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Monday, April 15, 2024

Column: Case of the stupids

You may remember my column from a few weeks ago, in which I mentioned the fact that it’s spring. Well, it’s still spring. And I’ve noticed that among our age cohort, spring seems to bring out certain … ahem … behaviors.

Don’t be coy, reader. You know what I’m talking about. Just check out the Quad on a sunny day and you’ll see clumps of canoodling couples — the air around them positively glowing with puppy love. It’s disgusting. It’s adorable. It’s dist-orable.

Ah yes, love. Amour, amore, al-hubb, or as my nana once called it, “a case of the stupids.” But what is it, exactly? Everybody likes to be in love, but people in love are too caught up to think critically about what they’re feeling and the rest of us losers are too busy with our Star Trek and herb gardening to care. It’s not so easy, therefore, to immediately define the darn thing.

But some scientists somewhere managed to find time in between falling in and out of love (hopefully with each other!) to figure out exactly what that evasive sensation actually is. And to no one’s surprise, it’s hormones.

To be more precise, the feeling of being in love comes from three hormones in particular and Radiolab fans can tune out this paragraph because I’m stealing it directly from the show. Meh, at least I cited my sources.

So first you’ve got your dopamine, which is the rush of happiness you feel around your sweetie. Then there’s norepinephrine, which is responsible for the physical attraction to one particular person. I like to think of this one as the Romeo and Juliet hormone, the one that turns you in to a dramatic teenager who is positive that if they can’t be with this one person forever then they don’t want to even live anymore so shut up, Mom, you don’t know anything about love!

OK, so those two hormones have kicked in and you’re a whirlwind of desire and affection. You and your boo are like two glorious deer, romping through the woods of romance. But hold up there Bambi because without the third member of the hormone party this relationship can’t last.

This final one is the hormone responsible for all kinds of feelings of affection — from the long-term love of married partners to the love you feel for your dog. It’s called oxytocin. It’s awesome.

Oxytocin is the hormone scientists credit for “pair-bonding” in all kinds of mammals — as well as parent-child and friend-friend bonds. Take a second to think about someone you love. Don’t you feel all warm and fuzzy? Wham! I just gave you a free hit of oxytocin.

Hey, speaking of things that make you feel great, have you ever read the Song of Songs? From the Torah/Old Testament? Now that is some good love poetry. It’s this long poem that narrates the courtship of a man and woman from both of their perspectives, with a chorus of maidens that pops in once in a while. And let me tell you, it is spicy.

Some scholars read the Song as an allegory for the divine love between God and the Jewish people or between Christ and the Church. That reading is part of a long tradition of eroticizing the relationship between the believer and the divine which is definitely not exclusive to Christianity. But if you’re interested you should look into medieval Christian theology some more because it gets raunchy.

Other scholars think it’s a super ancient Jewish wedding song that was accidentally included in the various texts that make up the Old Testament. A few even think it was written by Solomon himself or dedicated to him by some courtly poet. Regardless, it has inspired millennia of poets and it’s a pretty gorgeous piece of work.

Yes, love is all around you, from the Bible to the Quad to the inside of your own treacherous brain. Birds do it, bees do it, from time to time even awkward you’s and me’s do it. But if you find yourself in the throes of love, remember that as romantic as it seems at the time, like most good things in life, it all comes down to chemicals.

This column is dedicated to all the couples I keep seeing hooking up in the library. Really, y’all? The library?

If you’d like to accuse KATELYN HEMPSTEAD of being a love-hating harpy or bible-ruining infidel, you can reach her at khempstead@ucdavis.edu.

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