Darling, I don’t love you anymore
Sun, Nov 18, 2007
The Sunday Times
IF DIVORCES are on the rise, what does it say about society and that crazy little thing called love?
That ‘I love you’ doesn’t mean that much anymore?
That values like faithfulness, commitment, loyalty and patience are in short supply?
That the belief that the family is the building block of society – and marriage the foundation of the family – is being chipped away?
That relationships (that is, people) are disposable?
That love is no guarantee a marriage will last?
That marriage is no guarantee love will last?
And that even if love doesn’t last, marriage is no longer the glue that holds couples and families together?
That – and this is the most tragic bit – love between a couple can actually die?
It was reported last week that more marriages here are ending in divorce, and more couples are calling it quits sooner.
Divorces and annulments hit a record high of 7,061 last year, up from 6,909 in 2005. Two decades ago, the figure was 2,608. A growing number are also splitting up after fewer than five years of marriage.
A recent study of the United States, Russia and the Scandinavian countries suggested that the trend is not confined to Singapore. It found that the traditional ‘seven-year itch’ has been replaced by the five-year itch.
In the 1950s, the rule of thumb was that amber lights would flash when a marriage hit the seven-year mark. Today, couples are at their greatest risk of divorcing just before their fifth wedding anniversary.
THE thing about folks like me who’ve never been married and who are maybe harbouring a secret longing to be (if we find the right person, of course) is that we’re incurable romantics.
We believe in the power of love. We get tearful at weddings. We actually think people mean it when they utter that till-death-do-us-part bit in their vows.
We imagine married life to be almost like a music video in a Hindi movie, two love-struck people running around a tree in front of a cascading waterfall, music crescendoing to a climax in the background.
We place the institution on a pedestal and cling to fairytale ideals and images even when all around us we see daily evidence of how married life can in fact be pretty dreary and dreadful, the grind of housework, finances to be managed, children’s homework to be supervised and just general petty marital annoyances.
Yet when I hear that couples I know are divorcing, I always feel sad and even let down.
How can it be that if you’ve been lucky enough to find the love of your life (for you must have, to have married each other, right?), you can no longer bear to be in each other’s company? What’s wrong with you? How can you let that love slip away?
Then again, whoever said that the feeling would last forever?
When it comes to love, we’re at the mercy of our biochemistry, say researchers.
One of the best known experts in this subject is anthropologist Helen Fisher of Rutgers University.
Love, she says, comes in three flavours and each involves different hormones and chemicals in our bodies.
Stage one is lust, that intense longing driven by the sex hormones testosterone and oestrogen which ‘get you out looking for anything’.
Stage two is attraction, that wondrous love-struck phase when you feel exhilarated and think obsessively of that one person. You’re so flushed with happiness you can’t eat or sleep.
Neurotransmitters called monoamines come into play here.
There’s dopamine, which gives you waves of exquisite pleasure, even over the smallest thing about your beau, and can also be activated by cocaine (hence falling in love is akin to taking a drug).
There’s also norepinephrine, which makes you sweat and your heart beat faster, and serotonin, which has a similar chemical appearance to people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder.
If a relationship lasts, attachment takes over as the third stage (some experts say the transition from attraction to attachment can take 30 months). It is the bond that keeps couples together, especially when they go on to have children.
Two hormones are released: oxytocin, during childbirth and which helps the breast express milk. It is also released by both sexes during orgasm and helps them bond; and vasopressin, which supports behaviour that leads to long-term commitment.
The big problem, though, is that one person can experience the three stages at the same time, with disastrous consequences, of course.
Says Dr Fisher: ‘You can feel deep attachment for a long-term spouse, while you feel romantic love for someone else, while you feel the sex drive in situations unrelated to either partner.’
The result? Adultery, pain, anger, jealousy and ultimately even divorce.
THE thing about love I’ve found (yes, even though I’ve not been married) is that familiarity does breed contempt or at least boredom, and you’ve really got to work to keep the feeling going.
Little things about your partner that were sweet in the beginning inevitably start to sour once you’ve past the love-sick stage.
Yes, it was cute how he was as exuberant as a puppy when you first met, but, goodness, isn’t he turning out to be loud and boorish now? And while her whining was endearing in the beginning, after years of it you just wish she’d shut up a bit.
Little annoyances can accumulate to make you explode. Lucky are the couples who can accept the irritating traits of their partners (no one is perfect after all, and neither are you) and continue loving them.
But for some, love has a use-by date, even if it was ‘true love’.
Just as friendship between platonic friends can outlive itself, so, too, can long-term romantic love.
I used to think that no matter how much a person disappoints you, it can be overcome if you just focus on the love and relationship.
But I’ve found that love can and does die, although die may be too melodramatic a word. It’s more a case of love fading, like the ink from the pages of an old diary, or the image in an aged photo.
It disappears for a variety of reasons.
The cause can be sensational such as when a partner does something that hurts and deceives you.
More often though, the reasons are prosaic, like over-familiarity, boredom and benign neglect. And with the first-stage lust long gone, the love is quickly spent and you just aren’t into each other anymore.
It’s very sad, and the greater tragedy if it is only one half of the couple who has lost the feeling.
Still, to have loved and lost – lost in the sense of losing that love you once held so dear in your heart, and lost as in losing your loved one to someone or something else – must surely be better than to have never loved at all.
I don’t think that even divorcees would disagree with me on that.