They say that America is a nation obsessed with love.
For decades we’ve spent our Friday nights with buckets of popcorn in our laps, choked up over the silver-studded tales of passion that Hollywood throws upon a big white screen for us. Melodies about romance and attraction occupy the radio waves, pouring out of our speakers, and racing to the tops of charts. Hours that should have been spent studying, are instead spent between book covers, exchanging reality for the worlds of Allie and Noah, Bella and Edward, or Jay and Daisy. In all too many households, Monday nights are reserved for the latest episode of the Bachelor. Perhaps we are a nation obsessed with love…
In 2004, the American divorce rate broke 50 percent.
For a nation obsessed with love, this is a remarkable statistic. Could it really be that more than half of these people couldn’t find love in their relationship? They gazed up at the glowing sunsets and gentle kisses on the screen, and when they tore themselves away and looked at the shattered pieces of their own relationships strewn across the ground, they saw that it looked nothing like the movies. It read nothing like the book. It didn’t even sound like the same song. So their relationship couldn’t have been love, right? Sure, they thought it was love in the beginning. It had felt like a fairytale, but the next chapter wasn’t at all happily ever after. It certainly wasn’t exciting as the once upon a time. So they erased the relationship and went out in search of another fluttery heart or hand to hold under a sky full of stars. Because that’s what love must be.
They thought they were searching for love. However their quest was far less noble, primitive even. What they searched for was a release of chemicals in their body’s endocrine system. Testosterone, estrogen, adrenaline, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and vasopressin. These chemicals are released in your body during the early phases of the relationship. That’s what gives you butterflies in your stomach, and makes your heart skip a beat when you see that face. It allows your brain to create a strong attachment to that special person, making long-term relationships possible. It’s a wonderful thing, but it isn’t love. It’s a chemical reaction. The two are commonly confused.
America is not obsessed with love. America is obsessed with the hormones brought on by the beginning of love. Once the chemicals wear away a bit, we’re often mistaken into thinking that the love is wearing away as well, because all we’ve ever been told is that the chemicals are love. Chemicals are a part of love, yes. But today’s media incessantly tells us that chemicals and love are one and the same. Turn on the radio. Chances are, you’ll hear a familiar voice singing about their latest love affair. The kiss. The touch. The body. The media enthusiastically describes the warmth and excitement that overwhelms us when love begins.
But you won’t find a book, song, or film that talks about the days when the hormones return to more reasonable levels. They don’t make movies about dropping the kids off at soccer practice or arguing about credit card debts. So we’re left with only descriptions of a magical, new love to create expectations for the entire relationship.
Once the relationship moves past those first stages, we think something’s wrong, because what we have doesn’t look like what’s on the screen anymore. But in reality, once the hormones subside, you’re left with only love. You’re left with the knowledge of everything about that other person, all the little things you memorized while you were hyped up on dopamine and serotonin. You know the color of their eyes, the sound of their laugh, the foods they hate, and the feeling of their hand around yours. Because of this connection that was created, you can find peace in knowing that no matter what they do, you’ll always be able to forgive them.
Now, there will be dark days when every little thing you memorized about them becomes every little thing you hate; when the pain they cause you tears a hole in the middle of your chest. You’ll both make mistakes. You’ll want to leave. But if you stay, and you pour every ounce of effort you have into that relationship, you’ll find out that there’s going to be a day when the sun breaks through the clouds. You’ll remember why you loved them, and they’ll remember why they loved you. You’ll learn to appreciate each other in ways you never did before. It’s probably not going to make your heart skip a beat, but that’s okay. Because you’ll find that no one else will stick with you like that other person will.
They’ll see you at your very worst, but when you wake up, they’ll still be next to you. Every day, you’ll experience life together. You’ll create a history together. And that can never be replaced. The hormones are just a bonus.