Kayode Taiwo Olla
I’ve thought all these in my head times and times before, these that I just wanna put down now. I’ve thought many times on this thing—or maybe it’s actually not a ‘thing’, an inanimate something—I mean this concept, this feeling, this mystery (or so it seems) that we call love!
It feels better wanting to write my thoughts as I sit alone here at my desk tonight listening to Dolly Patton; and it feels a lot better wanting to direct my words at this Love like it were as animate as me! This Love, this something we call love! Really I wonder at it many times. Wonder at your power, your force, your naturalness, your emotions, your sacrifices, your rarity!
I remember when you first seized me for real, this Love… I swore I could never love better! Said I could never love a girl more! Not that I never loved before then? But did I? Did I really love before I was 22 or so? Actually, I had thought I’d loved times and times before, until I met this girl when I was 22. And, goodness, she looks really beautiful! Then all love in reminiscence was simply teenage fancies and crushes! I bet you, that was what they were for real! God, I loved her and a quite reserved me tried a lot to suppress it then, cos I was only taking her as my little sister! Didn’t know how she would feel if I turn around to ask her out for a serious relationship. She was about 5 years younger than me.
Dear Love, you knew how many times I checked up the word ‘Love’ in different English dictionaries! Maybe to see if there was a new side to what I was feeling! You knew how lengthy the minutes I called her on phone were, when call tariffs were not even low at all, cos I really cared about her. You knew how I prayed for her dearly that she should gain admission for about 3 years she sought admission to the same university I got into; but she never came in there. She eventually got admission, into some other university anyway, and I was really happy for her. You knew how I kept the only text she sent me in a year at New Year’s celebration and kept it all through the year, and only complained when she didn’t even text or call. Dear Love, you knew what I felt! I felt affection, deep affection. I felt attraction, keen attraction. I felt jealousy, raw jealousy. I felt you, I felt everything, but couldn’t say nothing!
Remembered when I shared it with my friend from childhood Dara, and told him I didn’t think I could ever be happy if I don’t marry her—remembered how he laughed heartily and I felt stupid?! He obviously knew his naïve friend had been struck by that irrational fancy of the in-love thing and needed to brush up his eyelids and think!
Ah, this feeling, this overwhelming feeling I did not understand! But one thing was clear when I gave myself a healthy distance which I really needed—it was that I had, perhaps unwittingly, muddled up feelings, gave a pretty undefined and ambiguous relationship, and then what I felt wasn’t healthy anymore! I had begun simply wanting to be a big brother to her, guide and protect her just for the love of it and without ulterior motives, cos I simply like her. But then, in the meanwhile I had begun to have deep feelings for her I couldn’t deny to myself. Then I was honest enough to admit I loved her and I really wanted to ask her out. But then, the problem came at this point I’m about to mention. I know some don’t really believe in what I’m about to say and may say I’m fanatic or something. But the fact is, I know from a tender age that I’m not like everybody else and my life and steps (especially major and costing steps) are being painstakingly guided by God who just took a humbling particular interest in my destiny. So what happened was I knew so deeply inside, no matter how I tried to persuade myself against it—that it was a no-go area for me, even though she was perfect in all standards I know. But maybe just not for me. I got it in my spirit via different forms I actually receive divine inspiration and messages personally. I struggled with this for more than a year. I lost my peace, in fact. Sometimes my heart beats in fright for no reason when I think about her outside filial relationship and I willfully try to suppress that. But goodness, I loved this girl! I thought I could never love better!
