. But this hasn’t always been the case.
Until very recently, arranged marriages were the norm, and is only in the XX century, and in the west, that people started to choose their own partners for sentimental reasons.
Even today, the practice of arranged marriages between two consenting adults is popular in many places, including some first world countries like Korea (Seon) and Japan (Miai). These couples delegate in their family or some matchmaker the search for a suitable partner.
It’s easy for us (but arrogant), to dismiss this practice as old fashioned or even cruel and to think that eventually they’ll come round and accept the “Truth”. That is western moral superiority at its worst.
(I’m not talking here about the despicable practice of forced marriages or child marriages that unfortunately still exists in many parts of the world.)
I’m not saying arranged marriages are right, I’m just saying we might be giving too much credit to our feelings and our ability to rely on them to guide us through life.
Have you ever considered that love might be just an illusion, a social narrative implanted by romantic novels and Hollywood scripts?
How many times have you fallen in love?
Did it always seem like it was going to last forever?
Then what happened?
This is how it usually goes:
You fall in love, you feel you’ve found the one, then after some time you fall out and you hate each other for life.
Does it ring a bell?
And yet, had you been asked at that time: ”Are you 100% sure he/she is the one?” Your answer would have been: “Yes, definitively”.
Then, after the fact, we construct a narrative of how and why it wasn’t meant to be, only to repeat the same story with another person over and over again.
Until one day you get tired of playing the field and settle because you are not getting any younger and it is after all: the sensible thing to do.
We don’t always realize it, but, we are constantly being manipulated by our chemistry, our biological urges, and our subconscious scripts. There is very little room for free will.
Are we meant to find the one? Is there a one? If so, where the f***k is it? Can anyone tell me? Just kidding.
We can believe whatever we want, but reality is, this thing we call love is neither eternal nor universal.
There is a human need for affection, we want to be touched, to be loved and to share feelings with each other.
As humans we have created the institutions of family, friends, and romantic partners because our limbic brain craves connection.
What is not clear is, if that connection is with one person only and must last forever.
Biology and statistics
There is an eternal debate about whether we are meant to mate for life or not.
The thing is, less than 5% of mammals are monogamous and most of them for only one mating season.
As for humans, divorce rates are 50% and the other 50% don’t seem to be very happy either. Most of them stay together for practical reasons.
Funnily enough, arranged marriages show a better success rate than love ones.
In my travels, I’ve noticed a pattern: the less sophisticated a country is, the more importance they give to sex, relationships, and marriage. That’s part of the reason why birth rates are still high in Africa, some Asian countries, and South America while in the west marriage is declining and in countries like Japan people don’t even bother to have sex.
It seems like modernity is stripping away the biological urges and turning us into rational machines.
So, why do we keep falling in and out of love?
Surely every time we fall in love feels like it’s going to be forever but …can we trust our feelings?
Feelings are just a biochemical reaction in our bodies that respond to outside stimuli. There is no reason to think our feelings are giving us accurate information. The world is very different now from the environment we used to inhabit.
I’ve lost count of how many times my friends had fallen for the wrong person — despite it being obvious to everyone else apart from them — only to repeat the same mistake over and over again.
We don’t use our rationality to fall in love, we use our emotions and emotions are very easy to trick.
The long run
When you fall in love, you are convinced that it will last forever. There is no doubt in your mind that what you feel now won’t change over time.
But the thing is, you don’t even know who you’ll become in 5 or 10 years, how you would evolve and what your likes and dislikes will be. Let alone your partner.
Your future self doesn’t necessarily agree with your choices today, that’s why it is so hard to keep long term commitments. You are not the same person you were 5 years ago and in 5 more years you won’t be the same either. And neither should you.
On top of that, something very strange happens when you are in love. Your mind becomes kidnapped by all the hormones and you change beyond recognition.
All of a sudden you start acting strangely, you become hiper confident, almost delusional, you have excess energy, you engage in risky, gross behaviour, whatever used to annoy you now is exciting. Your friends notice you acting differently even when your love is not around.
It is, in this state of drunken euphoria, when you make decisions that are supposed to last a lifetime even though your feelings are going to last only for a few more months.
It’s like deciding what career to pursue being high on heroin.
Keep in mind that falling in love is only temporal, don’t make any decisions while under the effects.
A friend of mine has a heuristic, a rule of thumb: never make any commitment until you’ve made love with your partner at least 100 times. This might sound a bit cynical but doing the opposite and rushing only leads to disaster.
Falling in love is a great feeling, similar to taking drugs, but don’t make a habit of it, don’t rely on it and don’t make any decisions while you are under the influence.
Your future self will be very grateful if you follow this advice.