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Free Falling

In matters of love, perhaps Harvard students need to learn to lose control

By Elise M. Stefanik

Love songs always get me. I still await the moment when sparks fly and Mr. Right softly croons in my ear Elvis’ buttery words: “I can’t help falling in love with you.” Fifty years later, the King of Rock ’n’ Roll still seems to have it right: Science can only go so far in explaining love’s capriciousness and involuntary nature.

In some respects, psychologists and biologists provide us with explanations to rationalize our fickle love lives. It’s widely accepted that humans tend to be physically attracted to the best -looking people. Scientists reason that this physical attraction is an indicator of fitness—supposedly pointing to the anticipated fitness of our offspring. Yet this Darwinian match-making, based on the survival of the fittest, seems to go only so far in explaining our erratic and picky sexual desires.

After all, does biology really explain the butterflies we feel when a quirky, but somehow cool, guy talks to us? And are therapists able to rationalize the gut feeling that ensues after we brush against a girl’s soft hair? How does science explain the “I dunno why, but she/he just really gets to me” phase of attraction?

Trying another tactic, Freud delves into our inner psyche in an attempt to answer these elusive questions. He suggests that when searching for their mates, humans look for qualities that are most reminiscent and characteristic of the parent of the opposite sex. But to be blunt, I still can’t stomach the idea of Oedipus and his mother, let alone think of my father as a sexual being. And if I were ever to come into contact with the pickup line “you remind me of my mother,” I would choke on my drink and sprint in the opposite direction.

Yet one must question why our greatest thinkers, namely Darwin and Freud, totally miss the love boat. The key element of falling in love that the complexity of science overlooks is just that: falling in love. Even the notion of “falling” evokes the idea of losing position, declining in value or ceasing to resist a temptation. All of these connotations are clearly based on loss of control. So it’s intriguing that we’ve chosen the word “falling” to describe our ascent—or descent—into love. Love’s lack of control and rationality are certainly at odds with science.

Most humans, especially Harvard students, shrink at the idea of losing control. We revel in the fact that we can expect what the future holds. Rarely do we have to be prepared to expect the unexpected.

Here at Harvard, we are students. Our job is to study, to network, to party and to take ourselves too seriously all in preparation for when we become the world leaders of our generation. We didn’t stagger into Harvard’s gates by chance, nor do we plan on stumbling out. Although we sometimes fail, Harvard students don’t fall. And if we do, it’s normally planned and thus not truly falling.

But even if it’s just our nature, are we missing out on the best parts of life? One of the greatest philosophers of our time, John Lennon, obviously thinks we are. He’d rather have us forget everything else-—because, really, “love is all you need.” So why not allow ourselves to succumb to this sheer bliss? Find those irresistible puppy eyes that inevitably lead to puppy love.

We, at Harvard, can still meticulously prepare to make gazillions of dollars, change the world, found a nonprofit and be elected senator. But every once in a while, the best decision we will make is allowing ourselves to fall—the way Elvis and Romeo do.

Elise M. Stefanik ’06, an editorial comper, is a government concentrator in Winthrop House.

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