The Million Dollar Question: What’s Love?

Somehow the fates have smiled upon you. Much like in Slumdog Millionaire (Slumdog Millionaire: A Novel $16), you’ve defied seemingly insurmountable odds and have made it to the final question on, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? What’s more, you have all three lifelines. The question, “What is love?” The four choices pop-up on the screen. Your first reaction is an irrepressible ear-to-ear grin. Almost instantly, your glee morphs into your second reaction: terror! Wisely, you decide to use your first lifeline. Foolishly you decide to call your drinking buddy, Dave. “Dude!” says Dave. “‘What is Love?’ Haddaday! Chris Kattan, Will Ferrell, The Roxbury Guys! Saturday Night Live (Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, as Told By Its Stars, Writers and Guests by Tom Shales- $16.99).” Mercifully, the time runs out and the call ends just as Dave starts belting out the chorus. More mercifully, that wasn’t one of the options. As is tends to happen when you’re called upon by the forces of fate to focus deeply, your mind instantly takes off in a million directions at once. “I’ve been in love before, I think. I’ve taken psychology classes. I’ve taken philosophy classes. Heck, I’ve taken biochemistry classes! I’ve got a liberal arts degree from State! Ack!” You sigh. A commercial break would certainly be nice. Fate smiles (smirks?). The commercials roll. During your days at State, you did take those classes. As often as not, when you did show up you were sober. Psych 101. The class with the hippie professor who passed EVERYone. You loved that class. You remember that wonderful book by Deborah Anapol, The Seven Natural Laws of Love, ($17). This is the book that suggests that love is a force of nature. Love is bigger than you are. “Love does not come with conditions, stipulations, addendums or codes. Love is inherently free. Love cannot be imprisoned nor can it be legislated. Love is not a substance, not a commodity, nor even a marketable power source. Love has no territory, no borders, no quantifiable mass or energy output.” Ah heck, you were 19 and this was poetic and that cute little brunette — the one sitting just one row up and a little to the left — kept nodding her head in agreement with the prof. This was truth! While the second commercial queued up, your reverie halted, twisted and reengaged with another collegiate memory. This one was in a biochemistry class. Amazing how, following your 37 percent on the final exam, your brain allowed you to suppress it. Amazing how in perfect PTSD Technicolor it returned. Oddly? Fittingly? You remembered an essay by physicist Jim Al-Khalili that your biochem prof shared on Valentine’s Day more than a few years ago. Al-Khalili, the guy who wrote that wonderful book, Paradox: The Nine Greatest Enigmas in Physics ($15), whittled love down to: “Biologically, love is a powerful neurological condition like hunger or thirst, only more permanent. We talk about love being blind or unconditional, in the sense that we have no control over it. But then, that is not so surprising since love is basically chemistry. While lust is a temporary passionate sexual desire involving the increased release of chemicals such as testosterone and estrogen, in true love, or attachment and bonding, the brain can release a whole set of chemicals: pheromones, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin and vasopressin. However, from an evolutionary perspective, love can be viewed as a survival tool — a mechanism we have evolved to promote long-term relationships, mutual defense and parental support of children and to promote feelings of safety and security.” (Hehehe, you giggle. He said, “pheromone.”) At that point, Regis places his hand on your shoulder. Not as comforting a feeling as you’d hoped, but hey, it’s his show. “We’ve got another commercial after this and then we’re back live. You’ve still got two lifelines left. Want a mint?” Time for one more flashback? Youbetcha! You remember discovering how philosophy was more than your opinion versus your idiot roommate’s opinion. You remember how much fun The Duck That Won the Lottery: 100 New Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher by Julian Baggini ($15) was. You remember when posed with the question, “What is Love?” Baggini responded with: “The answer remains elusive in part because love is not one thing. Love for parents, partners, children, country, neighbor, God and so on all have different qualities. Each has its variants — blind, one-sided, tragic, steadfast, fickle, reciprocated, misguided and unconditional. At its best, however, all love is a kind a passionate commitment that we nurture and develop, even though it usually arrives in our lives unbidden. That’s why it is more than just a powerful feeling. Without the commitment, it is mere infatuation. Without the passion, it is mere dedication. Without nurturing, even the best can wither and die.” Now Regis talks again. This time to everyone. “Welcome back,” he greets the audience, TV viewers (including everyone you’ve ever known who still breathes) and you. Trying to gather your senses (as if that has ever worked before), you ask Regis to poll the audience. As luck would have it, the audience has no clearer a concept of what love is than you do. All four of the options come back with equal support. “I guess love is a ‘Many Splendored Thing,’” sings Regis to you. You smile and chose not to smack the show’s host. “Okay,” you concede, “let’s try the 50-50.” And with that, the two answers that you were already certain were wrong, are removed from the list, leaving you as clueless as you were at the beginning of the question. After you offer Regis the wrong answer, and after the audience is done sighing, and after you realize how gleeful that everyone in America who wasn’t expecting to share in your windfall must be with your failure, morosely you turn to the host. At this point Mr. Philbin looks at you and smiles. “Kid, ‘What is Love?’ Did you really think that you had a chance?” No. Not really.

Tags: book review, love, Reader's Lounge


Scott Harris

Liberal, Jewish and vegan. Scott has six kitties, a dog, four kids and a wife who saves peoples' lives. He operates EVERYbody Reads bookstore, 2019 E. Michigan Ave. in Lansing.

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