What is love?
(Not just a Haddaway song)
I was a serial monogamist addicted to falling in love, and yet I wondered if true love existed.
In the last ten years, I’ve fallen for a science geek soccer star, southern historian, avant garde furniture-making trustafarian, unemployed alcoholic, and competitive skiing possum trapper, amongst other boys, men, and man-boys, but within a year of a monogamous relationship, my feelings always fizzled and I fled, in search of my next love affair.
For years, I downed the serotonin, norepinephrine, adrenaline, and dopamine cocktail that created the ‘love struck’ sensation unleashed by my brain like a hormonal happy hour. Thoroughly love buzzed, I’d obsess over text messages from my love interest and fantasize about the post-coital conversations we’d have about our future together.
When we fall in love, studies show that the chemical composition of our blood work resembles that of obsessive-compulsive disordered patients. As high-priestess Beyoncé observes, people really do get “Crazy In Love.”
To move from the ‘attraction’ phase to the ‘attachment’ phase of a relationship, couples need their cerebral glands to release oxytocin and vasopressin into the nervous system to create a bonded feeling. Orgasms release oxytocin, making (good) sex especially important in creating chemical bonds between couples.
My ‘O’ faces were genuine but biology wasn’t sufficient for me overcome the emotional baggage I left unpacked so I could hit the road at any moment.
By the time my boyfriends were talking marriage, I’d be hit by hellish hormonal hangover, and picked apart the relationship until I was convinced I needed to dump my love interest and head for a new zip or even country code.
I wondered: what ingredients did I need to create a long-term relationship? How could I stop myself from seeking the next love fix?
Amazonian love guru for the one percent, Patti Stanger, says, “[Serial monogamists] can’t just go with instinct because their instincts are off. They have to carefully select someone and the cool their jets while they’re really evaluating if they’re the right person for them.” As a serial monogamist, I needed to slow my romance roll and take time to decide what I wanted from a romantic relationship besides the adrenaline-pumping thrill of falling, eyes closed and headfirst, in love.
I needed romance rehab and I got it in the most unexpected form.
I’d been dating SportsFan for about a year and we had yet to say, ‘I love you.’
Meanwhile, I lived in mom’s house and worked as a preschool librarian, while I figured out my next life move. Over the past six years, I’d bounced from Brooklyn to New Zealand to Thailand to Australia, back to New Zealand to try to resuscitate my love affair with my possum trapper skier turned beekeeper—unsuccessfully—to Los Angeles and then home to the DC area.
Because of an undiagnosed autoimmune disease that made it difficult to walk, I had to rule out my Peace Corps plan. As much as I enjoyed teaching literacy skills to fancy babies in my librarian job, my career was stalled out. I’d never published any of my writing (or even tried).
Worse, I’d become the late-twenties basement dwelling adult child cliché and I couldn’t see myself affording a room in DC proper—not even in a one-bathroom row house shared with 15,000 recent undergraduates—any time soon. So I focused on falling in love with SportsFan instead of my career paralysis and fear that my future looked bleak.
As I scooted down the basement stairs on my butt to minimize the lightning bolts that shot through my legs, I’d have the same imaginary conversations with SportsFan over and over again. In my mind, SportsFan and I talked about our future together, the wedding in Rock Creek Park, the honeymoon in Bora Bora, cocktail parties with other power couples. In reality, my opaque future only got darker.
Two giant toadstools popped up on my neck and collarbone a week after my twenty-eighth birthday. Several invasive tests later, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
When I texted SportsFan the cancer diagnosis and he texted back, “Be tough,” I should have intuited that he wasn’t feeling the norepinephrine induced love as much as I, but cancer made me cling to the fake future I’d imagined for our relationship.
A couple months into chemo, SportsFan admitted that my cancerous condition was too much to handle with his burgeoning career—this wasn’t what he signed up for—and we parted ways. We’re still friends.
A friend encouraged me to get back into the dating scene despite the cancer. “The best way to get over someone is to get under someone,” she repeated.
So I Facebook messaged Paul, a dark-haired, handsome, and lightly accented acquaintance I’d known in high school, and the romance rehabilitation began.
Our love blossomed beneath buzzing fluorescent hospital lights. We held hands in sterile waiting rooms and snuggled in my hospital bed while a bleeping medical equipment orchestra played beside us. Paul didn’t mind that I was hooked up to a cephalopod that dripped medications through plastic tubes implanted in my chest, or even that I interrupted our make outs to puke. He stuck around when, in a moment of self-doubt and meanness, I told him only a mentally ill person would fall for a cancer patient with such low survival odds. He forgave me as we pieced together puzzles from the games shelf in the stem cell transplant ward, watching the view from my window for helicopter arrivals on the rooftop hospital helipad.
With Paul, I learned what love is:
Love is… sleeping on a plastic cushioned Lay-Z-Boy in case your bald, bloated girlfriend needs help pulling her IV pole to the bathroom for another explosive diarrhea experience.
Love is… scooping the litter boxes and picking up surprises left by the resident litter box resister in the bathtub when your crazy Q30 cat lady is neutropenic and can’t risk contact with poopy pathogens.
Love is… listening to your cat lady’s midnight steroidal rant and holding her when she sobs.
Love is… learning how to insert a catheter into your lover’s urethra in case the radiation damage gets worse.
Love is… supporting your significant other when she needs an elbow because her legs will never work the same.
Love is… lolling around the apartment in matching onesies with your lover for days at a time just because you enjoy each other’s company.
Love is… coding your darling’s blog even when you’re so busy you barely sleep.
Love is… encouraging your partner to pursue her writing career and forbidding her from settling for a mediocre life.
Sometime, between cancer, chemo, radiation myelitis, and my continuing recovery, I rehabbed my ‘love struck’ addiction. Our relationship isn’t perfect and sometimes I still feel the urge to hit the road, but feeling certain that Paul returns my love and wants to build a life together fulfills a need much deeper than chasing snow bros for serotonin fixes in another hemisphere.
Read “Love Is… (Holy Shit I Have Cancer)” by Dr. Elena Miller on Huffington Post: Generation Why for inspiration, and then click here to share what ‘love is’ to you in the EQ February 2014: What is love?
Happy Valentine’s Day.
Enjoy those hormone cocktails.
 Your Amazing Brain, Love and Sex: The Science of Love, http://www.youramazingbrain.org/lovesex/sciencelove.htm (14 Feb 2014).
BBC Science: Human Body & Mind, The Science of Love, http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/hottopics/love/index.shtml (14 Feb 2014).
 Stanger, Patti, Bravo: The Millionaire Matchmaker, Patti’s Vlog Everyone Gets A Valentine!, http://www.bravotv.com/the-millionaire-matchmaker/season-7/blogs/patti-stanger/pattis-vlog-everyone-gets-a-valentine?page=0,2 (6 Feb 2014)