Dance is the perfect medium to plot the trajectory of a love affair.  The choreography  expresses perfectly how erotic passion can so readily turn to aggression and finally indifference.  It demonstrates the fundamental animal nature of human intimacy.  All that is required is breathless voice-over of David Attenborough. 


In-i, currently playing at The National Theatre is a 70 minute performance spun around the theme of ‘falling in and out of love’.  It couples British-Asian dance wunderkind, Akram Khan with French actress, Juliet Binoche, star of Chocolat and The English Patient.  Starting with the pursuit by her and the seduction, it develops through simulated copulation to sleeplessness,  discordant toilet habits, disillusion, irritation, violence and abuse and finally indifference.  The dance is wonderful.  La Binoche matches Khan in a thrilling tour de force of athleticism and emotional power.  The monologues are by contrast unnecessary and embarrassing.  Khan is not an actor and it shows.  Binoche articulates the dreamy, vacant melancholy of every French love film you’ve ever seen.  Cue: David Attenborough. 


But why do so many love affairs seem to disintegrate into aggression and abuse?   



Falling in love is such a risky enterprise.  It exposes our mind, our body and our soul, which I take to be the core – the deepest, most personal meaning of our life – to invasion, exploitation and possibly damage by a stranger.  The possibility of hurt is enormous. 


What is still quaintly called ‘courtship’ breaks down psychological inhibitions though increasing bodily contact – from to holding hands, the first kiss, a fondling, intimate touching, stroking, rubbing, simulated sex and finally full intercourse.  On Monday I touched her on the ankle.  On Tuesday I touched her on the knee.  On Wednesday success, I lifted up her dress ……….   And all the time, the gentle talk, the reassurances, the promises, the staring into each others eyes, soft strokes and caresses, cuddles and kisses unzip our suspicion, unhook caution and arouse the desirous, not to say lustful and so needy animal that slumbers deep within all of us. 


Deep down, we all suffer from loneliness.  We start off connected to another being, but from then on, life is a sequence of ever more profound separations until the final reconciliation with the self.  Don’t we all, at the most profound level of our soul, want, for an all-too-brief, though everlasting moment to reconnect with that special person who we can trust with our life and will always be there for us.  This is such powerful stuff, so powerful that we would risk everything for it – and many do..   


And so dangerous.  When desire is aroused, it doesn’t think of consequences.  It doesn’t think.  When all critical faculties are unbuttoned and minds and bodies are laid wide open to  suggestion, we are all so vulnerable to exploitation, deception and betrayal, not to mention  injury, unwanted pregnancies and serious disease.  Isn’t it so ironic that our most serious diseases; AIDs, syphilis and cervical cancer are associated with unguarded and often promiscuous sexuality? 


How do you know whether he or she is sincere, genuine?  Do they mean what they say.  But once desire is aroused, it doesn’t care any more.  Suspicion is suspended.  Drunk on alcohol and lust,  goaded on by the mores of a narcissistic, pleasure seeking  society,  encouraged to join in the fun by friends, risky sex is not so much about love but about thrill, mutual exploitation, power and control.       


That’s ok, you might think, as long as both partners understand and buy into the game, but by sabotaging our natural defences, physical intimacy encourages an  emotional dependence.  People all too often get hurt.  There are sharks out there.  Philanderers and seductresses just love playing with fire.  They are drawn to it, hooked on it, but they are so dangerous.  With surgical precision, they open up the brains of their victims, releasing emotional reactions that could result in catastrophe.       



In yesterday’s post, ‘Containing the emotional reactor; going to sea with a tiger’,  I described how the emotional brain has two major components;  an emotional reactor (the amygdala and cingulate gyrus), lurking deep down in the part of the brain we share with other animals and the civilising emotional regulator (the dorsolateral orbitofrontal cortex) that has taken up residence in mezzazine of the skull, just behind the forehead and above the eyes, and keeps the reactor in check.  When the emotional regulators are taken out of the circuit and two emotional reactors are opened up by love making, then sparks can fly – one way or another.  It can be so romantic, so powerfully bonding, but it can also be terribly dangerous.  It’s like having two impassioned gorillas in a cage together; if they don’t make it, they will probably end up killing each other.  


