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41 The puzzle of Love

With Valentine’s Day at mid-month, February is the month of love and romance with cards, candy, flowers and gifts exchanged between loved ones. 

Love is everywhere. The language of love is universal. Amour, Amore, Amor, Liebe, Karlek, Mowg, Laska, Lyubof, Agape. By any name, love makes the world go 'round. People don’t just love, they "fall" into it, as if by accident. It causes broken hearts and offers the keys to happiness. People suffer incredible hardships and even give up kingdoms for it. 

For an analytic like me, this brings up the question - what is Love? What is this mysterious condition, at once a panacea and affliction? How does it come about? 

In real life, many appear to have selection criteria for love, or think they do. "Cute" (physically appealing) is usually at the top of the list; but then a cute girl, or guy, sounds stupid, and the attraction quickly declines. One bachelor I know keeps finding fault with all the women he meets — teeth too big, hair too long, etc., ad infinitum — which is why he is still a bachelor. 

It is interesting to note the different (and often conflicting) preferences. In some cultures "plump" may be attractive (indicating that the prospective mate is healthy and well-fed), while in the West "thin is in." A hero is often described as "tall, dark and handsome"; the villain is presumably short, pale-skinned and ugly. Of course, short girls would probably prefer short guys. Perhaps "dark" indicates a rugged, outdoor look, as opposed to a nerdy bookworm. But then, these days techy types are in style. And what exactly is ugly? Bald is usually negative, though Capt. Picard evidently attracts a lot of admiring females. 

Unaccountably, chance meetings bring "love at first sight" and the inexplicable attraction of "soul-mates." Fate changes everything. 

In the West, most people seek their own partners in the social environment — at church, in a bar, at work or at a party. But in some cultures young people don’t make their own choice. Parents feel that the young don’t have enough wisdom, and so they select partners for their children. The bride and groom may not even meet until the wedding day, though in modern times they may be allowed to see photos or even have a couple of discreet dates. Some claim a much better success rate for arranged marriages, over the seemingly random western selection process. But I suspect that the cultures where parental selection is common also have a strong prohibition against divorce, which skews the results-many couples remain in unhappy marriages. 

Today, computer-dating services make the process of finding a mate easy and very effective. Everyone posts their own description and a picture, with a list of their own preferences for a partner. The computer then selects likely candidates and puts them in touch. This process has yielded wonderful results for millions. Indeed, Love has bridged continents in this way. 

Whatever the selection mechanism, the success rate of marriage in the United States is somewhat less than fifty percent. We have been to weddings where the bride and groom seemed perfectly suited — and then they were divorced within a year. And too, we have wondered at the attraction between two totally different types, physically and socially very different people who are evidently still happy together after decades. The puzzle of love is difficult to decode. 

While on the subject of marriage: in spite of the old song: Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage, modern society has seen a big trend toward couples living together without going through any formalities, at least until they have children. Until the so-called "marriage tax" was eliminated, filing a joint tax return even had a financial disadvantage. 

Moving to a different plane, love does not simply refer to romance between the sexes — it is the special feeling between two people-same sex partners, parent and child, siblings, family, friends. Some people feel love for their pets, and it’s clearly reciprocal. 

As technology advances and computers become smarter, will machines become capable of love? In the Star Trek series, Data wants to experience love and sometimes gets close to an analysis of the "feeling." In the movie AI, a lifelike robot is imprinted with "love" that is unconditional, intense and indestructible. The mother loves the humanoid too, but rejects him when she has to choose between the synthetic child and her own natural son. 

And there are other kinds of love, which perhaps need different words. Some people are moved to great personal sacrifice for the love of humanity. Patriotic love is something greatly admired by compatriots, but despised by enemies. How does anyone fathom the love of a mother who can encourage her child to do a suicide bombing? 

And then, there is love of God — human love for an unseen spiritual being. The love of God is preached by all religions, but is something few can truly demonstrate beyond lip service. 

You know, I’ve never understood the bible story of God testing Abraham's love by asking him to sacrifice his first-born son, and then stopping him from committing murder only after he demonstrates a clear intent. 

For the cynic, there is always Tina Turner’s song: 

Whats love got to do with it?

What's love, but a second-hand emotion?

Who needs a heart, when a heart can be broken?

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