Ha, just remembered something now and I just smile. I remembered how hard it was to give her up, especially when I clearly knew it was becoming an idol in my mind and hindering me from moving on emotionally (and, in fact, to be sincere, in my spiritual walk). I just knew I had to let it go to have my heart open for a right choice later on. Now, I remembered that night how I shook with tears beside my bed—I mean trembled and groaned hard into the pillow, when I made the last will in me that clenched on to the idol I had made of her in my mind, let go finally. Man, I had struggled with the feeling for 14 solid months before that night finally came when I finally knelt, sincerely prayed for help and desperately gave it up to move forward. I was already a mess in this feeling, and there was not going to be a way-forward in this one, I knew. And I was not gonna love this muddled-up, one-sided way again! But then, it would take me 3 years before deciding to give real love a chance again. Not that I never had some ladies around me and in my life; I guess I like ladies and I have several them I got to be kind of close with, in my early years on campus, and a few of us are still in touch and still rather close now. Someone like me didn’t just wanna date just to while away time or for the fun of it. And many responsibilities and ambitions were in front of me and I was quite active balancing academics with my writing responsibilities as well as poetry performance engagements, and then somehow fellowship responsibility came up along the line. So then, after the 3 years, as I said, I finally gave love a chance and I fell in love with the lady I wrote the dedication lines of my new work Softlie (my collection of love poems) to. This time, my! I wondered if my life had ever been richer, sweeter, and purpose-driven too!
A track I just played now is Celine Deon’s Have You Ever Been in Love? You know what it is like to feel so loved. To be in love. When you find it, you don’t let go! This Love! Sometimes I really wonder at it! Just like you look at your lover’s bright eyes gleaming in the dark as she rests her head in your lap; and then lacking words at that striking beauty in her gaze, you softly brush her hair aside and press a gentle kiss on her forehead, or lightly brush up those lips with yours; and she gives a sweet, quiet chuckle, like bubbles of air just welled up from her lower abdomen. You didn’t say anything; she doesn’t too. Cos words cannot speak volumes of what you feel!
Sometimes I wonder at the rush of emotions, the keen desire that kind of well up in your groins when you just step behind her pace a second and you see her form glide ahead of you in easeful feminine gait; and the next thing is you just miss your steps and nearly bump into her. She looks back and dart you a knowing smile. If you weren’t walking in the way, you would’ve held back her hand, drawn her into you and press a passionate kiss in those sweetly curved lips. You both chuckle; you both didn’t speak, but you both know. Cos words cannot speak the volumes of what you feel!
This Love! This feeling, first of all! This lovelorn pang! This pure jealousy! This deep affection! This wild fancy! My, I don’t understand it! Ah, these feelings, this tingle! This powerful emotion! This raw desire, this keen urge! My, I don’t understand you! Then what are you? I noticed that when I felt passion, you sometimes come with these or any of them. I felt jealousy for the girl I deeply love when another guy wanna share her heart with me. I feel deep affection for her and care about her, and that is why I make selfless sacrifices because I truly love her. We all feel this.
Many times, dear Love, you also come with intense desire, deep urges that I know I have to really cool it a bit if I ain’t gonna get into what we don’t plan for as yet. And yet I know it still is love I feel, but if selfish will only be lust and if unbridled as yet we might go on to be lost. So I know this feeling we call love surely comes with it eros, that is, desire—as well as with jealousy, fancy and sometimes lovelorn, as naughty as these other feelings may apparently seem. Such is the paradox of noble love. But the irony I have seen in love is, noble as love may seem, these other accomplice certainly have the tendency to make the affair seem entirely ignoble after all, depending on how the lover controls the emotions or have the emotions control them.
Now what are you, dear Love? This something that overwhelms me so much I know not what—please, what are you? Now, if to go by hormonal scientists and clinical psychologists, what will we call you, Love?
Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 7 ‘Our Chemical Cocktail’ in a book based on hypothesis and research in anthropology, psychology and sociobiology put in lay man’s language—it’s titled Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Don’t Read Maps (Revised and updated edition) by Allan and Barbara Pease (pp. 181 – 2). I guess it’d be worth taking the time to brush through.
… Neural evidence shows that the phenomenon of ‘falling in love’ is a series of chemical reactions taking place in the brain that cause mental and physical reactions. There are an estimated 100 billion neurons that make up the brain’s communication network. Candace Pert, author of Molecules of Emotion (1999), pioneered the research that discovered neuropeptides, a string of amino acids that float around the body and attach themselves to welcoming receptors. So far, different neuropeptides have been discovered and they trigger emotional reactions in the body when they attach themselves to the receivers. In other words, all our emotions – love, grief, happiness – are all biochemical.
