Der Mond und die Sonne. Über Liebe und Schwäche / The Moon and the Sun. On Love and Weakness

English translation below.

An einem Nachmittag im Mai, als die Sonne am Horizont stand und sich zum Schlafengehen bereit machte, dachte sie, dass sie vor dem Schlafengehen mit ihrer Bruder, dem Mond, über die Ereignisse des Vortages sprechen würde.

Er hatte von Hyperion (dem Morgenstern) erfahren, dass es irgendwo auf der Erde einen Streit zwischen einigen Menschen gegeben hatte, und da der Konflikt groß war, hatten einige sogar ihr Leben verloren.

Die Sonne verstand weder die Ursache des Konflikts noch die scheinbar absurden Folgen. Also ging er zum Mond, der gerade aufgewacht war und seine morgendliche Etikette ablegte.

“Was hältst du von dieser Geschichte, die Hyperion uns neulich erzählt hat?”, fragte die Sonne den Mond.

“Ich für meinen Teil verstehe nicht wirklich, worüber diese Leute gestritten haben…”, antwortete er, aufrichtig daran interessiert, das Gespräch fortzusetzen.

“Ich glaube, es hat etwas mit Liebe zu tun. Wie Isolde und Tristan oder Romeo und Julia”, vermutete die Sonne.

“Ja … das könnte sein. Aber ich habe von Hyperion verstanden, dass es auch etwas mit menschlicher Schwäche zu tun hat.”

“Wie das?”, fragte die Sonne.

Der Mond erzählte ihr weitere Geschichten, die er vom Morgenstern gehört hatte und die offenbar die schwache Natur des Menschen offenbarten.

Er begann damit, dass er der Sonne von einer schönen jungen Frau erzählte, die zunächst von einem sogenannte Dr. Faust und später von Narziss selbst verlassen wurde, die aber trotz ihres jungen Alters die Kraft hatte, ihren eigenen Weg zu gehen, ohne den beiden Männern gegenüber nachtragend zu sein.

“Und hier scheint die Stärke des Mannes”, fügt der Mond hinzu.

Dann folgten über mehrere Tage hinweg eine Reihe von Geschichten, die das Gegenteil der ersten beleuchteten, nämlich wie ein Mann sich in Zeiten der Not als schwach erweisen kann.

Der Mond erzählte der Sonne von einem anderen jungen Mädchen, das genauso hübsch war wie das vorherige, das in der Vergangenheit unter falschen Freunden gelitten hatte. Diese Freunde hatten sie ohne ein Wort vor einer gemeinsamen Reise verlassen, weil die junge Frau eine Liebesaffäre mit einem Jungen hatte.

Das Mädchen hatte den Vorfall damals einer Freundin erzählt. Kurze Zeit später erlebte die Freundin eine ähnliche Geschichte. Anstatt für sie da zu sein, offen mit ihr zu reden oder sie zu fragen, wie es wirklich war, ließ das Mädchen seine Freundin wortlos im Stich, so wie sie es zuvor getan hatte.

“Und wie zeigt sich die Schwäche dieses Mädchens in der Geschichte?” fragte die Sonne.

Der weise Mond antwortete: “Indem sie die Lektion, die ihr das Leben in der Vergangenheit erteilt hat, nicht gelernt hat, und dann nicht den Mut und die Kraft hatte, ihrer Freundin in der Zeit der Not beizustehen.”

“Hmm… ich verstehe immer noch nicht die ganze Sache mit der Schwäche. Und vor allem, was hat das mit der Galle zu tun, von der Hyperion uns erzählt hat?”, sagte die Sonne.

“Sei geduldig, meine Liebe, denn ich werde es dir sagen. Aber bei all dem Gerede ist es schon Zeit für dich, ins Bett zu gehen, und ich werde gleich für die Menschen leuchten”, antwortete der Mond lieblich.

English translation.

The Moon and the Sun. On Love and Weakness.

One afternoon in May, the Sun was sitting on the horizon and, getting ready for bed, he thought that, before going to sleep, he would talk to his sister, the Moon, about what had happened the day before.

He had learned from Hyperion (the Morning Star) that somewhere on Earth there had been a quarrel between some people, and the conflict being great, some had even lost their lives.

The Sun did not understand either the cause of the conflict or the apparently absurd consequences. So he went to the Moon, which had just woken up and was doing her morning etiquette.

“What do you think of this story Hyperion told us about the other day?” asked the Sun to the Moon.

“I, for one, don’t really understand what those people were arguing about…” she replied, genuinely interested in continuing the conversation.

“I think it has something to do with love. Like Isolde and Tristan or Romeo and Juliet,” the Sun guessed.

“Yeah…it could be. But I understood from Hyperion that there would also be something about human weakness.”

“How so?” the Sun asked.

The Moon told him other stories she had heard from the Morning Star, which apparently revealed the weak nature of man.

