“Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.”
— William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Shakespeare was on to something with that whole “seething brain” thing. Apparently, the brains of people in love are awash in a bath of dopamine, norepinephrine, phenylethylamine, oxytocin, and other assorted chemicals that combine to create the feelings of excitement, attachment, and bliss in the presence of that one special person.
Knowing these objective scientific facts, however, does nothing to describe the inner experience of falling, and being, in love. Trying to describe what it’s like to be in love to someone who has never had the experience is next to impossible.
My favorite description of falling in love is the one attempted by Friend Owl in the classic Walt Disney movie, Bambi. In this scene the wise feathered mentor explains to his young friends what it feels like to be “twitterpated”:
“You begin to get weak in the knees, your head’s in a whirl, and then you feel light as a feather, and before you know it, you’re walking on air. And then you know what? You’re knocked for a loop, and you completely lose your head!”
It’s easy to laugh at those who have “lost their head” in love, but we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss their foolishness, which is able to perceive in their beloved far more than the cool, analytical gaze of reason could ever understand. There is a certain wisdom in such foolishness, and religious mystics of all traditions have used the metaphor of this wild, reckless love to speak about their relationship with the divine. The vision of love penetrates more deeply into the Real than mere logic can ever reach.
Romantic love can and often does lead to pain and heartbreak, but it also has the capacity to break our hearts open, leading to a new sensitivity, compassion, and even wisdom. My guess is that Friend Owl knew whereof he spoke, that he was speaking from personal experience, a time when he was lost in the wonder of wide-eyed, twitterpated love.
True love has depths and dimensions that go far beyond the early stage of infatuation, of course. But even as we grow in maturity, let us not forget to honor and celebrate the ecstatic and delightful energy of romantic love, and welcome its appearance in our world.
In good faith,