When English scientist Francis Crick and his associates won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for deciphering the DNA code that defines genes, he stunned the medical world by saying, ‘You, your joys, sorrows, memories, ambitions, your sense of identity, free will and love are no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells.’
The main chemical released to give you the elated physical feelings of being in love is PEA (phenylethylamine) which is related to amphetamines and is found in chocolate. This is one of the chemicals that makes your heart race, hands sweat, pupils dilate and gives you ‘butterflies’ in the stomach. Adrenalin is also released, speeding up your heart, making you alert and helping you feel great. Along with that are also the endorphins, which build your immune system and cure your cold…
[Pease, Allen, and Babara. Why Men don’t listen and Women Don’t Read Maps. Great Britain: Pease International, 2001.pdf]
So then, scientists in neuropsychology will analyze what we call love as a series of processes in the brain in response to impulses conveyed from some social happenings on the outside. When it comes to the sweet feeling of falling in love, it is the phenylethylamine. When it come to that rush of desire, or eros, it is in terms of testosterone and oestrogen secretion in the gonads (that is, in the testicles or ovaries); and in terms of adrenalin that gives you the heat inside and races your pulse. Then when you have a sex that you enjoy, again there is yet another hormone secreted during the time and responsible, they say. It is called dopamine, the extreme euphoria hormone, and the self-same hormone that is secreted when you sniff hard drugs—and in both cases it leaves you wanting to come back for more, and then more, and more again… and if always indulged and satisfied without a great deal of restraint and discipline, the circle goes on and the mad yearning in your groins never ends. It is what psychologists have called addiction—simply dopamine hormone at play.
But then, agreed that our emotional feelings and urges are sourced from the interplay of our hormonal coordination and our central nervous system—(of course with the PNS, the peripheral nervous system, inclusive—and by the PNS, I mean the coordinated work of our sensory neutrons carrying impulses via the motor neurons and the reflectors, and blah, blah)—that agreed then, but really is that all we’ve got with this love thing? Simply feelings reduced to the basics, or maybe complexes, of electrical messages transported via ductless glands of hormones and ductile glands of neurons? This Love? This powerful Love, are you simply feelings, or what are you?
And then I remember a thing or two in classical mythology, literature and philosophy. Again, love in the quest of being defined, and being understood, earlier in time! Why, this thing we call Love seems so powerful and all-engaging that most generations have tried to engage or understand it. Then there was a god and goddess alike for love in classical mythology: Eros the god of love in Greek mythology, and has his Roman counterpart as Cupid; Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love and beauty, and Roman mythology has its counterpart as Venus. Falling in love is thought to be divine, then—a possession by the gods; or a lover being randomly struck at the heart by the dart of flying eye-covered Cupid, for instance. Or what more mystery could explain an incredible emotion! You think that lover has gone crazy! Makes me remember Shakespeare’s lovelorn Romeo in love with fair but unyielding Rosalind! Today we say someone like that is “madly in love”! But really—everyone, every culture, every civilization, explaining this thing we called love!
Then there goes classical literature with a trend that now seems to cross over and continue into Nollywood even. I must own that I’ve also long been, until just very recently, caught up in this pretty unrealistic, movie-like, trend of thinking, in perspective and in writing too. In writing—that was when I wrote my first two plays, ‘The Sacrifice’ and ‘The Date’, both still in manuscript. The two are in the love tradition, the first a love epic set in the pre-colonial epic age of the Yoruba culture, somewhere during the Yoruba empire times—it is the moving, complex story of Arẹmọ, a noble prince that so dramatically fell in love with a captive unwittingly. The second is set in contemporary times and quite complicated, too. Now, the tradition I’m talking about is this: we see love often raised and magnified to very idealistic proportions. Love is—should I say?—too idealized so much you still tend to find this prototype scenario always in some film-making and writing—a person of high status taking the costly sacrifice of crazily loving a person of very, very low status in such a way he couldn’t help the feeling; or, a person wholesome defying odds of reason and sometimes going ‘crazily’ against family and friends, to simply fall—like we’ll say—“head over heels in love” with a person that is, say, so physically challenged that it seems they aren’t altogether compatible.
