It’s that time of year again, when pie-eyed romantics are wont to wax rhapsodic about the nature, the essence, and the mystery of love. With gilded tongues and dubious poetic license, they fling around flawed analogies and sweeping generalizations like Cupid’s arrows from a rapid-fire crossbow. And anyone with a heart beating within his or her chest is supposed to swell and swoon at the sweet dulcet tones of these tearjerking truisms.
I say, ‘Hogwash’.
I’m a lover (not a fighter) — but I have a brain nearly as big as my heart, but nowhere near as mushy. I don’t over-romanticize, take nothing at face value, and if I’m ‘swelling’ during the month of February, it’s from gorging on Valentine’s Day chocolates — not fawning over some fancy bit of fluffy prose. Color me unmoved.
Now I’ve gone one step further, and put some of these sappy utopian fantasies to the test by applying our old friend, The Scientific Method. I’ve taken a closer look below at a few romantic old saws, and the results may surprise you. Especially if you’re a Hallmark fan.
HYPOTHESIS #1. “All we need is love.”
EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN: We chose an experimental male subject that had been engaged in a long-term, healthy, loving relationship for many years. The subject was removed from his native environment, stripped naked, and dropped onto a barren patch of Arctic tundra without food, protection from the elements, or means of communication. The subject was afforded only ‘love’, in the form of a parcel of romantic letters written by his sweetheart.
RESULTS: The subject spent considerable time with the letters, but in no manner that suggested ‘love’ was the primary objective. He managed to clothe himself, marginally, with several of the letters, and experimented with ingesting those printed on more pulpy paper. The subject spent very little time actually reading the correspondence, compared to other activities which included ‘sobbing’, ‘shivering uncontrollably’, and ‘cursing at the observation team’.
To test whether ‘love’ was playing a significant beneficial role in the use of the letters, the team supplied the subject with a second parcel containing photocopied pages of Danielle Steel novels and old Beetle Bailey comics. There was no discernible difference in the subject’s use of these papers and the original parcel of letters, though the team did observe a statistically significant increase in the ‘cursing’ activity.
The experiment concluded after thirty-six hours, and the subject was returned to his habitat. Several members of the research team suffered injuries during the transportation; it may be prudent in future to consider sedation of experimental subjects to reduce the risk of paper cuts and fist-related mishaps.
CONCLUSION: The subject clearly suffered detrimental effects due to lack of nutrition, inadequate attire, and exposure to the elements. These were evident in the subject’s physical condition, emotional state, and — particularly during transport — in his surly and unpredictable demeanor. The original hypothesis would be more accurately restated as, “All we need is love, food, water, shelter, suitable clothing, and to not be forcibly and unexpectedly removed from our homes by a group of strangers wearing lab coats.” We are currently seeking additional research funds to test this revised hypothesis, and to allay the costs of various criminal and civil proceedings associated with the original experiment.
HYPOTHESIS #2. “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN: Two male subjects were selected from the incoming freshman class at a local high school. The subjects’ survey answers indicated that they had no prior experience in romantic relationships with female companions. Indeed, both subjects circled ‘yucky’, ‘gross’, and ‘cootielicious’ from a list of terms to describe their feelings about girls.
Each subject was shadowed for several months by a member of the research team posing as fellow students. Subject A’s interactions with the opposite sex were minimized; methods employed included introducing the subject to online gaming sites, promoting the wearing of knee-high socks in gym class, and regular depantsings in the school cafeteria. Subject B, on the other hand, was encouraged to attend coed parties, to feign interest in sharing his feelings, and to let the cute girls copy his term papers.
When these methods failed to attract a suitable female companion, we supplied Subject B with a wicked good fake ID and a leased Audi. Three days later, Subject B entered a romantic relationship with a junior varsity cheerleader. After a ten-week incubation period, the research team deemed that the relationship constitued ‘love’, and persuaded a linebacker from the football team to woo the cheerleader away from Subject B.
RESULTS: Subject A, while shunned by the female of the species, seemed content throughout the experiment to spend hours a day gaming online and commiserating with like-minded males. Subject A described the depantsings in particular as ’embarrassing’, ‘bogus’, and ‘not even funny any more’, but otherwise reported no adverse effects of the experiment. As a condition of his participation, Subject A also required that we include the text, “Lv32 tauren hunter Fyrem1st bl00wynd r0xx0rs WoW!!!!@!eleventy!” We suspect it’s some sort of code.
Conversely, Subject B spent several days early in the incubation period agonizing over whether the female subject ‘likes me’ or ‘likes me likes me’. He subsequently spent most of his waking time worrying that his companion would abandon him for another mate, until his fears were ultimately realized. After the experiment concluded, Subject B serenaded his former companion in an effort to win her back; he was lightly beaten and stuffed into a trash barrel by her new suitor. Subject B was unavailable to complete a post-experiment survey.
CONCLUSION: The hypothesis is clearly disproven by this experiment. Based on the available data, it is far preferable to have never loved at all, particularly if one can avoid public depantsing in the process. A follow-up experiment to determine whether it is better to have loved and won is under way. Our group expects to publish those findings within the next sixty to seventy years.
HYPOTHESIS #3. “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN: The principal investigator met, courted, and wed a female test subject for the purposes of this experiment. After eight years of measurably blissful marriage, testing of the hypothesis began in earnest.
RESULTS: Test 1 — While engaged in dishwashing activities with the test subject, the investigator deliberately dropped a drinking glass on the floor, shattering it. The investigator was careful to avoid any interchange that could be construed as an apology, limiting himself to ‘Oops!’ and ‘I wonder how that happened?’ When the subject was asked, later that evening, ‘Do you still love me?’, she answered in the affirmative.
Test 2 — The investigator arranged to pick up the test subject at the airport after her flight. Instead, the investigator stayed home, drank beer, and watched a Scooby Doo marathon until passing out on the living room carpet. The investigator was awaked three hours later by a visibly enraged test subject, refused to apologize for his behavior, and was forced to sleep in the garage for a week. When the subject was asked, several days later, ‘Do you still love me?’, she grudgingly answered in the affirmative.
Test 3 — The investigator withdrew the contents of the test subject’s banking account, and spent the money on a weekend of lurid debauchery in Las Vegas. The investigator returned — penniless, rumpled, and hungover — and described the weekend’s activities in detail to the test subject, without apology. When the subject was asked, at the divorce proceedings several months later, ‘Do you still love me?’, she hesitated, considered, and responded, ‘Sure, maybe I do. Now go to hell.’
CONCLUSION: Based on these data, the hypothesis as stated appears to be true. Love does not require apology. Marriage, on the other hand, requires apology, punctuality, sobriety, fidelity, fiscal responsibility, and possibly additional, as yet unidentified, qualities. Further research in this area is pending a funding source not subject to alimony judgements, and prying the investigator’s Audi away from a punk lovesick teenager.
I hope this exercise has opened your eyes to just exactly what we know — and what we don’t know — about love. On this Valentine’s Day, it’s best to concede that love is a mysterious puzzle, and leave it at that. Send a card, if you must. Buy candy and flowers if that’s your cup of tea. But know this — your efforts to foster love will produce erratic and irreproducible results. The error bars will be through the roof, and even if you do manage to create love in the laboratory, it may be highly unstable. And you’ll never make it past peer review.
I suggest instead sticking to the hard science, cutting out the romantic hyperbole, and forgetting about this ‘love’ business until some vendor manages to reliably purify love from raw materials, or to produce love synthetically. Until then, the whole thing is a crapshoot. You might as well woo cold fusion or a perpetual motion machine. And how romantic is that?