Men want to be loved, women want to be desired.

Stop frowning and listen to me for a minute.  As much as women often claim to be all about love and all that good stuff, it’s possible we may not need it as much as we say we do.  In fact, I’m starting to think our love for desire is what drives us, not the other way around.  No?  She smiles an evil smile…

I’ve stolen this line from a woman wiser, and more deviant, and more evil, than myself.  Gemma, the slightly very psychotic matriarch in the TV show ‘Sons of Anarchy’, one of the more violent American exports to hit my screen (and yours, if you like twisted family dramas and motorcycles), unleashed this little gem after her man professed great love.  She scoffed, looked him dead in the eye and said, “Baby…”  You know the rest.  Just to give you some context, at the point when these declarations were being made, the woman was dealing with soon to be ex husband issues, son issues, daughter in law issues, booze issues, weed issues…I don’t think there was anything she didn’t have issues with.  She was a mess, is what I’m saying, fucked up in ways only TV people can conjure.  Further context.  The man in question is played by a very sexy Jimmy Smits, a man I can proudly say I would never, ever, kick out of my bed, even when he’s covered in Hesse (spelling?) tattoos and shit.  I know it’s a TV show and therefore not real, but if that man, or man closely resembling him, professed love, I suspect I would offer to have his babies.  But that’s just me.  Let us move on.  This man was her knight in shining, if a little dodgy, armour.  The way they tell it, she should have collapsed in a puddle at his feet when he swore his undying love, made…wait for it…complete by his affections.  She did not, thankfully.

All my life I’ve been hearing, and reading, that all a woman wants is love.  Love conquers all, love is all we need, love takes time, love is a wonderful thing, love will save you…  Every other sappy R&B song and fluffy romance is built around this one concept, that love is the only thing that should matter to us females.  Thing is, after chasing love my entire life, and finding it all of thrice, I think, I’m not sure love is all I need.  In fact, I’m pretty much done with that love story.  The last time I thought I had found it, I felt lonelier than I ever had before.  It’s not that I didn’t know the man loved me, he did (at least he did at the time, although perhaps not nearly as much as I thought, which is probably how I came to be talking to a bunch of strangers out here…), it’s that I didn’t feel loved.  Have you ever been with someone and felt…less than important to them?  It’s a strange feeling, a combination of being ignored, neglected, generally paid little to no attention to.  That sounded very ‘woe is me’.  Not good.  Disgusting, actually.  Let’s try this again.  It feels kinda like you’re an accessory, picked up when it’s good for him, and then cast aside and ignored when he’s off doing whatever it is he does when he’s not loving you.  Yup, that sounds much better.  Or not.

For all the love that was conveniently claimed when the man was within spitting distance, the minute he was out of sight he didn’t seem too enamoured with me.  He may have said he loved me, but I didn’t feel it, and a large part of that was because I didn’t feel like he wanted me, not really.  See, the one thing a woman, this woman in particular, cannot stand is to feel undesired.  More often that not, that’s the one straw that breaks her camel’s back.  Love and desire, to my mind are not the same thing, and even worse, the latter may be just as important, if not more so, than the former.

That one thought followed me throughout the relationship and long after.  Did my wanting desire from the man make his love for me less significant?  Was I reducing our relationship to sex and nothing but?  Is desire only about sex?  Are love and desire not two sides of the same coin?  I couldn’t wrap my head around the difference between the two, hell, at one point I was convinced my OCD was working overtime, driving me insane.  (Now you buggers…  Stop laughing at me, dammit.  For the last time, I am not insane, I am delusional, and yes, there is a difference.)  Sitting there listening to a drug and booze soaked, fictional woman deflect declarations from Jimmy Smits, Jimmy Smits of all people (LA Law fans can feel me on this…), the penny finally dropped.  Having been around the block a couple of times, so to speak, love as an abstract concept simply doesn’t cut it any more, does it?  Put differently, the idea of romantic fluffy love, while oh so heart warming and lovely, comes a (not so) close second to good old fashioned desire, not unless you derive great pleasure from stuffed animals and much less from a proper shagging.

Don’t look at me like that, you have to know by now that I always resort to our more base instincts, yes?  Yes.

Now I already have my google set up to deliver nuggets of scientific wisdom to prove my flawed theory, but for what?  All I ever do is impose my confirmation bias upon you, selecting that which adds to my argument and creatively deriding that which doesn’t.  But not this time, no sirree bob!  This time I’m going to tell you exactly what the shrinks and fake love experts say, that this theory of mine is complete and utter bollocks.  No really, it is.

But is it really?

See how I just did that, planted the seed of doubt in your impressionable minds?  Insert evil laugh here…

First stop is a disturbingly useful site, ‘The Truth About Deception’.  Slight detour, how a site whose tag line is ‘Advice About Lying, Infidelity, Love and Romance’ can be so helpful about relationship stuff never ceases to amaze me.  In What is the difference between love, attachment and sexual desire? they claim that our romantic relationships are built on three emotional systems:

Sexual Desire

The first emotional system is sexual desire.  Sexual desire involves the lustful, sexually passionate feelings people have for each other.  Sexual desire is a very intense and powerful emotion; it can cloud one’s judgmental and prompt risk-taking.  Sexual desire is often based on physical appearance, novelty and the chemistry between two people.  And while sexual desire motivates a lot of our behaviours [sic] early on in a relationship, intense levels of sexual desire are difficult to maintain with the same person over the course of time.

