The Chemistry of Love (Part Two)

chemistry of love
In Part One of this article, I described the chemicals that our bodies produce when we love, or fall in love, and how each chemical makes us feel. In this second part, Dave the Romantic debates with Dave the Cynic about the nature of love, and whether love it is essential to a healthy, meaningful life, or just our body’s way of taking control of our behaviour…or perhaps both.

Dave the Cynic: Look at you! Pathetic. Goofy smile one minute, heartbroken and teary-eyed the next. Dave the Blogger has already explained that each person is nothing more than a watery bag of organs, organs that collectively co-evolved the body and the brain to help look after their mutual survival. Our brain is just a feature detection system, their early warning system for potential dangers, and their navigation control and information processing system.

Our belief that this brain is somehow ‘us’ is sheer vanity. What ‘we’ are is merely a figment of reality, a complicity, an emergence of the pandemonium of the body’s semi-autonomous processes. That’s what an organism is. That is our unromantic purpose. You, all giddy with love, are merely doing what your body commands you to do by flooding your brain with hormones.

Thought you’d got past all that, eh, Mr. How to Save the World? There you were behaving rashly, ready to toss aside all the programming your body had invested in you over all these years. Now look at you. An addict to your body’s chemicals, to love and that Second Life fantasy world. You think you’re actually connecting with people through those ‘avatars’, little cartoon characters, with your soppy romantic lines and your ridiculous notion to practice Intentional Community in a place that doesn’t exist.

Dave the Romantic: At least I feel something, not like you, you smug zombie. I’ve learned as much about myself in two weeks of opening my heart and soul to the people in this strange, wonderful world, people who are looking for ideas, connection, meaningful conversation, friendship and, yes, love, than I’ve learned in twenty years of sterile study of how the world really works and better ways to live and make a living.

Without love, there is nothing, no meaning, it’s all abstraction, rhetoric. In Real Life everyone (except the fools) has given up on change, on possibility, on imagination. Most people just sleepwalk through life, content with not feeling anguish or pain. Except for the few brief moments they feel real, ecstatic love. That love is so scary everyone in Real Life who has it is terrified to lose it. And they usually do.

Second Life may be an artificial world but it is a liberating one, ripe with possibility, limited only by the imagination and not the dreary constraints that have us in a stranglehold in Real Life. Second Life gives you a second chance, to try something completely different without fear of loss or failure, to be really yourself, aching, vulnerable, exposed.

And the rewards, of finding others on a similar bold journey, go far beyond love. They include genuine friendship, much deeper and faster than is possible in the real world where everyone hides behind their persona, their mask of conformity and respectability, and never comes out. The real world is a place of fear, cruelty, emotional and imaginative poverty.

Dave the Cynic: You self-righteous bastard! Who the hell are you to say what other people feel, to judge them for who you think they are. You’re just projecting your own emotional shallowness on others. Just because you’re intelligent, informed and imaginative, doesn’t mean you have one inkling about others’ feelings, or the depth of them.

What you do in Second Life you could do even more fully in Real Life, if you had the courage. Let me tell you something about love that goes beyond the simple chemistry Dave the Blogger explained yesterday. No one knows anyone else. No one knows what it is like to be someone else, or how they feel. What you love in other people is your idealistic imagining of what you want them to be. And if they say they love you, they’re really saying they love who they imagine you might be, who they wish you were. All that chemical soup is just the lubrication for the illusion you want to believe, what your body wants you to believe.

Reread the words you said to her, and hers to you, in the stark light of day. Look at the picture of the two of you, cuddling. What a fraud. At least she’s smart enough to know it’s all a fantasy.

Dave the Romantic: You seriously mean to tell me you believe the people who fall in love in Real Life have something that’s more real?

Dave the Cynic: Not at all! That’s exactly my point. Both in Real Life and in Second Life, we love who we imagine the object of our affection to be. We have no idea who they really are. Our bodies drug us with the chemicals of love, so that we believe all the sentimental crap about ‘touching souls’ and ‘two becoming one’. It’s just our bodies’ way to get us to procreate, to stay together, and to keep us in line so we don’t do anything risky, threatening to their well-being. ‘We’ just do what they tell ‘us’.

