The Inadvertent Cruelty of True Love

by JoHarrington

If only romance leads to 'true love', then are other relationships 'false'? Occupy Valentine's Day asks us to think about our messages.

Have you ever really thought about the words that we're using here? Or what the alternative would suggest?

True Love: The outpouring of emotion and romantic feeling towards a potential breeding mate. Usually expressed in flowers, gifts, verse and intimacy in each other's company.

Fake Love: By implication, the regard in which an individual is held by their family, friends, community, acquaintances, work colleagues and pets.

Rosetti: Sir Launcelot in the Queen's Chamber (1857)
Rosetti: Sir Launcelot in the Queen's Chamber (1857)

The Chemistry of True Love

We are literally off our faces on some powerful drugs, when we enter into romance. It's addictive and we crave our next fix.

Everyone acts irrationally when they fall in love. It's there in the actual phraseology - 'fall', as in to descend, 'in love', like that's a quagmire from which we will struggle to remove ourselves.

I've been there myself and it's an emotion so sweetly all-encompassing, that resisting it isn't an option.

I recall sitting in a passenger seat once, watching my then-boyfriend driving. I was fixated on a tiny area where his jaw hollowed at his neck. I remember dreamily thinking how much I loved that spot.

In reality, I was infatuated with all of him!  But that feeling was so over-whelming, so utterly everything, that I couldn't cope with it all at once. I focused on that bit of jawline, because it was small enough to comprehend.

It wasn't really my fault. Those early, heady days of romance had released two major chemicals into my blood-stream - serotonin and oxytocin.

LSD contains molecules which mimic the former. It's what causes hippies to stare endlessly at pretty pictures or the wallpaper.

Drugs like Ecstasy go even further. They trigger a release of your body's natural source of serotonin and allows it to swamp your senses. That's why those high on the drug are constantly gabbling that the world is too beautiful and they love everybody.

In the meantime, opiate ethanol and cocaine both work to imitate the natural effects of oxytocin. MDMA, which is widely used in amphetamines and ecstasy, forces your body to produce more oxytocin.

So I was staring at his jawline, because I was literally high. My own brain had flooded my sensibilities in such a way that I was, to all intents and purposes, simultaneously high on LSD, ecstasy, amphetamine, cocaine and  heroin. How can anyone expect rationality through that?

This does not happen when you're talking to your Mum, your best friend or the dog. Nobody expects it to. We wouldn't be able to live our lives, if we were in such a consistent state of intoxication every time that we experienced love.

It only happens with those whom we find sexually attractive, wherein lies the clue as to why it occurs. The swooshing of chemicals is simply a part of a biological imperative to facilitate the survival of our species. It makes us more willing to even contemplate conceiving and raising children.

Yet the sheer wonder of the feeling moves us to declare that this is 'true' love. It doesn't matter that personal history and experience begs to disagree. From the unconditional caring of family through to the shared adventures and support of our friends, rationality would point to much greater examples of love.

But romantic attraction isn't rational. It's not sustainable in the long term, for precisely the same reasons as taking LSD every day for a year isn't a good idea. It doesn't have to be, as that intensity of feeling was only designed to last long enough for procreation to take place.

For the family, friends and everyone else side-lined by the tunnel vision it produces, it's a period when interacting with the drunk individual is fraught with inadvertent cruelties and rejection. The love-sick only want the person who can make them feel so high.

Discover why we fall in love

Cupid's arrow is just a bit of poetic licence. In reality, sexual attraction sees our bodies awash with natural chemicals.

The Plight of Friends When Someone Falls in Love

In Western society, it's understood that no barriers should be placed in the way of romance, even if someone else is getting hurt.

The plans had been made weeks before. My friend and I were going to do something for New Year's Eve.

Initially it was to fly to Budapest and explore the candle-lit catacombs, but a cash-flow problem shelved that idea. Instead, we would travel closer to home or celebrate quietly in his front room.

Now there was a second factor. He had fallen in love. I spoke to him shortly before we were due to meet to see what he wanted me to bring. He gasped, "But I'm going out with my boyfriend!"

It was said so virulently, so violently, that I immediately backed away. I was shocked, but I was blaming myself. I should have seen this coming! Though, in my defense, the romance was only a few days old.

He softened, though there was still a note of censure, "I can't even remember saying I'd come out with you."  My memory flashed through Hungarian brochures and the resigned sigh, as we realized we weren't going. "Are you sure we did?"

I'd already lost. The whole weight of societal expectation was against me. No-one was going to support my feelings of rejection. It was a mere friendship against the enormity of romantic love. I have been here a dozen times or more with various people over the years.

Starting a relationship seems to bestow a license for behavior that would be deemed unacceptable in any other context. All bets are off. Long-standing arrangements, such as meeting up on a certain night every week or holidaying together, should be cancelled until further notice. Close friends are suddenly only in your presence under duress. They are not with you in mind or spirit. Their conversation is totally encapsulated in their sweetheart. There is no room in this scenario to hear about your concerns, your day, your issues.

Friends are there beforehand; and they will be the ones expected to pick up the pieces, should the romance all go wrong. In the meantime, they have to accept that, through no choice of their own, their whole lives have to change. There is a gap, which was once filled by the individual now in love. The result is a kind of mourning, yet it is a grief with sharper edges than usual.

