At one point or another, all of us have probably felt like 'love', however we define it, is more trouble than it's worth. 'Love hurts' and 'heartache' are phrases most of us can relate to and a 'cure for love' was written about by Lucretius, Ovid and Shakespeare. But is love just a troublesome artifice we've created for ourselves, or a fundamental part of human existence, to be cherished even when it hurts us?
Advances in science might soon force us to face this question, as anti-love biotechnology would see feelings associated with love limited using medicine, with the concept being treated much like addiction or depression.
Neuro-ethicist Brian D. Earp thinks there's some truth to the old adage that 'love is a drug'.
"Recent brain studies show extensive parallels between the effects of certain addictive drugs and experiences of being in love," he told the New Scientist last year.
"Both activate the brain's reward system, can overwhelm us so that we forget about other things and can inspire withdrawal when they are no longer available. It seems it isn't just a cliché that love is like a drug: in terms of effects on the brain, they may be neurochemically equivalent."
Anti-love drugs are unofficially already in use, with Earp noting that in Israel some ultra-Orthodox Jews have prescribed antidepressants to young yeshiva students to reduce their libido, using the side effect of the drug as its main use.
Earp thinks there are certain situations where more sophisticated drug treatments could be beneficial.
"You can imagine a situation in which a person's experience of love is so profoundly harmful, yet so irresistible, that it undermines their ability to think rationally for themselves," he added.
"Some people in dangerous relationships know they need to get out, and even want to, but are unable to break their emotional attachment. If, for example, a woman in an abusive relationship could access medication that would help her break ties with her abuser, then, assuming it was safe and effective, we think she could be justified in taking it."
A history of love
A history of love
1/13 Plato's Symposium
One of the Plato’s most famous works, this dialogue between Greek philosophers that takes place over dinner, explores the very nature of love, what it means to be in love, and has shaped the modern definition of platonic love.
2/13 Romeo and Juliet
Shakepeare's tale of two young star-crossed lovers has stood the test of time and continues to be adapted for film, stage and even opera.
3/13 Troilus and Criseyde
Considered one of Chaucer’s finest works the poem written in Middle-English brought about the term ‘all good things come to an end’ as Criseyde’s lover dies a tragic death in the Siege of Troy.
4/13 Pride and Prejudice
Having sold over 20 million copies, Jane Austen’s novel based on the themes of manners, upbringing, morality and marriage continues to make women worldwide swoon at the thought of finding their very own Mr. Darcy.
5/13 Sigmund Freud
Freud thought that not only a couple’s love for one another, but the parent’s love for the child and the child’s for the parent were basically of the same kind.
6/13 Wuthering Heights
Emily Bronte’s eerie tale of jealousy and vengefulness still haunts readers today and even inspired Kate Bush’s 1978 hit.
7/13 Orpheus & Eurydice
Perhaps the ultimate tragic love story, this Greek myth explores love at first sight and Orpheus’s doomed journey to the Underworld to be reunited with his wife.
8/13 Song of Songs in the Bible
A celebration of sexual love, The Song of Songs or the Song of Solomon is widely considered one of the most beautiful expressions of love and harmony.
9/13 The Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal
A story of love so epic that it led to the creation of one of the Wonders of the World, The Taj Mahal, this is a grief stricken Mughal Emperor’s exquisite manifestation of love for his favourite wife who died in childbirth.
10/13 Madame Bovary, Flaubert
Flaubert’s 19th century realist novel follows narcissist Emma Bovary and her descent into adultery and despair as the boredom of bourgeois life consumes her.
11/13 Anna Karenina, Tolstoy
Tolstoy’s exploration of love as a kind of fate which can be a blessing but also a curse that leads to destruction is deeply embedded in modern culture.
12/13 Doctor Zhivago
Set during a war, the classic love triangle of a man who has fallen for two women is a tale of broken hearts and twists of fate.
13/13 Layla and Majnun
Persian poet, Nizami Ganjavi, narrates a story of young love which can only be united in death as the legendary lovers are buried side by side, to be reunited in the afterlife.
But while 'curing' love could theoritically reduce cases of depression, domestic abuse and even suicide, there are obviously huge ethical considerations and drawbacks.
Putting procreation aside, the treatment implies that heartbreak isn't a restorative learning process.
"It is important to be careful about making broad recommendations," Earp cautioned. "There are some people who are so devastated for such a long time after a break-up that they can't move on. Part of this might be depression, for which we already have many treatments.
"Even in a case of domestic abuse, that can be life-threatening, we wouldn't recommend forcing drug-based treatment on someone against their will: non-biochemical interventions should be tried first."
The dulling of extreme emotions and loosening of romantic bonds remain a side-effect of antidepressants that boost serotonin but in a digital age that makes relationships more intense and constant than ever, it's easy to see how they could become desirable.
In Japan, some men have already taken matters into their own hands. A social phenomenon known as 'Herbivore men' sees males shunning girlfriends or marriage to focus on their own lives.Reuse content