Dave the Romantic: So how do you explain the fact that, since I’ve been filled with these chemicals of love, I’ve learned so much about myself, about what’s been missing in my life, and I’m more aware of others in Real Life too, and strangers in Real Life look at me differently, as if I’ve melted. And I care about people more. Yesterday I cried, all-out, for the first time in years. If these chemicals are to further a fantasy, why do I feel so much deep, real-world emotion?

Dave the Cynic: When the chemicals of love take control, you lose your ability to judge what’s really happening, and you trust people more than you objectively would or should. You become hugely vulnerable, so when what you thought someone you loved felt turns out to be utterly different from your romantic imagining, you’re devastated. As an artist and idealist, your imagination is especially strong, you invent a great fantasy, and when it’s shattered you fall especially hard.

Face it, who are most of the people in Second Life? They’re the same motley crew you’re not terribly fond of in Real Life. Lonely middle-aged men and women looking for something to fill the emptiness in their lives — most of them in loveless marriages, or separated (the chemicals of love only last so long).

Young people with low self-esteem: The men trying to make conquests they know they couldn’t make in Real Life. The women yearning to be noticed, called pretty, lusted after, possibly for the first time in their lives. Deeply unhappy, needy people. Bored people whose Real Lives are so unbearably bland they escape to Second Life because anything seems better than the monotony and monochrome of their imagination-less ‘reality’.

You don’t care about such people in Real Life, do you? So why do you care about them behind their masks in Second Life? Because they flatter you with their attention, with their cute little cartoon faces and perfect skin and flawless figures and scanty clothes? Because they are so willing to let you fuck their unreal cartoon bodies for hours just to get the attention and appreciation no one else will give them in Real Life? Because when they cry on your character’s shoulder or giggle in its ear in Second Life you can’t see the desperate, pathetic looks on their real faces, the boredom in their real eyes, the imperfections of their unglamorous real bodies, and they can’t see yours?

Ask yourself why you can’t bear to listen to their real voices, and speak to them with yours, hiding instead behind the fantasy of text messages you can both read as coming from lovely young voices with perfect, unhesitant articulation? Do you hate the real world so much?

Dave the Romantic: Perhaps you’re right. Perhaps I do love the natural world in Real Life and loathe the civilized world of seven billion mostly-pathetic humans — most of them ugly, voracious, stupid, ignorant, emotionally crippled or dead, devoid of imagination and racked by personal insecurities that make them dysfunctional. Real Life is a world of misery and anger and thoughtless devastation and horrific scarcity, scarcity even of love, and all the petty jealousy and greed and possessiveness and deprivation and heartbreak that brings.

So what’s wrong with wanting to live in a world where there is no violence, no scarcity of anything, including love, no ugliness, no poverty or deprivation. Of course many of the people in Second Life are dysfunctional, but many, with their brave disguises, seem merely unfulfilled emotionally, looking for love and, given a second chance, open to it and generous with it. And of course I’m disturbed that so many people bring their emotional baggage into Second Life with them. You can work around them.

I don’t care if it’s idealism and fantasy and illusion. You argue that what we imagine we love in Real Life is no different. And maybe as you say the feelings we feel for others are largely the result of imagining them to be, and feel, what we want them to be and feel, not who they really are, in both worlds. What’s so terribly wrong with that? What’s so great about reality, anyway?

If it fills me with feelings of love and has the same effect on them, why is that any less ‘real’ than love in the real world? My polyamory Intentional Community idea is a model, and of course it’s not a completely realistic simulation of what such a community would be like in Real Life, but what of that? We can learn from it, experiment, make it up, have fun with it. Live in our own collective fantasy novel. Much of what makes, and challenges, an Intentional Community is the social interaction, and we can certainly simulate that. Is that really so pathetic? If two people in Second Life have real feelings, deep affection, as if they’ve forged a true, intense friendship, who’s to say that’s not real?

You say I should be doing something in Real Life for others instead, and helping them, being an activist, making the world a better place. But if I make someone happier, wiser, feel better about themselves in Second Life, why is that not just as valuable? We only accomplish anything in life through what we impart to those we meet, one on one, those we touch. I’ve touched those I’ve met in Second Life, and they’ve touched me. We’ve learned, cared, helped each other, and made love more abundant in the process. I love them as surely as if I’d met them in Real Life.