She began by telling the Sun about a beautiful young woman, first deserted by a certain Dr. Faust, and later by Narcissus himself, but who had the strength, despite her young age, to go her own way, without resentment towards either man.

“And here you see the strength of the man,” the Moon adds.

Then followed, over several days, a series of stories that highlighted the opposite of the first, namely, how a man can prove weak in times of hardship.

The Moon told the Sun about another young girl, just as pretty as the one before, who had suffered in the past from false friends. Those friends, without a word, had abandoned her before a trip they were to make together, because of a love affair between the young woman and a boy.

At the time, the girl had painfully recounted the incident to a friend. Shortly afterwards, the friend went through a similar story.

Instead of being there for her, talking to her openly or asking her how things really were, the girl chose to abandon her friend without a word, just as she had done before.

“And how does the weakness of this girl in the story reveal itself?” asked the Sun.

The wise Moon replied, “By not learning the lesson life had taught her in the past, and then by not having the courage and strength to stand by her friend in her time of need.”

“Hmm…I still don’t get the whole weakness thing. And, more importantly, what does that have to do with the gall Hyperion told us about?” said the Sun.

“Patience, my dear, for I will tell you. But with all this chatter it is already time for you to go to bed, and I am about to shine for the people,” replied the Moon sweetly.

Parfum de Narcis / Narcissus’ Perfume

English translation below


Cu toate că e dificil a descrie mirosul unui parfum, oricine își poate imagina cu destulă ușurință că o combinație de iasomie și paciuli îți induce o stare de bine și te îndeamnă la dragoste.

Deși nu studiase niciodată arta parfumurilor, Narcis intuia cât de puternic este amestecul de iasomie și paciuli, mai ales atunci cât pleca la vreo întâlnire amoroasă, prin vreun bar, vreo cafenea sau pur și simplu, noapte, prin oraș. Se străduia mereu să arate elegant, atrăgător și, cel mai important, să miroase cum nu se poate mai bine, pentru a cuceri inimile tinerelor din orășel. Narcis, deși student ambițios și talentat, la Arhitectură, și om sociabil prin natura sa, trăia pentru un singur lucru. Dragostea.

Pentru Narcis, dragostea era la fel de importantă ca aerul pe care îl respira și ca apa pe care o bea, atunci când îi era teribil de sete. Trăia fiecare clipă de parcă toate femeile îl iubeau, ceea ce nu era prea departe de adevăr, pentru că Narcis era frumos, inteligent, cuceritor și cu multe talente în domeniul artistic. Avea un mod deosebit de a vorbi cu oamenii de toate felurile, era îndrăzneț, câteodată chiar impertinent, și era capabil să abordeze orice subiect, cu îndrăzneala omului care știe exact despre ce vorbește.

Dar Narcis era nefericit. Și asta din cauza unui blestem ce plana asupra sa, de câțiva ani încoace. Avusese ghinionul să o cunoască pe Margareta, o fată de douăzeci și doi de ani, frumoasă, inteligentă și, aparent, bună la suflet, care la momentul acela nu avea casă proprie și locuia pe la prieteni. Îi oferise cazare, gândindu-se că, desigur, ea îi va plăti așa cum își dorea el de la toate femeile atrăgătoare, iar ea acceptase, bucuroasă.

Avuseseră o relație frumoasă, care durase câteva luni, dar care se sfârșise brusc și trist pentru Margareta. Ea căuta dragoste, însă el nu o iubea. Îl implorase să încerce să o iubească, măcar să mai aștepte câteva luni, poate, poate ea va reuși să deștepte în Narcis sentimente nemaiîntâlnite de el până atunci. Dar Narcis refuzase. În plus, se cam plictisise de ea și căuta acum să fie iarăși liber și era dornic de noi aventuri superficiale.

După despărțire, Margareta mai locuise la Narcis o perioadă scurtă, apoi, fără niciun cuvânt, dispăruse în ceață. Narcis nu o căutase și își urmase traseul boem de amorez. Continuase să poarte amestecul de iasomie și paciuli în fiecare seară și fusese fericit. Până când ceva neașteptat se întâmplă.

Într-o zi de duminică, însorită și liniștită, Narcis ședea undeva la umbra unui copac, pe marginea râului care traversa orășelul. La un moment dat, o pală de vânt îi suflă prin păr, iar el simți mirosul de iasomie și paciuli, puternic și învăluitor. Ca prin vrajă, Narcis se îndrăgosti de acel miros, de vânt și de cel al cărui miros îl simțea. Dar cum putea el avea vântul, cum putea atinge acel parfum deosebit și, mai cu seamă, cum putea Narcis fi cu el însuși?

Îi dispăru pofta de viață, nu mai căută relații trecătoare și se refugie în sine însuși. De disperare, încercă chiar de câteva ori să își curme viața, însă de fiecare dată fu opri de aceeași dragoste puternică pe care și-o purta sieși.

