A couple of years ago I read a book by a psychologist called Frank Tallis, called “Love Sick” I went through a phase of reading pop psychology books during a turbulent phase in my love life and had just recently discovered that I was indeed a “Woman Who Loved Too Much” (albeit the wrong gender) and that it was also “Called a Break-Up Because it’s Broken” I was also using a special lamp for self diagnosed seasonal affective disorder (interesting diagnosis as I’ve always been depressed in the summer) and reading lots of cognitive behavioural therapy books about anxiety and depression. I soon got bored of it all, of course. The lamp helped a bit I think but only in that it meant I had to sit still for 30 minutes each day.
Frank Tallis spoke to me in my state of disillusionment at the time and answered the doubts about love harboured by poorly concealed inner cynic. He proposed the theory that love is actually a name for a quite debilitating mental illness which afflicts many with transient madness and in some cases is even terminal. How many murders and suicides are motivated by love that has gone awry? Here’s a quotation from his website:
“The symptoms of love are many and varied. What’s intriguing is that if we list them- for example, preoccupation with the loved one, tearfulness, euphoria- and check them against accepted diagnostic criteria for mental illness, we find that most ‘lovers’ qualify for diagnoses of obsessional illness, depression or manic depression. And this is no superficial relationship. Neurochemical and brain scanning investigations have shown a considerable overlap between ‘the brain in love’ and ‘the brain in the throes of mental illness’ Why should this be? Why is love experienced as a kind of madness?”
Scary stuff, yet at the time of reading the book I was still actively seeking it out. I wanted more madness. I’ve always hated that horrible cliché that the time you stop looking is when you find a partner. Statistically this has got to be untrue and makes no sense. It’s just a perception we have. It’s hard to stop hoping for something that you really want.
My first experience of love, aged 16 was pure infatuation. I had a bet going on with a friend who was 9 months older than me that I could lose my virginity before she did. She’d managed it at 16 and 9 months and I needed to catch up quickly. If I wasn’t to lose face I needed to lose my big V. This is probably not the best reason for losing your virginity, by the way.
I won the bet and gained an infatuation of startling intensity within days. The boy, a 17 year old from my school, was equally infatuated and we were archetypal love sick teenagers. I mooned about, didn’t sleep, didn’t eat. I was nauseated and restless and whole heartedly obsessed. I adored everything about him for about 14 days then I suddenly snapped out of it and realised that he was a bit of a knob with a very dull Doctor Who fixation and mild body odour issues. I then spent weeks trying to get rid of him and he took a (thankfully small) drug overdose complete with dramatic note addressed to me. I found it all very exhausting.
My subsequent experiences of love were at times, equally exhausting. I’d love to get back the hours I’ve spent thinking obsessively with a churning stomach. I’d love to take back the psychopathic text messages brimful of meanness and a fine vocabulary of inventive swearwords. I’d like to have not experienced the drunken stupors and crying fits and the bleakness of spirit. I’d like to have not experienced the misdirected self hatred after rejections and infidelities. I suspect many of my long suffering friends also wished they'd not gone through this with me too. I think Frank Tallis had a point in many ways and as I mooned about swamped with fatigue and full of pain after another bad experience I’d hold him up as an icon.
However, I still sought it out sporadically, lurching from relationships to relationships with minimal intervals in between. Along with the lows there were highs. The exhilarating feeling of experiencing someone’s passion for you is one not to be missed, even if that passion does turn out, ultimately, to be rather weak and transient. It’s a fine sensation to feel excitement when he calls, to tremble when you see him and have a head full of dreams. Mental disturbance isn’t all bad. I saw it as a risk worth taking, a pay off worth paying for.
I’m not overtly romantic in a traditional sense and like to think of myself as a cynic. I once told a friend who’s wedding I couldn’t attend that I’d go to the next one (it turned out I was right and I did indeed attend number two). I also once said to an annoying taxi driver, who was boasting about spending thousands on his daughter’s wedding, that it was important to make it special as getting married was something you experience only 3 or 4 times in your life. I was moderately contented on my own and met Paul entirely by accident in an improbable place after a long period of single life. I wasn’t seeking a new partner but equally wasn’t not seeking one.
I still think Frank Tallis is right. Love is a strange biochemical process based on neuro-transmitters with a lot of societal pressures and psychological foundations. You know what though? Mental illness never felt so fine. Maybe I’ve got wiser as I’ve got older. Miracles do sometimes happen even to the cynical non-believers.