So, if this is just a dream, a fantasy, show me that it’s any less so than Real Life, or that the self-changes and the changes I can evoke in others in this beautiful dream world are any less real and important than what I could do in Real Life. Tell me, with a few scavenged late night hours each day, what would you have me do instead?

If I’m destined to be addicted to love, what does it matter which dream world I choose to be addicted in?

Category: Human Nature

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8 Responses to The Chemistry of Love (Part Two)

  1. lugon says:

    In Real Life everyone (except the fools) has given up on change, on possibility, on imagination. Hey, that’s not a very romantic thing to say. :-) And it’s not even accurate. I may be awfully wrong, but I like to count myself among those who have seen things change for the better on a small scale (starting with the notion of possibility, imagination and connecting them to Real Life muscles), and wonder how it might (or might not) scale if we try it in several-orders-of-magnitude scopes.Back to reading your piece … :-)

  2. lugon says:

    Second Life gives you a second chance, to try something completely different without fear of loss or failure, to be really yourself, aching, vulnerable, exposed. This makes me think of something I read about … hang on … reevaluation counseling; one of their “tricks”, or perhaps their important “trick”, is to create couples where they intently listen to each other in turns (I “just talk muy mind out” for 5 minutes, and then I “just listen with full attention” for 5 minutes, so there’s a nice balance). This happens in Real Life, but I’m guessing it may be the same in Second Life. Judging from some descriptions, it may well be similar to extracting a thorn from your toe: liberating.Most of us don’t have a chance to do that in Real Life. I even thought there might be a business in creating such couples over the internet: self assisting each other to think out loud about each one’s Real Life. Just because many of us think with words … no: what I’m trying to say is we think with conversations.You find conversations are free-er in SL?

  3. lugon says:

    If I’m destined to be addicted to love, what does it matter which dream world I choose to be addicted in? Some people learn to drive a car using a simulator. If the simulator is good enough, then they can drive a real car. Conversely, real cars are some times too large or otherwise challenging, that it makes sense to learn in a simulation instead.There’s lots of cr*p in our brains: learned helplessness, too many words (aka “fixed concepts”), and more. Even Robinson Crusoe counted weeks and months which were part of his cultural baggage!We may need to speak out our minds, then cry our eyes out, then get going. Whatever it takes. (lugon’s organs speaking, I guess.)

  4. Dave Pollard says:

    Hey Lugon, what a great bunch of responses! Please understand that this is ‘devil’s advocate’ stuff…I’m not saying ‘I’ really believe these arguments, just that they’ve occurred to me in the course of my thinking about Real Life and Second Life.

  5. lugon says:

    In find the whole exploration quite fascinating, I must say. :-)

  6. Interesting topic. I, too, have felt real emotions for people through the Internet that I’ve never met…not in Second Life (I’m avoiding that like the plague)…but long ago before the Web was even fully developed. Of course, I think this same phenomenon has been occurring for much longer via the postal service…love letters, penpals, etc. What strikes me as important is that there are many examples of where “love” formed through a virtual channel just doesn’t translate well into “real” life…too many superficial details (e.g. physical characteristics, mannerisms, quirks, even voice quality) get in the way very quickly. That doesn’t seem to happen moving from RL into VR. It begs the question of what aspect of a person you’re actually connecting with online…and is it deficient because it ignores so many critical factors…or somehow more real because it bypasses all of the selfish preconceptions and links you directly to the core of that other being? Hmmm…

  7. David Parkinson says:

    This whole SL business is really weirding me out. And please understand that I don’t mean that in a (superficially) judgmental way. I’m fascinated by what you’re discovering out there (in there?) and bringing back to show us and tell us about. I know that I don’t have the constitution or time for it, but it’s remarkable to have such a good explorer sending the reports. Like subscribing to Virtual Geographic Magazine. ;-)It’s refreshing to look in on a discussion of something like SL that doesn’t fall into the usual dichotomies and easy assessments. Thanks.

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