Sunday, February 17, 2008

Finding Love: the Last Great Mystery

I have searched for an answer all my life. The characters in my novels, short stories and plays have contorted themselves looking for the answer. Authors, philosophers, psychologists, psychiatrists, psychics and scientists from all disciplines have beaten the bushes for the answer.

The question is: Why does someone fall in love with one person and not another?

Why did Jacob work seven years just to marry Rachel?
Why did David go crazy for Bathsheba, sending her husband off to be killed?
Why did Romeo fall for Juliet and vise versa?
Why did Abelard go nuts (or nutless) for Heloise?
Why did Ulysses voyage ten years to retrieve Penelope?
Why did Napoleon go bananas for Josephine?
Why one and not another?

It baffles everyone, including authors like myself who have been exploring this phenomenon in novels, short stories and plays for five decades. Scientists have theorized that it must have something to do with our genes, our DNA, or our senses; something deep in the brain that gloms on to a compatible something in another person.

Others theorize that it is the life force, whatever that is, which motivates us to find the perfect mate, one that will provide the incandescent match of yin and yang, keeping the human race in play.

Of course, there are partial truths to be found everywhere. People continue to thirst for that condition known as "love." The search itself has become an act of desperation and a huge enterprise has sprung up to exploit this totally baffling human condition. Hell, people will do anything to find love. The condition itself is the ultimate high, the nearest thing to paradise on earth. It is no wonder that the condition is celebrated, acclaimed and exalted.

Indeed, not only is it the ultimate high, it is also the ultimate subject. Almost all of the great books deal with love from the Bible upward and onward. No great novel is without it. Few great plays are without it. It is an overwhelming subject matter because it is the ultimate mystery. Love is the most ubiquitous subject in the human experience.

Remember Tennyson's immortal lines in Locksley Hall, "In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love." In today's gender conscious, politically correct world, make that "young woman" and the target of either gender. Never mind. The condition, I have concluded, is not seasonal.

Nor is it physical. Fat people fall in love with thin people and vise versa. Tall people fall in love with short people and vise versa. Black people fall in love with white people, as well as every racial shade in between and vise versa. Dumb people fall in love with smart people and vise versa. It is a tangled web of illogic, a human puzzle with no resolution.

In my own personal explorations into this mystery, in my real life, not my fiction generating life, I've calculated that I was conceived on the cusp of spring and born on the cusp of winter. My wife on the other hand was conceived in the height of summer and born at the end of winter. It is doubtful that a computer program would have matched us. Nor can I find anything psychological, scientific or otherwise to unravel the mystery of why we fell in love and why we have been together as husband and wife as long as memory serves, meaning as forever as it gets. One wife, one husband, one enduring lifetime, swanlike marriage.

A matchmaking industry has sprung up on the internet, pulling out more dollars from mate-seekers, make that love-seekers, than pornography. This in itself is no odd comparison since, in an obvious way, the two enterprises are related. The idea behind this matching phenomenon is that intelligent people, searching with dollars in hand, can narrow down their potential pool of mates through a computerized compatibly index based on common values and like interests.

Actually, it's not a bad commercial idea, since it eliminates the bruising rat race of bar hopping, blind dating and hit-or-miss flirtation. It matches up like-minded individuals in a perfectly logical, calculating way to determine the risk level involved in actual mating. Does it have anything to do with love? I doubt it. Some people might get lucky and actually fall in love, which leaves only the longevity factor to deal with.

Like those Russian dolls that fit together and get smaller and smaller, love is a mystery within a mystery. Why doesn't it last in its most pristine condition? Why so many false positives? Why does love wither? Does familiarity breed animosity, loathing, hatred? Is love merely a temporary high, a fragile condition easily contaminated and destroyed by the nitty-gritty business of coping with reality?

I've used myself as a kind of guinea pig to test and contemplate the various manifestation of this phenomenon. The War of the Roses is a case in point. While it is only one of my 28 novels, it has defied time and, after 25 years, continues to resonate. The movie plays somewhere on the planet about three times a week and is now having a third life in live theater and a fourth life is contemplated in musical theater.

Its longevity baffles me, but I think it's because the story deals with the direct opposite of the ultimate high, love's exhilaration and joy, through hatred, dark deeds and even death. People must enjoy tales of destruction, especially when it comes to marriage, either as a cautionary exercise or the sheer excitement of seeing the damage unfold. It does not even matter what side they choose in the war between the parties.

It raises the question: Why is the ultimate end of the ultimate high so compelling?

Forgive me, but everything gets pretty much convoluted when dealing with the mysterious love question. People go round and round trying to understand it. Considering its consequences as a life-changing experience, love certainly deserves our attention and our most ardent investigative effort. Unfortunately, it leads nowhere. I can attest that the search for answers leaves only more questions. One can't even take comfort in the great Shakespeare quotation, "it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Actually, love signifies "everything." That's why people will move heaven and earth to find it.

1 comment:

James Larkhill said...

Like Warren love baffles me as well. And as a fellow writer i also feel it is one of the last mysteries that we all share and experience differently.

James Larkhill (poet)