love 1: affection based on admiration or benevolence 2 a: warm attachment, enthusiasm or devotion <~of the sea> b: the object of such attachment or devotion 3 a: unselfish concern that freely accepts another in loyalty and seeks his good: (1): the fatherly concern of God for man (2): brotherly concern for others b: Man's adoration of God 4 a: the attraction based on sexual desire : the affection and tenderness felt by lovers b: a god or personification of love c: an amorous episode: LOVE AFFAIR d: the sexual embrace: COPULATION 5: a beloved person: DARLING 6: a score of zero in tennis
-- Webster's Dictionary
Love compounded by sexual attraction (cf Webster's def. 4) is the favorite subject of poets and novelists alike. Yet despite the millennia of attempted explanations, we are no nearer to an understanding of the phenomenon. The theory has been advanced that romantic love is a figment of the imagination, but if it is, then it is probably the most physically devastating illusion man and woman concoct for themselves.
Independent of theory, love is a state which naturally creates a sort of dependence, no matter how strong or self- sufficient the parties involved are. The reason seems to be in the emotions, predominantly pleasant, even exhilarating, (and at times addictively so) which the beloved causes the lover to experience. This exhilaration is largely irrational: there is definitely a sexual element, but the sexual attraction which the lover feels is completely out of proportion to any rationally understandable sexual instincts or drives. In addition, it is frequently accompanied by the illogical inability on the part of the lover to respond with the same degree of sexual excitement to any other than the beloved, regardless of their relative sexual desirability. This among other things leads to the above mentioned dependence; the lover discovers that only the beloved can provide him or her with the same intensity of sensation. These sensations cause an artificial "need" on the part of the lover to be with the beloved, to touch and be touched, etc., in order to experience the desired sensations again.
In any examination of the phenomenon, the element of the irrational cannot be ignored. Initial attraction may be governed by certain logical considerations, such as physical attraction, common interests, a shared sense of the ridiculous, or obvious intelligence, but there is no real explanation as to how one relationship remains on the level of comfortable friendship spiced up by an incidental sexual relationship, while another becomes what we would term "passionate love," the state of pseudo-dependency to which I initially referred.
A further, more far-reaching question arises in this, the last decade of the second millennium: how can love between the sexes be possible with the war between the sexes raging?