Astăzi, Narcis poate că cutreieră pământul în căutarea unei dragoste la fel de puternice, care să o înlocuiască pe cea cu care a fost blestemat să o aibă pentru el însuși sau poate că locuiește în continuare în acel orășel, unde cândva studiase Arhitectura. Dar cert este că acum din el nu a mai rămas decât umbra celui de altădată.

English translation

Narcissus‘ perfume

Although it is difficult to describe the smell of a perfume, anyone can quite easily imagine that a combination of jasmine and pachouli induces a good mood and urges you to love.

Although he had never studied the art of perfumery, Narcissus knew how powerful the mixture of jasmine and pachouli was, especially when he was out on a date, in a bar, in a café or simply in town at night. He always tried to look elegant, attractive and, most importantly, to smell as good as he could, to win the hearts of the young women of the small town. Narcissus, though an ambitious and talented architecture student and a sociable man by nature, lived for one thing. Love.

For Narcissus, love was as important as the air he breathed and the water he drank when he was terribly thirsty. He lived every moment as if all women loved him, which was not far from the truth, because Narcissus was beautiful, intelligent, charming, and artistically gifted. He had a way of talking to people of all kinds, he was bold, sometimes even impertinent, and he was able to tackle any subject with the boldness of a man who knew exactly what he was talking about.

But Narcissus was unhappy. And that was because of a curse that had been hanging over him for years. He had had the misfortune to meet Margaret, a girl of twenty-two, beautiful, intelligent, and apparently kind-hearted, who at the time had no home of her own and lived with friends. He had offered her accommodation, thinking that she would, of course, pay him as he wanted of all attractive women, and she had gladly accepted.

They had had a beautiful relationship, which had lasted a few months, but it had ended abruptly and sadly for Margaret. She was looking for love, but he did not love her. She begged him to try to love her, at least to wait a few more months, perhaps she would manage to awaken in Narcissus feelings he had never known before. But Narcissus refused. Besides, he had grown bored of her and was now looking for freedom again and was eager for new superficial adventures.

After the break-up, Margaret stayed with Narcissus for a short while, then, without a word, disappeared into nothingness. Narcissus did not look for her and pursued his bohemian lover’s way. He continued to wear the jasmine and patchouli mixture every evening and was happy. Until something unexpected happened.

On a sunny, quiet Sunday, Narcissus was sitting somewhere in the shade of a tree by the river that ran through the small town. At one point, a gust of wind blew through his hair, and he smelled the scent of jasmine and patchouli, strong and overpowering. As if by magic, Narcissus fell in love with that smell, with the wind, and with the man whose scent he could smell. But how could he have the wind, how could he touch that wonderful scent, and, above all, how could Narcissus be with himself?

His lust for life vanished, he stopped looking for fleeting relationships and took refuge in himself. In desperation, he even tried on several occasions to end his life, but each time he was stopped by the same strong love he had for himself.

Today, Narcissus may be wandering the earth in search of an equally strong love to replace the one he was cursed to have for himself, or perhaps he still lives in that small town where he once studied architecture. But what is certain is that now there is nothing left of him but a shadow of his former self.

Oxytocin and Social Bonding

While most of us would be able to describe what being affectively close to someone feels like, we might find it harder to explain why and how such a connection forms.

Why do we love and what makes us love certain people? Why is love so different depending on the subject of our affection? Is it possible to measure love? What does the complete absence of love in an individual reveal about their health state? With so many questions having been formulated throughout centuries, no wonder love has become a universal conundrum. Traversing various disciplines, it not only represents the realm of the literary, but it has increasingly become one of the central focuses in philosophy, biology, social sciences and neuroscience.

As far as the neuroscientific approaches to love go, this concept is represented by affiliative bonds. Therefore, from now on we shall refer to love as such. For the sake of the reader’s personal interest, we shall further discuss affiliative interactions as they appear and manifest in humans. Affiliation describes the ability of an individual to form close interpersonal bonds with other individuals of the same species. Three prototypes of affiliation have been identified: parental (between children and their parents), pair (between romantic partners) and filial (between friends).

This article is intended to introduce the reader to the evolutionary significance and neurochemical mechanisms underlying social bonding/affiliation. As such, the above-mentioned types of affiliative behaviours will be only in part separately discussed. Instead, we shall focus on what these categories share in common, particularly, the hormone-neurotransmitter oxytocin and the concept of synchrony.

Synchrony refers to the process by which the members of a social group collaborate with each other, in order to achieve a social goal. This kind of collaboration involves concordance in time between members, at the level of behaviour and physiological processes (e.g. hormonal release, neural firing). Through these synchronous processes underlying social reciprocity, each member is introduced to the social milieu, becomes adapted to his/her environment and learns how to survive.

