In 1862, Emily Dickinson wrote, “The heart wants what it wants, or else it does not care”. Selena Gomez sang about it in her ballad and Woody Allen tried to justify it for his involvement with Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter. Do you believe the inscrutable wisdom is true?
Throughout our adult lives, we are met, over and over again, with images and evidence of what love is or might be. Love is a central theme in humanity across time and cultures. It is also the main topic in music, films, novels, poetry and art. But we all approach it so differently. How does it affect us so deeply that even sane people have gone mad? Is it even possible to understand romance in all of its significant forms? The long-term and the fleeting. The disheartening and the mind-blowing. And how do we admit that our love lives are wild, complex, unknowable things? And once we’ve admitted it, how do we go about interpreting or explaining the mystery?
I know, in my mind, I will play the scene out, dancing, singing, silence, or staring, creating these resonant spaces to concentrate on what it means to fall in love and why we even do. If only for a moment, it is in these spaces, that I am allowed to fully feel the mystery for a while, if not be granted any sort of lasting clarity. I believe the meaning of the saying is that emotions, such as love, are not under conscious, cognitive control. You cannot simply decide to fall in love with somebody, no matter how suitable. Just as you cannot decide to stop loving somebody, no matter how hopeless.
Psychologist’s say that these occurrences are hard to explain using the two most common theories of emotions. The first being; the cognitive appraisal theory of emotions, which says that emotions are judgements about how well a situation fits with your goals, so that happiness is an estimate of goal satisfaction and sadness is an estimate of goal dissatisfaction. On this theory, it should be fairly easy to control your emotions, because you can reappraise the situation and figure out whether falling in love accomplishes your relationship goals. But, your emotions are never that simple.
The alternative theory of emotions are reactions to physiological changes, such as heart rate, breathing and hormone levels. The physiological view of emotions fits well within the idea that the heart wants just what the heart wants, putting feelings outside of cognitive control.
If you were to combine these two theories, however, our emotions could be the parallel integration of both “cognitive appraisal and psychological perception”. In other words, yes, the heart wants what the heart wants, but sometimes the heart wants what the brain wants too. If this is true, we could all learn to better control the thoughts and ideas that influence our physiology based wants and desires, focusing such thoughts on developing healthy and positive values, beliefs and goals. This way, our emotions will fall in line based on our thoughts and our biochemical functionality helping us to minimize our susceptibility to making really bad decisions about relationships.
I think you can decide to do things that increase the likelihood that you will fall in love with someone, such as deep, meaningful and intimate conversations and gazing into one another’s eyes. And, you might try to fall out of love with someone by avoiding the person, focusing on their negative attributes, and/or becoming attracted to someone else. Honestly, I think these are all unanswerable questions and assumptions. At the end of all the daydreaming, staring, experiments, silences and questions, no one has gotten much further articulating our desires than Emily Dickinson did all those years ago. The heart wants what it wants, or else it doesn’t care.