Code Orange: Towards a Theory of Romantic Love

My friend Dave showed up for our weekly midrash chevruta with stars in his eyes. His face was glowing and he seemed to be reeling as he stood there before me inside the doors of the coffee shop where we always meet. “Ilana, I’m in love,” he told me, holding on to a table as if to prevent himself from falling over.

We did not learn very much Breishit Rabbah that day. Dave wanted to tell me all about his beloved – where he met her, what makes her so extraordinarily special, and why he is sure that she is “the one.” I listened patiently, smiled at the appropriate moments, and registered my (genuine) happiness at seeing my friend in such good spirits. “Ilana,” he told me, still gushing. “I always thought that relationships had to be difficult. Now I realize that they are only difficult when you are with the wrong person. In the two weeks we’ve been together, I’ve totally revised my theory of relationships. I’m just so happy!” I resisted the impulse to raise my eyebrows, and continued to smile.

The next morning at work, our assistant Mara knocked on my office door. “Hi, I’m here,” she told me, and I noticed a new lilt in her voice. “You look good today,” I told her, as indeed she did. “Yes, I’m good, I’m very good. I met a man yesterday!” she told me, and once again. I submitted to the blow-by-blow account.

In listening first to Dave and then to Mara, it was clear to me that they are in the Orange stage of their relationships, as I like to refer to it. This term is a reference to a poem by Wendy Cope, which by this point I have emailed to Dave and to Mara and to countless other friends who have come to me with glowing eyes and with romantic reports. I paste it here in full:

The Orange
By Wendy Cope

At lunchtime I bought a huge orange
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave—
They got quarters and I had a half.

And that orange it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park
This is peace and contentment. It’s new.

The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all my jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I’m glad I exist.

Cope describes those glowing first moments of romantic love, in which we feel a newfound “peace and contentment” and even the smallest pleasures, like a huge orange, can bring a smile to our faces. This is a feeling familiar to many, I would hazard. Psycho-pharmacologists tell us that when we first fall in love, the brain releases dopamine and norepinephrine, two neurotransmitters that contribute to increased energy, rapid pulse, a sense of heightened perception, and a more positive outlook on life. Romantic love is thus not just an intense emotional experience, but a somatic one as well. Our body chemistry shifts when we fall in love, to such an extent that suddenly the very simple fact that we manage to complete all our chores can make us want to affirm how happy we are to be alive.

As well we should. We all reach for the proverbial orange when it presents itself on the Tree of our Lives. We all offer slices to those around us, regaling them with our rosy romantic reports. We relish the newfound peace and contentment, and we delight in saying those words for the first time yet again: “I love you.”

Sadly, though, you can’t have your orange and eat it too. The sweetness lingers on our lips for a while, but at some point the fruit is no more and we are left with pieces of peel, and thin white strings, and perhaps (if we have high standards) the transparent membrane that we’ve carefully removed from each individual slice. How many of us, at this stage, can still recite wholeheartedly the final line of Wendy Cope’s poem?

I am an ardent believer in the miracle of romantic love, but I believe that it is, by necessity, short-lived — even if the relationship itself turns out to be a lifelong one. It’s impossible to see the world through orange-tinted glasses forever. And so as a counterpart to Wendy Cope, I offer the following poem, which I have read over many lonely lunches with no oranges to eat and no one to share them with:

Chorale
By Kevin Young

Quite difficult, belief.
Quite terrible, faith

that the night, again,
will nominate

you a running mate–
that we are of the elect

& have not yetfound out.
That the tide

still might toss us up
another–what eyes

& stars, what teeth!
such arms, alive–

someone we will, all
night, keep. Not

just these spiders
that skitter & cobweb,

share my shivering bed.

3 thoughts on “Code Orange: Towards a Theory of Romantic Love

  1. Cameron Sharpe says:

    Romantic love has the intensity, engagement and sexual chemistry that passionate love has, minus the obsessive component,” the lead author of the paper, Bianca P. Acevedo, said in a news release. “Passionate or obsessive love includes feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. This kind of love helps drive the shorter relationships but not the longer ones.”

    Like

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