Love

The second emotional system entails love.  And love, in and of itself, is composed of a complex set of feelings.  Love often entails feelings of closeness, genuine appreciation, and concern.  But, the experience of love is not the same for everyone.  For some people, love is delusional and needy, or based on emotional game playing, or experienced as the desire to take care of another person.

Attachment

The last emotional system involves attachment.  Attachment is the feeling of security and comfort we get from being close to someone else.  Attachment provides a sense of stability, certainty, and safety – the feeling that someone will always be there for you in a time of need.  And, like with love, there are individual differences in the experience of attachment.

That sounds about right, first desire, and then love, and then attachment.  The ordering of these systems would imply that the progression means that one replaces the other, but no…

However, these basic emotional systems do not necessarily work in sync over the course of time.  Long term, it can be difficult to find one person who consistently satisfies all three needs.  In many cases, these three emotional systems work against each other – creating competing desires and interests.

They then throw in the point to their article, in case you’ve forgotten why you’re on that particular site…

For instance, it is possible to be attached to one romantic partner, be in love with someone else, and still have sexual desire for another person.

Being aware of these competing emotions, and that not everyone experiences love and attachment in the same way, often helps make sense of the problems that arise in our romantic relationships.

And understanding these basic emotional systems can lead to a greater understanding of the types of affairs people have.

(In their defence, they do state their mission quite clearly at the top of the page.) What they’re saying, in summary, is that the three systems are often in play at the same time, making it hard for us to balance desire, love and attachment.  Anything else you take from it is solely yours, yaani don’t use me to justify your other mama, I will deny all knowledge.

Next up are the lovely neurologists who believe brain scans are the key to everything.  These geniuses went out and scanned heads to see what parts of the brain are involved with sexual desire and those tied to love.  The result?  It’s the same part of the brain, kinda.  I want to know where love is: First brain map of love and desire.

Love and sexual desire activate different areas of the striatum. The area activated by sexual desire is usually activated by things that are inherently pleasurable, such as sex or food. The area activated by love is involved in the process of conditioning by which things paired with reward or pleasure are given inherent value. That is, as feelings of sexual desire develop into love, they are processed in a different place in the striatum.  Somewhat surprisingly, this area of the striatum is also the part of the brain that associated with drug addiction. Pfaus explains there is good reason for this. “Love is actually a habit that is formed from sexual desire as desire is rewarded. It works the same way in the brain as when people become addicted to drugs.”

The lovely people at Huff Po explain it better, From Sex To Love: Emotional Attachment And Sexual Desire Originate In Overlapping Parts Of The Brain (STUDY)

The study found that love and sex fall on a sort of neurological continuum. Both phenomena activate a section of the striatum (the part of the brain that receives messages from the cerebral cortex about emotions, memory and other functions). Lust causes the ventral striatum the part of the brain associated with emotion and motivation — to “light up.” Love activates the dorsal striatum, which impacts decision-making and is associated with drug addiction, reported MSNBC.

Perhaps not.  The Huff Po article is making a case for love growing from sex, as evidenced by the article they quote claiming a one night stand can lead to everlasting love (a lovely idea, but entirely misguided in this case).  What the scientists found is that the link between desire and love is more feedback mechanism than one way progression.  Desire feeds love, feeds desire, feeds love, and on and on (at least that’s my interpretation), which in turn means that taking one element out of the equation would break the chain, no?

This is my question.  Can you love without desire, and if so, then is desire unnecessary in love?  I’m talking about romantic love here, not the great love you have for your babies or your ma, or your barman.  That there can be desire without love is well documented, all you need to do is google clips of any cheating bastard who’s been caught with his, or her, proverbial pants down.  ‘It didn’t mean anything, it’s not love, baibee…’ is the common refrain, one which I have neither the time nor energy to explore today (always gets me into trouble that discussion).  On the other hand, love without desire is often quoted as the definition of marriage (insert own joke here…), but how can this be?

I haven’t found an answer to this most vexing question yet, part of me suspects I never will, but I will tell you this much, there can be no love, from me, without desire, from him.  I don’t care what he provides, if he doesn’t try and grab my behind (or front) every so often, very often actually, he does not love me, not the way I want, perhaps need, to be loved.  I know, it makes little to no sense, but there it is, love is the concept, desire is the action.  Us women we like action, so stop loving and get to desiring, yes?  I’ll love you after, promise.  Look, even the Ancient Greeks, they of the incestuous gods with serious anger management issues, had the good sense to pair the two together, all immortal like.  The erotes were the gods of love AND desire, together, at the same time, as in inseparable.  All I’m saying is, what the gods have put together let no man put asunder, or something such like.