They have to survive it vilified or in silence. Their friend's world view is now so restricted to thoughts and cravings for their lover, that nothing else remains. Prior conversations are lost to the ether. Attempting to remind them of anything pre-partner will elicit accusations of lying, misunderstanding, misconstruing what was really meant. In a very real way, it's the desperate tunnel vision of an addict securing their next fix.

Yet, unlike those reaching for heroin, this behavior is aided and abetted by cultural consent. Other friends might sympathize, family members might make the appropriate noises of consolation, but no-one will openly condemn the person falling in love. It's too cute. It's the natural way of the world. Expressing feelings of rejection or loss will merely hallmark you out as a child who doesn't understand these things.

There's only one permissible route to take, when confronted by the petty cruelties of those in love. That is to back away as quickly and politely as possible, then wait it out. The chemicals swilling through their bodies cannot last more than a year, before it levels out into a more sustainable emotion. Then they will be able to see again. Then they will be able to include others into their lives.

I swallowed my pride with my friend on the 'phone. I think I muttered something noncommittal like, "Yeah, maybe I did get it wrong."  Then extricated myself from the conversation as quickly as possible.

I called my sister-in-law and asked if I could tag along with her party instead. She was confused and asked what had happened to my previous plans. "Oh! He's got Falling-in-Love-itis."  I didn't have to say a single word in explanation. She grasped the whole situation simply from that.

So did everyone else. I never mentioned it again, because I learned my lessons well on that one, when I was just a child. But my sister-in-law was amused by the name that I'd given to the syndrome and shared it with those at the party. The sympathy came in little looks, brief smiles, the occasional gesture and hug, as well as the free drinks with a wink.

As long as the sharp end of the cruelties can be suffered in silence, then true love can be allowed to run its course. This love being, of course, the willingness to step back, forgive and be there to provide the shoulder to cry on, should the romance fall apart.

Find Out How to Cope With Friendships Tested to the Limit

You are not the first, the last nor even a rare case. Many others have experienced that tearing asunder and shared their survival tips.

Poll: Have you ever been side-lined by a friend in love?

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Other articles about Occupy Valentine's Day

Tumblr users are shouting, 'Down with couple-talism!' They are protesting the commercialization of love and the persecution of friendship.

That Was Then, This is Now

S.E. Hinton's novel, and the film based on it, tell the tale of a friendship destroyed by one of them falling in love.

After Mark is orphaned, he goes to live with the family of his best friend, Byron. For years the two boys are inseparable, but then Byron gets a girlfriend.

Byron ejects Mark from his life, which has a profound psychological effect on his rejected friend. It is a highly emotional, tense drama, with a disastrous conclusion.

The book and the film each place a slightly different emphasis on what occurs.

S.E. Hinton successfully steers us through a narrative, which tells a story without apportioning blame.The nuances of every relationship (romantic, family or friend) are equally explored.

Emilio Estevez's film screenplay is more overtly sympathetic to Byron, while producing a truly heart-breaking Mark.

Explore this classic story of broken friendship

Anti-Valentine Articles on Wizzley

Not into all the romantic, profiteering twaddle that permeates society on February 14th? Then you should throw a party! And here are the reasons why.
Tumblr users are shouting, 'Down with couple-talism!' They are protesting the commercialization of love and the persecution of friendship.
Sick to death of all the romantic fuss over Valentine's Day, or has it just come at the wrong time for you this year? Work out your frustrations with a hearty whack at a piñata!
Updated: 01/16/2015, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 09/19/2012

As we all grow up, friendships have to change a little. But the strong ones still remain. :)

Mira on 09/19/2012

Nice article! I realize now I was lucky to have friends and spend time together no matter what. It became harder when some of them started having kids, but not impossible.

JoHarrington on 02/02/2012

Oh! That's so sad about what your friend said. It's obviously the loss of the people who didn't invite you both. Friendship has to be more than religion and social convention. There seems to have been a fair sprinkling of hypocrisy in their regard.

On the off-chance that I should ever marry, I will invite you both.

Ember on 02/02/2012

I have dealt with that so many times before. I had a set of experiences that were actually strangely different as well. I've told you many stories about my undergraduate experience at a small private Christian university. And its all too true that a majority of girls who attended that university were looking for husbands, not necessarily over their education, but alongside. But 'ring by spring or my money back' was a motto at our school. You were the oddball in the group if you didn't have a significant other, or at least talking to someone, etc. So in that way, dynamics of friends in relationships were really different, it was harder to find a friend not in a relationship than one who was, and everyone did everything together.

My favorite part was now that we've all graduated, our friends are all getting married, one by one. I've gotten phone calls about a few, if I wasn't on campus when the engagement happened. I would leave them happy comments on facebook. Then one day I got a phone call from a friend who said, quite angry and upset actually, "I've come to a conclusion, Ember." "And what would that be?" I asked. "The past four years of our lives were a total lie. We were only accepted by our peer groups because it was the atmosphere of the university." A statement to which it was very hard to not reply, "uh...duh" but instead I asked her to explain how she came about realizing this and she went onto say that for these girls marriage is like that penultimate part of this time of their lives but that neither of us had gotten an invite to a single one, or were asked to be a part of it any of them, not even from people who she thought were more than peers or acquaintances, but actually really good friends. She had been convinced that despite the fact that she had admitted to being an atheist these people had really been able to set aside their differences and had really formed a bond and a relationship as friends with her. But in reality no one considered her important enough to share their important day with her. "No one actually liked me" she finished :C

I promised her that should I ever get married, she'll be a bridesmaid no questions asked.

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