Intimate reciprocal relationships between two individuals in a social group help shape the individual’s moral, empathic and pro-social orientation, as well as social adaptation and self-regulation. The interaction between mother and infant is critical to the social maturation and well-being of the young. Human mothers, just like other mammals, exhibit specific postpartum behaviours, such as affectionate touch, high-pitched vocalisations, expressing positive affect, which lead to the notoriously strong mother-infant bond.

This type of specific attachment relationship coordinates the physiology of the infant with the behaviours of the mother. Moreover, this mother-infant synchrony enables the temporal alignment of the infant’s inner state with the responses of the social environment (via the mother). The absence of a proper interaction between mother and child, especially within the critical period (between 3 and 9 months after birth), has been shown to contribute to the development of autism spectrum disorders (for more information on autism, check out this previous article – Decoding autism).

Romantic attachment is another type of social bonding in humans, with significant implications to the normal psychological functioning of the individual. According to recent studies, both parental and romantic relationships share similar behavioural characteristics (gaze, touch, affects, vocalisations and coordination of these behaviours between the members of the pair) and rely on similar neuroendocrine mechanisms. These mechanisms mainly involve a nine amino-acid neuropeptide known as oxytocin.

Oxytocin acts as both a hormone and a neurotransmitter. It is associated with a variety of functions including the initiation of uterine contractions during parturition, homeostatic, appetitive and reward processes, and last but certainly not least, the formation of affiliative bonds. For the latter, oxytocin plays a very important role in social recognition, maternal behaviour and development of partner preferences.

Oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus, by the magnocellular neurones clustered in two types of nuclei: the supraoptic and paraventricular. These neurones send projections to the posterior pituitary gland, thus engaging the oxytocin system with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, mediating the stress response, as well as parturition, lactation and milk ejection. Other projections from the paraventricular nucleus go to various forebrain limbic structures (e.g. amygdala, hippocampus), brainstem (e.g. ventral tegmental area) and spinal cord. There are also other areas, apart from the brain and spinal cord, which receive oxytocin signalling, such as the heart, gastrointestinal tract, uterus, placenta, testes etc. With such extensive projections, it comes as no surprise that oxytocin is involved in a wide variety of processes.

In romantic and parental attachment, oxytocin induces the motivation to initiate sexual behaviour, the formation of sexual preferences and the increased stimulant value of the infant for its mother, via its connectivity with the mesolimbic dopaminergic neurones. The neurotransmitter dopamine plays a major role in the reward-motivated behaviour. Therefore, the oxytocin-dopamine interaction is key to the motivation to bond between members of romantic or child-parent relationships.

If you were wondering why the parental attachment has so far been presented only from the perspective of the mother-child relationship, that is because in males a different hormone mediates parental behaviour. Vasopressin can be seen as the male equivalent of oxytocin, as it modulates affiliation, aggression, juvenile recognition, partner preference and parental behaviour in males. Having said that, there are studies which show that oxytocin also supports paternal behaviour and is linked to the father-typical affiliative behaviour.

Oxytocin is also very important in establishing close connection with our best friends (what is known as filial attachment). According to research in this area, children start showing selective attachment to a ‘best friend’ around the age of 3. This kind of interpersonal interaction represents the first attachment to non-kin members of society, therefore, a crucial step in the normal development of any human being.

Depending on the level of synchronous parenting children experienced during infancy, their interactions with best friends can vary in the degree of reciprocity, emotional involvement and concern for the friend’s needs. These behaviours are modulated by oxytocin. During the first 3 years of life, oxytocin secretion in humans depends on the parent’s postpartum behaviour (which is predicted by the parents’ own levels of oxytocin) and, in turn, determines the degree of empathy between close friends. Therefore, a reasonable assumption, which has been recently proven, is that children benefiting from high parental reciprocity during infancy develop better social adaptation, are more friendly and cooperative, and show greater empathy.

All in all, the social bonds we form with members of our social group, be they our family, romantic partners or friends, are dependent on certain hormones and behaviours occurring at critical stages of development. Close attachment bonds with our parents, during early infancy, are later translated into affiliations to non-kin members of the social groups, who we come across during childhood, evolving into intimate friendships during adolescence, which eventually shape the ability of the adult human to form and maintain romantic connections and provide nurture for the next generation.

What we have just discussed is of importance for different aspects. Focusing on oxytocin and synchrony provides better understanding of neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism. At the same time, this focus offers some answers to questions regarding the reasons and mechanisms underlying the many types of love us humans experience throughout our lives.

References

Feldman, R. (2012). Oxytocin and social affiliation in humans. Hormones and Behavior, 61(3),  380-391. 

Hammock, E. A. ., & Young, L. J. (2006) Oxytocin, vasopressin and pair bonding: implications for autism. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 361(1476), 2187–2198.