The featured photo for this post is that of a card that made me so furious I actually purchased it in order to remove it from circulation. For Pete’s sake, the heart isn’t even red or pink. It is neon orange with a lime green envelope. I feared merely touching it might give me cooties. (It did not.)
You may think that my recent status of “divorced” fueled such a powerful reaction. If that is where you went my friend, you would be wrong. It is the absurdity that Love is relegated to the married, one love, soul mates of the world.
Love, as we currently know it, is perched, precariously atop an unattainable pedestal. So far into the lala clouds that I dare say most of us feel failure at our inability to achieve it. Well, I am here to tell you, it is all hogwash. I don’t know who made it up but they certainly did not do their homework.
As a species, we humans have a strong affinity to pair bond, which Wikipedia describes as the bond “developed between a pair consisting of a male and female or in some cases as a same-sex pairing, potentially leading to producing offspring and/or a lifelong bond.” This is our biology. The term pair bond was coined in the 1940’s. Centuries before our basis of bonding was an economic exchange. Gone are the days of dowries, (and hoop dresses, thank goodness). Replaced with the desire of love and passion. Which is all good, I’m all for love and passion. But we have crazy expectations of what that means.
Hold on. Let’s add some background music for our discussion. The way our culture defines love does not serve us. The 2014 Census reported that 50.2% of Americans were single. This is up from 37.4 in 1976. The numbers also include a population that do not identify with the term “single” because they are parents, have partners or widowed. Yes, yes, we must be politically correct and I for one can appreciate this different ideal. Did you know that the Unmarried and Single Americans have their own week of celebration? I could not make this sh*t up. Mark your calendar for third week of September. Hallmark, are you aware of this? If not I call dibs and plan to name it Spread Mad Love to Anybody and Everybody Week. You with me? Okay, back to the point. Almost fifty percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce and there is an enormous amount of data that report the remaining are struggling and unhappy. Why?
One reason is the emotion of Love is traditionally seeped in romantic, all red roses with a little chocolate, red meat and lobster sprinkled on top. (Why is it that all recipes for Valentine’s day involve one of those last three ingredients?) Attaining this love state of mind is a high bar, especially when the feeling is born from the head and not the heart. The mind with its expectation that “our love story must look like ______” is simply that, a story. And then we have the love initiated from below the waist, that physical satiating which feels delicious when combined with a heart connection but not so lovely without it. What is missing is the heart! Without the heart connection — only brain love or loin love– we have what I would like to coin untethered love. Inauthentic. Not genuine. Rote. Disconnected. The head must connect to the heart; sexual desire must connect to the heart and this heart muscle must be fired off multiple times a day.
We know it is possible to be married or with someone and still feel “unloved”. On the same side of the coin the notion that love is not possible if you are alone, not attached to someone, is simply not true. We have drawn ourselves into a little pink, frilly, one level of chocolate box of love. How we got here does not pique my curiosity. The potential to love, actually spread mad love, experience connection in the hundreds of micro moments a day — that I am curious about.
This is overwhelming, but stay with me, we can spin this around. I will teach you the dance steps to the dance called:
“How to make love all day long without getting tired or fired!”
Brilliant line from Dr. Barbara Fredrickson’s Ted Talk appropriately titled Remaking Love. Dr. Fredrickson is a professor and researcher in the Department of Psychology at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She has been studying positivity for years and her findings support the following:
“Adding science to love brings sparkle to your ability to make love all day long.” ~Dr. Barbara Fredrickson
It starts with our ability to shift from the Disney version of the restricted love and marriage ideal to seeing that giving and receiving love exist in the micro moments of human connection.
Next, we must also set aside the belief that love is everlasting. Love is an emotion and emotions are fleeting. Love, sadness, happy, fear – are all micro moments. They come. They go. So, let them go. No gripping, it makes us miserable whether you grip the good or the bad. Just let it go. Our relationships with others, our physical and emotional bonds, are dependent on a foundation of healthy emotions – micro moments – connections we spark with each other hundreds of times a day.
Let us unveil her research… ever so slowly.
We are wired to connect.
We are biologically endowed with the tools for connecting with others. We have been shaped over millennia to connect with others for shear survival. Our body and brain contain dedicated systems to facilitate connection. In fact, James Coan and David Sbarra argue that “social connection may be our evolved baseline, meaning that the human brain assumes that regular contact with others is the norm – while the lack of other’s company is a source of stress.” This may very well be exhibited in the high levels of loneliness in America as we continually become a more disconnected society. Fodder for another blog.
A beautiful biological dance unfolds when we connect with another person.
Facial expression and postures mirror each other, initiating both a neurological and biological sync. Think of it as a momentary resonance of good will between two people. This happens due to the connection of our vegus nerve to our heart. Our vegus nerve is the 10th cranial nerve of ours nicknamed the “love nerve” and wildly interconnected with our bodies control system. Firing the oxytocin network which is our neurochemical enabler of trust, devotion and kindness. Stimulating our immune system response, slowing our heart rate as well as regulating inflammation – just a few ways it radiates out to affect our overall health. Finally inspiring an amazing bunch of nerves that ignite communication, orient our gaze, initiate voice and physical touch.
Vegus nerve is living tissue and changes based on our habits – the more we connect the more we strengthen this muscle of connecting.
To connect, that is what love really is.
I really can’t do this section justice. I will let Dr.Frederickson explain.
“Love, as your body sees it, is the momentary upwelling of three tightly interwoven events:
- A sharing of one or more positive emotions between you and another;
- A synchrony between your and the other person’s biochemistry and behaviors;
- A reflected motive to invest in each other’s well-being that brings mutual care.
My shorthand for this trio is positivity resonance. This back-and-forth reverberation of positive energy sustains itself—and can even grow stronger—until the momentary connection wanes—which is of course inevitable, because that’s how emotions work.”
These nutrient-rich bursts that accrue all day, every day help us feed our bonds.
“Noticing these opportunities is what shakes us out of any complacency that tempts us to take our love for granted, as a mere attribute of our relationship.”
Go back. Read that last line again. And again.
The causal arrow runs in both directions. The positivity you feel when you connect with another (be that person someone you know or a stranger) nourishes both parties from their heart, to yours. It actually steers both of you to health. Every interaction is an opportunity, we can unlock the capacity of in ourselves and to those around us.
Remember, to grow this muscle, it must be exercised.
Your heart is the reliable muscle beating away in your chest but it is not about pumping sunshine all day every day. That is counterproductive. Think micro moments. Fleeting moments. We can lightly create the habit of positive connection by being open, kind, real, curios, and appreciative.
It is in the simple moments noticing and allowing your heart to appreciate the love you give and receive in such innocuous exchanges as:
- Laughing with a friend
- Smiling to a baby
- Hugging another with compassion
- Warmth of our everyday greetings
Your hearts capacity for love obeys the biological law of use or lose it. So, CHOOSE LOVE. Choose to connect with people in your mists. Those you know, and those you do not yet know.
Love isn’t just the lightning bolt experience that connects you to your soul mate. It is the simple genuine smile that you can share with anyone all day long. Go ahead, spread mad love.
Finally, I leave you with a Cherokee parable about an old Cherokee chief teaching his grandson about life…
“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.
“One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego.
“The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.
“This same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather,
“Which wolf will win?”
The old chief simply replied,
“The one you feed.”
Go feed, water, cultivate strong bonds and sparkle love.