People are at their most vulnerable when they are in love and especially if they have just made love.  They have let down their defences.  Deception or betrayal, the rejection by the person they trusted most in all the world, can then feel like a desecration of the soul.  They have been invaded, exploited, their life plundered of hopes, dreams, all the meaning they had invested in the relationship.  No wonder the person they loved to distraction suddenly becomes the one they hate to destruction.  They cannot cope with the sudden switch of emotion.  It’s a no-brainer!  The emotional reactor was already disconnected from any kind of regulation and has now gone critical.  It is out of control and will blow. Nothing can contain it.  Their only recourse is to protect themselves by attacking the person who has damaged them so much.  The capacity for serious injury or even murder is very great.  Police forces throughout the UK take domestic violence very seriously. 


In the kingdom of the animals, sex and violence frequently co-exist.  The mating rituals of many birds proceed through elaborately choreographed stages of aggression before the hurried fluttering anticlimax of cloacal apposition.  Cats are equipped with a barb on their penis that injures the female on withdrawal triggering ovulation and an abrupt burst of aggression, visually impaired bed bugs have penises sharpened to daggers, which they plunge into the abdominal cavities of their partners during passion.  Sado-masochism is a feature of human sexuality that is shared with the animals.  And when our thinking brain is disconnected we react like animals.  Domestic violence frequently takes place in the bedroom.      


True love never runs smoothly and untrue love never. That’s why extramarital affairs can be so distressing and damaging.  Courtship in human beings as in animals proceeds in a hesitant, two-steps-forward-one-or-two-steps-back manner.   Sometimes couples find it so difficult to trust each other than their relationship becomes less about love and more of a struggle for power and dominance.  Cycles of gratification and deprivation can then so easily lead to a kind of addiction as participants crave the fix that will alleviate their anxiety and restore calm. And if the addiction is not gratified, it is but a short step to abuse and violence.  


So safe sex doesn’t just mean wearing a condom.  There’s much more to it.  Safe sex  means doing it with a partner that you have known for some time and come to trust.  Anonymous sex, one night stands, sex disinhibited by drugs and alcohol is so risky.  The brain has gone.  There are no brakes.  Passion rules.  The participants don’t care; they just want thrills.  Safe sex means that if you are already angry or if you don’t really care for the other person, don’t even think of fucking.  With the regulator swamped or disconnected, the physicality could so easily turn to violence with the propensity for injury and serious emotional trauma.  People can be raped, injured and even killed.  It happens.  Just this week, the papers have been  carrying reports of the trial in Milan of three young people accused of murdering British student, Meredith Kercher during a drug-fuelled night of violence and debauchery.


I don’t know the figures or even whether they exist, but my experience with clients suggests to me that damaging and unhappy love affairs are more likely to result in post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than any other cause.  Rejection, abuse, violence, betrayal and deception to somebody who is rendered defenceless and exposed through sex is like murder of the soul.  Falling in love, investing all the meaning of your life in a person, who then attacks and betrays you, can literally blow your mind.     


Just look at the symptoms of people who fall ill because of love.  They are described endlessly is poems, literature, tragic opera.  They are listed in every love song that has ever been written.  ‘I can’t get you out of my mind’  is the refrain that Kylie Minogue sings over and over again – an modern ‘anthem for doomed youth’.  She has intrusive thoughts, flash backs, sleeplessness, anxiety, preoccupation, obsession – the lot – all features of  PTSD.   She needs help.  It has taken over her life. She can’t let go. She won’t let go.  She doesn’t want to forget.  The difficulty is that obsession seeks to justify, to explain, to forgive – anything just to keep the meaning alive, anything so she doesn’t have to face the awful loneliness of mortality again.  So she keeps singing about it.    



Lets’s face it.  Dancing is so much safer!