The Seven-Year Itch: Musings on the nature of love


 

What is love? Is it the greatest force known to man? Or is it simply a neurochemical con job? Either way, love is arguably the most dominant theme in popular culture: theatre productions, movies, books, music- it is clear to even the most cynical of cynics that love truly does make the world go round.

Contrary to what the title may suggest, this article is not about dermatological irritations. The ‘Seven Year Itch’ refers to a psychological theory put forth by Professor Helen Fisher, which suggests that (due to biological predispositions) the romantic passion within a marriage almost certainly declines before a couple’s seventh anniversary (Maestripieri).

Hopeless romantics, avert your eyes: the following ideas will, undoubtedly, disturb and dishearten you. Biologists have fortified the aforesaid psychological theory by observing and exploring mating patterns and behaviours among primates (Bernard Chapais). They discovered that primates display similar ‘itch’ tendencies, after a breeding and bonding period of four years- as soon as their offspring becomes more independent, and less prone to attack by predators. After this period of adorable kinship and illusive security, the male leaves his female partner, and proceeds to distribute his DNA to other younger (and, in his eyes, more attractive) individuals. So essentially, primates are genetically predisposed to be ‘players’…

While certain optimists will find themselves vehemently protesting against this notion, and arguing that true love does exist (just ask Bradd and Angelina! Oh, wait…) science proves that romantic love is centred on physical attraction. Research into the neurochemistry of love proves that there are three main stages to ‘falling in love’, which are initiated by the first stage: venereal desire. This directly corresponds with our evolutionary instincts- self-preservation and fulfilment, and, of course, reproduction. The other two stages to ‘falling in love’ are emotional attraction, followed by emotional attachment. However, researchers from Rutgers University in New Jersey claim that the central driving force is lust: to put it simply, humans seek partners with desirable genetic traits, in order to produce good, strong offspring. It comes as no surprise, then, that the word ‘love’ itself is derived from the Sanskrit and Latin words for ‘sexual desire’.

It is easy to insist that love at first sight is real, regardless of the evidence that suggests otherwise. Though it can be said that romantic love is a mere neurochemical machination, some choose to maintain the view that ‘love’ is as inexplicable a force as it is a magical one. We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with idealistic portrayals of love in the media- from Facebook, to Instagram, to soap operas, and even children’s TV programmes, romantic love is portrayed as the single most desirable abstract possession to have. Since the average Briton consumes over eight hours’ worth of media content per day (Miller, 2014), it is ridiculously easy to indoctrinate people (young minds in particular) with this message. As Christian from Moulin Rouge states:

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love, and be loved in return.”

While I certainly believe that this statement holds true for platonic love (such as the kind embodied in familial ties and robust friendships) I do not believe that it is necessary to have a romantic partner in order to be happy, though this exact idea is habitually thrown at us, through the media.

In the past (as shown through numerous examples of classic literature) men would often become attracted to beautiful women, and would almost devote their entire existences to them. Women were pursued by men, and there was less pressure and competition, due to the lack of social media platforms: nowadays, romantic love is an almost transactional endeavour. Sometimes finding love is as easy as swiping right.

Apart from basic survival instincts pertaining to reproduction, romantic love is a social construction that we humans have conceptualised, and have forced ourselves into agreeing that it now forms part of the very fabric of our collective existence- much like money, or the education system.

Works Cited

Bernard Chapais, ‎. M. Kinship and Behaviour in Primates.

Maestripieri, D. D. (n.d.). The Seven Year Itch. Retrieved from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/games-primates-play/201202/the-seven-year-itch-theories-marriage-divorce-and-love

Miller, J. (2014). Britons spend more time on tech than asleep. Retrieved from BBC News Technology: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-28677674


Sadia Ahmed, 2017

Identity

The question of identity is one that every person battles with, particularly during adolescence, when we find ourselves confined within a grey area between the euphoric joys of childhood, and the endless responsibilities that come with adulthood.

This state of uncertainty can, understandably, lead to an identity crisis (or, in my case, a procession of consecutive identity crises) during which one questions the very nature of one’s existence: Who am I? And why am I here?

These questions are undoubtedly exacerbated by the sleepless world of social media: we are constantly being bombarded with expectations, labels, and stereotypes pertaining to our collective sense of self, which have now become impossible to avoid. Essentially, we are being placed into categorical cages, which shape our thoughts and our behaviours. One is either a nerd or an athlete- always introverted or always extroverted-masculine or feminine. We are so often forced to define ourselves.

Hello, my name is Sadia Ahmed and I am… a girl? A South Asian person? A teenager? A Muslim? A writer?

But I am forced to wonder: who am I, and what truly defines me? Do social circumstances (over which I have no control) define me? And if so, what if my circumstances change? Will I gradually lose fragments of my personality?

These thoughts remind me of an interesting philosophical idea- the Theseus’ Ship paradox. If one replaces every wooden part of a ship over a long period of time (resulting in the creation of a completely identical vessel) would it be correct to state that the replicated ship is still the original ship? Similarly, do we maintain congruous identities, even after being subjected to varying experiences and ever-changing ideas?

