By Karina Wilson
It’s February, and, as restaurants, florists and card-shops build up to their most lucrative day of the year, I have to ask, who’ll be your 2012 Valentine?
Do you have a soul mate, a perfectly balanced relationship in which they love you as much as you love them? Are you completely reasonable in all your dealings with your lover? Is every interaction logical and even-tempered? Do you feel calm and in control when you’re together? Do you feel entirely sane in their presence? Do they feel the same way?
Or do you think either one of you might be the tiniest bit crazy, in love?
Love and insanity have always been equated in literature. People fall madly in love, go insane with desire, are absolutely nuts about one another. That’s meant to be a positive part of the experience. Nonetheless, writers over the centuries have recognized that love is an aberrant state of mind. In As You Like It, Rosalind (disguised as Ganymede) informs Orlando that “Love is merely a madness, and, I tell you, deserves as well a dark house and a whip as madmen do” – before offering to cure him of his lunacy. Charlotte Bronte waxes lyrical on madness and love in Jane Eyre; passion for Mr. Rochester condemns Bertha to the attic and causes Jane to lament “I am insane—quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs.” In the 1970s, Marilyn French identifies love as “…Insanity. The ancient Greeks knew that. It is the taking over of a rational and lucid mind by delusion and self-destruction. You lose yourself, you have no power over yourself, you can’t even think straight.”
In the twenty-first century, fMRI scans have shown that the first flush of love is, indeed, akin to temporary madness, and stimulates the same zones of the brain as gambling, drugs and violence – those associated with addiction, and lack of control. Finally, science and poetry are on the same page.
While there’s plenty of overlap between the general symptoms of love and other psychological conditions (substance dependence, mood disorders, narcissism, paranoia, antisocial personalities, borderline personality disorders, dependent disorders, histrionic personality disorders and schizophrenia), there’s one syndrome that stands out from any other kind of fatal attraction: erotomania. This is the delusional belief that another person – usually of a higher social status – is in love with you and is sending you secret, coded messages to that effect. You flirt with them. You think they’re flirting back. They have no idea you exist.
This Valentine’s Day, go on, ask yourself, is this love that you’re feeling? Is this the one that you’ve been waiting for? Or are you suffering from the syndrome De Clérambault defined in 1921 as “psychose passionelle”? Given that regular love is crazy and stupid at the best of times, how can you tell if you’ve crossed the line?
Thankfully, there are a number of Bad Books out there that deal with erotomania and – as when identifying psychopaths – serve as handy field guides. Unlike movies, novels have the power to take us inside the protagonist’s mind, exploring their particular psychosis through the rhythms of their internal and external speech. In the modern era, no one has nailed erotomaniac obsession quite like John Fowles in The Collector (1963). This Bad Book is both a page-turner and a case-study. When you finally put it down, you’ll know if you need to seek help, shoot yourself, or if you’re just suffering from the usual lunacy of love.
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