“Why’d you slap me?”
It was a fair question. We were in the middle of an intimate, I-love-you-to-the-moon-and-back moment that only teenagers in love experience.
True Romance had just finished playing. He was leaning back on the couch. I was in his lap. We weren’t married then, but we already felt like we were. It was a perfect scene.
So why had I slapped him?
I wasn’t angry. Quite the opposite. I was so overcome with love and a swelling emotion that I couldn’t take it. I was about to burst. So…I hit him.
His hand on his face. I’m sure it couldn’t have hurt him. But he was surprised and none too pleased with my display of affection. I was bewildered.
It wouldn’t be the first time I’d have an aggressive response to love. That shit is overwhelming.
It’s been fifteen years since that day, and still when I look at him and my heart aches to exploding, I want to bite him or smack him or squeeze him so tight he bursts.
Why does love have to hurt so much?
If any of this sounds familiar, you might be an highly sensitive person. Take the highly sensitive person test.
Love Isn’t All Butterflies and Roses
We’re not talking about jealousy or jilted lovers. This isn’t about the husband who murders his wife and her lover in a drunken rage. This is everyday, I-love-you-in-a-wholesome-way, hugs-and-kisses love destruction.
It’s love, in all its strange biological manifestations.
Confused yet? Try this.
Do you ever bite the one you love? Want to squeeze your dog so tight his lungs collapse? Have you ever been so overwhelmed with emotion it threatens to spill from you if you don’t scream or growl or slap?
You aren’t the only one.
Destructive love impulses are so common it could launch its own college major. It hasn’t launched one yet. In fact, it really isn’t well-researched at all. That means most of the vocabulary is vernacular, making the concepts tough to pin down. But we’re gonna give it a shot anyway.
Here are a few examples.
5 Times You Experienced Love’s Destructive Impulse And Didn’t Know It
Ever see a kitten so cute you want to squeeze it to death?
It’s called cute-aggression. It’s when you feel happiness that is so intense, it manifests as a violent impulse. Don’t worry. You’re not the only one who’s felt its powerful grip. And it doesn’t mean you want to hurt the object of cuteness. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Elmyra Duff was so misunderstood.
The following video from The Science of Happiness explains why we go crazy for cute. What do you think? Does it shed any light?
#2 When Sex Is Death (Or The Destruction of Self)
Sex and death sounds like a death metal band, right? Well, according to one of the pioneers of modern psychology, Dr. Sabina Spielrein, these opposing forces have more in common than you might think.
Dr. Spielrein studied with those fathers of modern psychology, Freud and Jung. She argued that sex is really an act of self-destruction. That during sex, we lose our sense of self and individuality. In that way, it’s temporary death. And our body and mind respond to sex in the same way we would to dying—with an overwhelming impulse to avoid it.
Maybe that’s why the French call orgasms “the little death.”
If Spielrein is right, sex is at once a life-giving and life-destroying act that we both embrace and run away from in equal measure.
Being human is so complicated. Or maybe it’s just love that’s complicated.
#3 When You Want to Eat the One You Love
For some, love is all-consuming. But this is true for none more than the mothers of infants.
A new mother’s desire to eat her baby is such a widespread phenomena that whole parenting articles exist just to reassure mothers they’re normal.
Why does it happen?
The smell of babies lights up our brain’s pleasure centers the same way our favorite foods and mind-altering drugs do, according to one MRI study. This study showed that new mother’s brains were the most powerfully affected by the smell of babies.
The area deserves more study. Maybe the brain confuses all reward feelings with eating. Who knows? What is clear is that it’s normal and not dangerous.
It’s subtler than cute-aggression, since the impulse is to nibble rather than squeeze. Still the destructive impulse lies in both, and I’d be interested in any studies that could explain the link between these two phenomena.
Of course, mothers aren’t the only ones who confuse overwhelming love with the desire to consume.
Have you read Pablo Neruda’s Love Sonnet XI?
I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair.
Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets.
Bread does not nourish me, dawn disrupts me, all day
I hunt for the liquid measure of your steps.
I hunger for your sleek laugh,
your hands the color of a savage harvest,
hunger for the pale stones of your fingernails,
I want to eat your skin like a whole almond.
I want to eat the sunbeam flaring in your lovely body,
the sovereign nose of your arrogant face,
I want to eat the fleeting shade of your lashes,
and I pace around hungry, sniffing the twilight,
hunting for you, for your hot heart,
like a puma in the barrens of Quitratue.
This poem is rife with images of predatory hunger. But to consume is to destroy. So how’s that for a loving gesture?
Now the next time you hear someone say, “he’s so cute I could eat him alive!” you’ll know what they mean. Maybe you already knew.
#4 When Love Means Losing All You Know
Sometimes love is death of a different sort. Because when you fall in love, life changes. And any new thing means the death of something old.
In Meg Myer’s song Heart Heart Head, falling in love marks an age of famine. Here’s what I mean.
When love gives you butterflies, it usually isn’t a bad thing, right?
Wrong. Let Meg Myers show you the error of your ways. In this video, the usual images of love become images of destruction and world-collapsing starvation. Butterflies swarm like crop-devouring locusts of biblical famine. Her burning love is a branch on fire—heavy, cumbersome, and destroying everything it touches. Myers lugs her love around like a woman persecuted.
The answer’s in her lyrics.
How do I fake it with another man?
How do I love him on the weekend?
How do I listen to another man?
How do I get off on the weekend?
You’re in my heart.
In my heart.
In my head.
So love destroyed her casual lifestyle. She resents that her love for one man makes it impossible to climax with other lovers. For her, love manifests as the death of all she knows. Instead of creating that cliched, la-de-da exuberance and sense of abundance, love has starved her of sexual satisfaction. Hence the locusts and destructive fires. Love, for her, is loss.
I appreciate Myers’ nod at what you lose in loving. And this unique look at romantic versus sexual love is refreshingly honest. Because love isn’t all butterflies and roses.
There’s a little destructive force in the best of things.
Myer’s song “Desire” explores another destructive element of love from this list. Press play to see if you can spot which one.
Humans aren’t the only ones to experience aggression under love’s spell.
Cats have a strange reaction to love too. Have you ever pet a cat and he’s purring and stretching and pawing and totally loving it and then, RAWR! He pins you down, your fingers in his teeth as he rakes your flesh with his claws? You squeal. He runs away, an angry ball of affronted dignity.
What the hell happened?
It’s called petting-aggression or overstimulation-aggression.
Some people link it with cute-aggression in humans. I’m not convinced, though. Because I experience it too.
When I feel restless or stressed and my husband rubs the same exact spot on my hand or knee in the same exact way over and over and over again, I want to scratch him too. And it isn’t from love this time. (Boy, this article makes me sound so violent. I swear I’m not!)
According to Jackson Galaxy in the video above, it’s really a pent up energy thing. Which makes sense to me.
So check out Jackson’s video if petting-aggression affects you. He demonstrates the warning signs of cat overstimulation. That way you can avoid this particular pitfall with your cat. Or your wife.