Through the composing and imaginings of thirty volumes of novels, numerous short stories, plays, and poems, I have been wrestling with the mystery of attraction. It has been the dominant theme of my work. You know the kind I mean, the obsessive, magnetizing emotional fixation that goes under the name of love.
Why does one person motivate the kind of heart palpating enormity of overwhelming powerful, all consuming, possessive emotion we call love and not another person?
Celebrated in history and literature from the beginning of human communication, powerful affinities have been recorded, mythologized and analyzed ad infinitum. Still, no one has been able to explain its cause scientifically, philosophically, or psychologically, at least not with enough empirical evidence to prove what causes this state beyond the shadow of a doubt.
Sexual attraction alone and what we describe as lust, passion or other less mysterious motivations do not answer the question. I'm talking about love, true love, the-go-for- keeps love, the finding-the-other-half-of-myself love, the Romeo and Juliet, Abelard and Heloise, Lancelot and Guinevere, Tristan and Isolde brand of love.
Call it "romantic love" if you wish. Huge industries have been built around the concept in the public culture, recorded in books, movies, and grand opera. It is the lynchpin of most popular stories. It is an ubiquitous and dominant theme in all human history.
Even in the situational aspect, proximity does not explain it fully. Remember the lyric from the musical South Pacific, "you may see a stranger across a crowded room and somehow you know." Why her? Why him?
The emotion has not escaped the notice of scientists determined to find some biological cause for this phenomenon. Numerous experiments have been mounted to find some chemical phenomena that act on the senses to create such a magnetic effect. Others have tried to relate it to the reclamation of early child or parental memories, even prenatal causes. There are many theories, none conclusive.
Some have explored biblical clues, the most obvious being Eve's eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. One assumes that Adam's bite of the proffered fruit began the natural mating instincts that populated the human race, a semi-mechanical rather than an emotional experience and, therefore, not the love of which I speak. Another biblical example from the Old Testament is when Jacob has to work another seven years for his true love, Rachel, which illustrates the kind of love I mean.
Jacob had fallen in love with Rachel instantly while she was watering her lamb and was at first willing to work seven years for her father before he would allow her to marry him. When the seven years were up, the father married him to another daughter, veiled to disguise her. Despite the betrayal, he was willing to serve yet another seven years to wed his beloved.
As far as I know, nothing beyond the theoretical to explain this phenomena has emerged, no proofs have been established to satisfy explorers of this realm although it continues to occur, like some mysterious affliction in humans and, for all we know, in everything alive. Indeed, it goes beyond the birds and the bees. We do know that among other species, Swans mate for life. Is that an example of true love? Here, again, is the eternal question. Why one swan and not another?
Those of us who have experienced the love emotion will testify to its ecstasy-provoking power, its magic and majesty. The kind of love I am talking about has been idealized and commercialized. It has been crowned since the beginning of time as the pinnacle of feeling, the ultimate melding experience, although it continues to be illusive and, even if it arrives and settles on two people, is often transitory. Perhaps it loses steam because it is not the real thing.
It is the holy grail of emotion, sought after and coveted beyond reason or logic. Many, perhaps most, of the greatest stories ever told are about this kind of love. Without this ideal to chase and describe, many films and novels would be bland and uninteresting.
Indeed, love is one the most recurring themes in life and in fiction and goes back to my original premise. Why him? Why her? Or better yet. How come not him? How come not her? Nor is it gender bound. It happens between men and men and women and women. It is beyond mere propagation.
As the lyric says "somehow you know."
Warren Adler is the author of 32 novels and short story collections published in numerous languages. Films adapted from his books include 'The War of the Roses,'Random Hearts' and the PBS trilogy 'The Sunset Gang'. He is a pioneer in digital publishing. For more information visit Warren's website at www.warrenadler.com.