Unless you’ve been living under the protection of a blindfold, you have probably heard of E.L James’ Fifty Shades of Grey. But, this article is not about this book of soft sadism; it is about the hard sadism that is true love, the kind that lights our passions and then burns our hearts when things fall apart–sometimes catastrophically–leaving us feeling like love was invented by a sadistic God enjoying the misery of human beings who lose all will to live once their hearts have been shattered into a million pieces. So, why do we love when we know we could very well end up a hollow shell of a person wandering the desert of a pointless existence of constant pain and grieving?
1. Lust — Let’s just get this one out of the way shall we? Men and women alike have insatiable sex drives driven by a complex mixture of hormones, pheromones and a draw to what biologists describe as the perfect mate, i.e. someone who will bring us the most ideal offspring. When stimulated, our erogenous zones–of which the genitals and nipples constitute only a small proportion–immediately release a flood of chemicals which prepare us for sex. To a certain extent, our physiological reactions are completely involuntary and it is only through our enlightened natures that we resist our urge to proposition everyone who gives us these feelings.
2. Affection — All mammals need physical attention from birth. In fact, in a classic psychology study, Harry Harlow laid the foundation for attachment studies which found that animals — even when provided all their biological needs — will literally die from a lack of love when not given any physical affection. In the study, eight rhesus monkeys were tested.
“Harlow concluded that the infant monkeys had an innate need for contact comfort.”
It is important to note the gender of the comforter is not relevant. In short, when someone asks, “Did your mother not hug you enough as a child?” when you do something anti-social, they are perhaps making a deep, psychological statement, even if they don’t know it.
What does attachment theory mean for romantic love? Our innate need for comfort does not end once we become adults, but we naturally move into a phase when our biological need for lust and procreation mean that we generally replace the physical affection of our parents with that of a romantic partner. Foreplay, cuddling after sex and cuddling up to your favorite — ahem — romcom (or the latest Terminator film) are all part of our biological need for comfort.
3. Pain — Do we have a need for pain? What good can possibly come from having our heart dug out of our chest with a dull spoon? Well, it turns out that to be a happy and healthy individual, we must subject our bodies to stress. By overcoming stress, we are able to cope with new stresses that invariably enter our lives.
So, we need pain, or at least we need to learn how to cope with it. When something does challenge us, freezing up is not ideal; it would be better to take action, adapt, and move forward. But, knowing that pain is a healthy part of growth doesn’t help us when we feel like throwing ourselves off the Empire State Building after we lose all the lust and affection we once had with the person we once thought was our forever boo.
And this is where we need to remember that like the double entendre of 50 shades grey, which refers to the man and his 50+ sadomasochistic methods, there are also at least 50 shades of love, many of which involve losing someone. The one night stand, the week long sex-filled lustfest, the gay experiment, the straight experiment, the first time, the fifty year anniversary, the unexpected encounter in the elevator, the mile high, the affair on Ashley Madison exposed by North Korean Hackers — the list goes on. All shades of love take on their own shape and lustre (pun intended) and should be embraced and remembered fondly. Oscar Wilde said it best.
“Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead.”
[Photos by Matthew Lloyd, Frank Tewkesbury, Alexander Koerner, Baron/Getty Images]