My Arbitrary Valentine

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Soul mate (n) Someone for whom you have a deep affinity.

Many believe that there is only one true love, a soul mate. According to Greek mythology, human beings originally had four arms, four legs, and a single head with two faces. They were powerful and ambitious. Zeus, fearing their potential, split them all in two, condemning them to spend their lives searching for the other half – their eternal soul mate – for completion.

Humans, therefore, have an innate void to fill and wander the earth looking for their missing halves. Their one true love. As Jewel sings, “You were meant for me, and I was meant for you.”

Charlotte, the Park City Princess from the hit show Sex and the City, has a different theory. She claims (on the authority of a magazine article) that we get two great loves in our life, love that is “rare,” and love “that forever changes you, that shakes you to the core.”

How many of us actually believe these ill-fated theories? Are we doomed to a life of loneliness if we miss the opportunity to spot our one (or two) true love/s?

And how do you explain the statistics below:

  • In the U.S., 47% of first marriages end in divorce while 60- to 80% of second and subsequent marriages end in divorce
  • 80%-85% of societies around the world allow polygamous marriages
  • About 60% of men and 40% of women will have an affair at some point in their marriage
  • 86% of men and 81% of women admit they routinely flirt with the opposite sex.

In the Philippines, studies indicate that over half of married men have philandered or currently have mistresses. This is such a prevalent phenomena that Jullie Yap Daza wrote a best-selling how-to book for these queridas, entitled Etiquette for Mistresses: And What Wives Can Learn From Them.

Perhaps the reason human beings commit adultery or engage in serial monogamy is that there are multiple possible matches – hundreds perhaps – in the game of love, with each relationship just as intense, as deep, and true as true love can be. Perhaps our “perfect match” greatly depends on our current stage in life – our Mr. or Ms. Right Now.

Let’s face it: there are over 6 billion people in the world. How depressing to think that there may only be one or two possible mates. According to this statistic, you are more likely to die of drowning or get hit by lightning than to find your soul mate.

In the late ‘90s, after reading Anatomy of Love by Helen Fisher, I was convinced that the notion of a singular “true love” was a myth. During a gathering with friends, I proclaimed the virtues of the book and extemporized about the biology and physiology of “falling in love.”

According to Fisher, our romantic ideals and sexual preferences – from personality and physical characteristics of our beloved to situations that we find arousing – are formed between the ages of five and eight, and solidified in our teenage years. She refers to this as our “love map,” a template for our perfect mate formed in response to family, friends, experiences, and chance associations.

She also discusses the recipe for infatuation and its governance by our reptilian brain. Specifically, infatuation is intensified when one is in a state of emotional flux (thus, rebound romances), faced with adversity (a.k.a. the Romeo and Juliet effect), or when the significant other is shrouded in mystery (playing hard to get?).

She claims that once an individual is in a receptive state, “he or she is in danger of falling in love with the next reasonably acceptable person who comes along.” Love by random selection.

Infatuation creates a chemical storm in our brain akin to a cataclysmic earthquake, causing euphoria that lasts anywhere from 18 to 36 months. Unless infatuation is followed by sexual fulfillment, deeper attachment, and conscious commitment, “true love” fades. Perhaps this explains the spike in divorce rates in the fourth year of marriage?

And even while in the throes of romantic love, Fisher maintains that infatuation with others is possible. “It seems to be the destiny of humankind that we are neurologically able to love more than one person at a time. You can feel profound attachment for a long-term spouse, while you feel romantic passion for someone in the office or your social circle, while you feel the sex drive as you read a book, watch a movie, or do something else unrelated to either partner,” she states.

Shortly after reading “Anatomy of Love,” my buddy, Rafael Lim, gave me a copy of a Time magazine article by Roger Rosenblatt, entitled “My Arbitrary Valentine.” Rosenblatt states that we may choose to “…invent the fated-lovers theme as a protection against the discovery that we could hitch up with one of a hundred or a thousand others in a lifetime of circumstantial mingling and not know the difference. Worse, that we might not care.”

He also quotes Alice McDermott, author of the novel Charming Billy, who asserts that “Those of us who claim exclusivity in love do so with a liar’s courage: there are a hundred opportunities, thousands over the years, for a sense of falsehood to seep in, for all that we imagine as inevitable to become arbitrary, for our history together to reveal itself as only a matter of chance and happenstance, nothing unrepeatable or irreplaceable, the circumstantial mingling of just one of the so many millions with just one more.”

What does this mean to star-struck lovers? If your current true love doesn’t work out, don’t sweat it. There are hundreds of other possibilities, just be aware of your own “love map,” for better or worse. Long term relationships are a matter of choice. They require steadfast commitment, uncompromising patience and a sense of humor. Just ask my husband of 12 years.

And in the process of trying to fulfill your biological imperative, heed this advice from my friend, Jennifer Lust: “Love is like a bus. If you’re having a rough ride, just get off and jump on the next one.”

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2 responses »

  1. Great post, Christina! And interesting statistics. As my husband would say, “the one thing that keeps a marriage together is not love, but committment.” You are right. It is a matter of choice. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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