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Stanford University School of Medicine

Thoughts on love – from a med student terrified of it

heartsWith this being the week of Valentine’s Day, one thing has been pulled to the forefront of thoughts around the world: love. The four-letter word that conveys one of the most powerful, widely felt, and poorly understood sensations on earth.

Love is pervasive. Anthropologists have found proof of love in more than 170 societies. In fact, there hasn't been a society in which “culture” was found and evidence of love wasn't present.

Love is addictive. We learn in medical school that exhibiting two or more of a constellation of “symptoms,” such as withdrawal and craving, qualifies someone as being “addicted” to a substance. This substance is often thought to be a recreational drug, but no one can deny that if the same addiction metrics were applied to love, almost everyone on this planet would have been an addict at one point.

Love is primal. Researchers have found human perceptions of “love” linked to the ventral tegmental area of the brain, an area that, as we learned recently in our intro to neuroscience course, is linked to the reward system. It’s part of the brain’s reptilian core, responsible for motivation, focus, wanting, craving.

Love is confusing. There are many theories on how we are biologically and psychologically predisposed to “falling in love” with some people over others. Are we unconsciously attracted to certain types of pheromones? Do implicit biases affect who we are drawn to, or is there really such a thing as pure “love at first sight?”

As a first-year medical student, I am terrified of love. As someone who is stubborn and selfish, and motivated to get my goals accomplished so that I can have my dream job one day and live my ideal life, falling prey to an emotion that has driven the most logical people absolutely insane is unquestionably petrifying. When I start to realize that I may actually be falling in love with someone, my first inclinations are to run away, deny deny deny, and not allow myself to be anything close to vulnerable to another human being.

For so many different reasons, love is scary. And this week especially, I'm sure a lot of people wish “love” just didn’t exist.

It’s going to take focusing on love, though, to get us through the times that we're living in now, times full of blatant hate and injustice, times inarguably more frightening than the thought of falling in love is to me. The fact that we’re all human beings isn’t quite enough to make us want to be kind to and respect others… but maybe the fact that everyone has loved, and is loved, is.

Imagine how different our interactions would be with others if we all realized that, no matter how different our backgrounds are, we’ve all been subjected to the whirlwind of emotions that come with loving someone else. Just think how strong a kindred spirit you’d feel with someone who looks, on the outside, absolutely nothing like yourself if you realized that that person has probably also crazily and foolishly fallen in love. How much better would you treat a stranger if you realized that he or she is, like you, wholeheartedly cared about and loved by someone else?

Black, white, brown. Catholic, Muslim, atheist. Old, young, chubby, slim. Every single person you meet is, or has been, loved unconditionally by at least one other person -- not for these check-the-box qualities, but for what’s in their hearts, for their true spirits that transcend any superficial conclusion you can draw about them.

This is what I'll try to remember about every patient and person I meet, no matter their outside appearance, how rude or mean they may be, if they agree or not with my own personal values and convictions.

Fear – what I think is the root cause of all the increasingly pervasive hatred in our world today – is by far, NOT the strongest emotion we all share as human beings. It’s love.

Here’s to feelings of love, even with February 14th behind us. If you love someone, let them know.

Stanford Medicine Unplugged is a forum for students to chronicle their experiences in medical school. The student-penned entries appear on Scope once a week during the academic year; the entire blog series can be found in the Stanford Medicine Unplugged category

Natasha Abadilla was born and raised in Hawaii, graduated from Stanford undergrad in 2014, and spent two years doing public health work in Kenya before returning to the Farm for med school. She is currently a first-year student who enjoys writing, cooking, eating desserts, running, and scrubbing into the OR. 

Photo by Ben_Kerckx

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