So, I stopped short one day just very recently and I reasoned—cos I just love to just stop to think something until I think it through when something strikes me as a thoughtful inspiration. I guess I like pondering and probing questions. So I asked myself and then engaged a practically analytic friend with the question. I had been very in love for over a year already then. I said: Is this how love is always, the way we read it in literatures and see it in movies—that you feel bereft of all reason and go against all to ‘stoop down’, as movies and literature will paint it, to love a person that it seems very obvious that you aren’t physically or socially compatible, except only because of a feeling you just cannot describe or a sense of overwhelming exceptional beauty? Now that is idealistic outright! Simply idealistic! I did not say it cannot happen in particular circumstances; but then, to paint that as a case for love is simply idealistic, wanting to show an extremely ideal form—like the concept of Plato’s world of forms and appearance in his Republic. Moreover, exceptional beauty alone isn’t enough motivations in themselves to sustain such kind of ideal love (even if it rightly sparks it up)—and not just the beauty bro, or a feeling you can’t track down or define!
My friend asked me if I actually loved my sweetheart, whom I dearly cherish and adore—he asked me if I actually loved her out of some stooping down to love; if I had to bear some costly sacrifice in that I love her. The answer was a sure no. Goodness, she is sweet and pretty, and I love her. I proudly hold hands with her at times when we walk and proudly introduce her to friends. I even had got to put up with other guys trying to make advances with her more than a few times before. But then, long earned trust, honesty and deep love for each other has saved us each for ourselves, a number of times. Not that she popped out of my teenage fancies as the exact tall, slender, cute-breasted dream-girl I had feverishly more than once imagined. Only her height did not match my fancy, and I once fancied she grows taller or I go shorter if that was ever possible anymore! And then I would ask her out, I thought. But then, love and matured reason overcame that silly fancy and I didn’t mind the height a bit longer, after all she was still the slender, cute-breasted dream-girl, with particularly straight legs and a well-curved form. Ha-ha! Just on a lighter note anyway. But really, those qualities were simply secondary when compared to her beautiful heart and nature that made me not wanna trade her for gold! And the fact that we are very compatible and that she cherishes me.
So, I see that there is something in man, that wants to go beyond himself in placing such a noble affair as love, hence we seek for the ideal, the apotheosis. Such is man’s engagement of such sublime subject as love in moral philosophy, and romantic mythology and literature. Then I noticed the divine aspect modern Christendom subtly accrues, or extends, to romantic love as well, using the Biblical phrase “God is love.” Even though the love spelt out in such passages as I John IV.7 & 8, which has the previous phrase, and the famous John III.16 which talks of a high-form of God-love—even though this passages have the love in them as the Greek word Agape, which is a non-romantic God kind of love or Christian the love, and as opposed to the Eros of marital love in Song of Songs or the Philio that exists between soul mates like the Biblical David and Jonathan—yes despite this, modern Christians still seek to qualifylove, as in love between a man and a woman engaged or married, with the notion of being divine.
So I stopped to reason further with my friend, as I have used this attributing something divine to true love a lot of times—including in my poetry collection Softlie, which has as its dedication in the following lines: ‘To the God of love, and / For Omotola.’ Then, the question props up: Is God Romantic love, too—going by the Biblical God is love? Certainly not, I believe; since the semantics of the root word translated love is different from that of romantic love. Or, we may ask then: Is God the author of Romantic love in Christendom—just like there is a god and a goddess each for romantic love in Greek and Roman mythology alike? I think not. Now this I reasoned and found out: The concept of True Love naturally tends to have or seek its completion outside of man himself; it goes beyond man to the divine, intimating a God-kind of nature, utterly selfless, self-sacrificing and devotedly true, which basically the fear of God can imbue into one. Hence, true love intimates something of ideal morality, something divine, something basically Godlike.
And maybe that is why we expect the qualities of a selfless, self-sacrificing God-kind of love to be found in what we call true love, for it to be a truly noble affair. And that is why we are humans, having cultures, philosophies and morality, and thus not in the same class with the wild animal in the jungle that has some similar kind of impulses in its skull and gonads!