My qualms surrounding the theme of identity have always been lodged somewhere in the deep, dangerous recesses of my mind, but recently these qualms have been amplified. Sylvia Plath once said, “I know pretty much what I like and dislike; but please, don’t ask me who I am.” I can relate very well to this statement: I am constantly being asked to define myself- to encapsulate my entire existence within a handful of words, whether it be at social gatherings, or school, or even in social media biographies. To be able to respond appropriately, I must favour some aspects of my identity over others. I am a nerd who enjoys travelling, writing, and reading. This is what I usually respond with. However, by doing this, I am forced to omit other aspects of my rather fluid personality:

I like eating takeaway near my windowsill at night when it is raining. I love dancing to Spanish music alone in my room at 10PM. I love having ‘packed lunches’ while watching Disney movies. I love the texture of paper that has been adorned with words and feelings. I love observing people, because every time I engage in this practice, I am reminded that human beings can be such wonderful and sincere creatures.

Our idiosyncrasies can never be contained within a string of words, or even within several strings of several words, and other people’s perceptions of us can often be very superficial, centered on little more than their own woes and insecurities. Do I talk too much? Good. Does my existence bother people? Even better. 

We are all born to different families, in different places, with different destinies. Sometimes it is comforting to know that others can relate to our perspectives and experiences, however in reality, other people are very quick to (subconsciously) stereotype and assume things based on meaningless observations. Some people speculate that because I am a ‘nerd’ whose interests are rooted in academia, I must love science. I must wish to become a surgeon, or an engineer, perhaps. I seem like I take everything too seriously. I must spend all my hours revising. ‘Intellectually capable’ people love science, want to become medics, study incessantly, and have no capacity whatsoever to embrace humour or affection; these must be facts of life, right? Wrong. These stereotypes are false, but they place a lot of pressure on me to be a certain way, unless I want to betray myself by straying away from my own ‘identity’. But alas, in reality, I possess an ardent love for English and History, and it truly irritates me when people surmise that science is more intellectually challenging, or more rewarding, than the humanities. Also, I would like to become a university professor or a lawyer in the future- medicine is, no doubt, a fascinating field, however I prefer fields that involve writing, speaking, and analysing different viewpoints. Oh, and finally, education is indisputably a priority to me, but so is friendship. So is family.

And so is occasionally sitting back and simply enjoying life.


Sadia Ahmed, 2017

Pretty

The most common way people (women, in particular) give up their power is by thinking that they do not have any. Women of the 21st Century are currently facing a complex and seemingly insurmountable endemic, caused primarily by media images: we are being told that we are not powerful, and that the little power we do have is derived solely from our appearances: whether we’re skinny enough, demure enough, and pretty enough. 

It is clear that we have come a long way since our society was entirely centred on the notion of patriarchy, however the patriarchy’s tenacious grasp has managed to hold on to us, controlling almost every aspect of our lives. ‘Successful’ women are not considered ‘successful’ unless their bodies are sculpted to perfection (or, rather, the extremely unhealthy and unobtainable image of perfection the media habitually churns out), and intelligent women are perceived as ‘intimidating’, and, as a consequence, ‘undesirable’. The message emitted to young girls is that we must serve the desires and needs of men, and we must never to anything to overstep our boundaries and (god forbid) harm a man’s ego in any way.

We are expected to take up as little space as possible- to contain our limitless existences within Size 4 dresses. Our most significant muscles- our brains- are considered subsidiary, in comparison with some of our other muscles. While some people may believe that the self-loathing tendencies that many women and girls inflict upon themselves stems from themselves, the reality is that the media has a considerable, and inescapable, effect on how we think, and our ideas of femininity.

The average person consumes approximately 15.5 hours of media content every day

The fact of the matter is that men in the media- in books, movies, TV programs, and the press- are portrayed as heroes. Fierce, strong, admirable- the protagonists in their own stories. Meanwhile, women are seen as supporting characters, with perfect bodies, perfect hair, perfect makeup, and perfect personalities. Female characters are hopeless romantics, characterised by desperation. They need a man to complete them. 

The general truth is that you cannot be what you cannot see, and so, when girls and boys of all ages are incessantly bombarded by images of thin, tall, fair women, they begin to picture this stereotype as the ‘ideal’ woman- the most desirable, and the most successful, kind. This leads to unnecessary  pressure and stress, as well as low self-esteem, and limited future prospects. Women are known to (both literally and figuratively) reduce themselves, for male comfort.

Sadly, these ideas that are conveyed through the media also translate into reality: girls as young as five are now developing eating disorders. Meanwhile, young boys believe they must be smarter, stronger, and better than women in order to keep women ‘in check’. The success of incredible women from a range of career paths (politicians, scientists, authors, etc) are undermined- their achievements are not seen as wholly authentic, unless they are physically attractive, and, of course, romantically involved with a man.

The time has come for us women to reject the status quo: to emerge from the flames of destruction that the media has caused within us- to be real, powerful, and unapologetic- and to elevate our sisters, too.

We will rise from our ashes, and we will fly with clipped wings.