This €36bn crazy little thing called love



It’s a crazy little thing. It’s a burning flame. It means never having to say you’re sorry. It can make us feel over the Moon. Then again, it can hurt.

What is this thing called love asked Frank Sinatra in the Cole Porter song. Indeed. And, while February 14 marks the day universally when billions — €36bn this year, according to Retail Advertising and Marketing Association — will be spent world-wide on chocolates, flowers and God knows what else for couples to say in such an ostentatious way what could otherwise be conveyed in three little words, the mystery of what exactly love is still eludes us as much as ever.

Elusive though love may be, we have fought for it and died for it, sacked cities and built empires because of it, and penned great prose and poetry; have been inspired by it and paid homage to it, and had periods in our history when artists and their easels were the primary purveyors of it.

We have committed sin and done the dirty because of it and cheated and lied and cried over it and covered up to hide the illicitness of it. It has brought great men to their knees and left women forlorn and unfulfilled (come on lads, take heed).

Courtly love and romance has been the topic of literature throughout the ages, laid bare by writers like Yeats, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Hemingway, Dylan Thomas, Kafka, Bernard Shaw, Wilde, and Katherine Mansfield. Love is forever idealised by the enduring classics, Little Women, Jane Eyre, Pride And Prejudice, and Wuthering Heights.

Once upon a time, Mills & Boon was the ultimate in escapist chic, rose-tinted tales of love and romance entertained a generation of women for whom TV soaps and real-life mag- azines were still in the future. Today publishing houses cannot get enough romantic fiction to meet demands. Our own Cecelia Ahern excels at it. Mills & Boon still sell 200 million copies a year. And as for 50 Shades Of Grey or Netflix’s Sex Education, well, let’s not go there…

And then there is the food of love: the great and enduring songs that celebrate love, won or lost, like Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly with True Love, Nat King Cole’s When I Fall In Love, the Hollies’ The Air That I Breathe, the Beatles’ Yesterday or indeed Katy Perry’s I Kissed A Girl. Adele, meanwhile, has made a whole industry out of unrequited love.

In psychology, love is a clearly definable social phenomenon, with three differing components: intimacy, commitment, and passion. Intimacy, where two people share confidences and details of their personal lives, usually expressed in friendships and romantic love affairs. Commitment, on the other hand, the expectation that such a relationship is permanent.

And so to Valentine’s Day, and the last and most common love — sexual attraction and passion.

For women, they say, love and sex are somewhat inseparable while for men they are two distinct entities which supports the male argument that the heart should not be worried about what the dangly bits are up to.

I mean Love Island or Love Actually may well do it for women but for men it’s all down to Basic Instinct. The late Patrick Swayze may have had it goin’ on, but, when it comes to bedroom inspiration, clay-pot craft time just doesn’t cut it. Forget the soppy romance of Ghost, Basic Instinct’s infamous (and oft-parodied) interrogation is memorable for red-blooded men everywhere.

Meanwhile, modern day neuroscience gives us a definitive account of what love is or at least of what is going on inside of us when we fall into it. There are certain chemicals present in the brain when people fall in love. Testosterone seems important for both male and female sexual behaviour. Dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin are more commonly found during the attraction phase of a relationship [as in “what a dope I’ve been. She never fancied me all along”].

In the final analysis love is just a whole bunch of chemicals gone haywire in your brain.

On Valentine’s Day, haywire to the tune of €36bn.

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