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“Birth, conception and death”

Fourth in a series.

Pierre Whalon
5 min readNov 13, 2021

Let’s talk about romantic love. What does it have in common with birth, conception and death?[1]

Not much, at least not at first…

Stephanie Coontz, a historian, created a stir when her book, Marriage, A History: From Obedience To Intimacy Or How Love Conquered Marriage, came out in 2005.[2] Love has indeed conquered marriage — have you watched any Bollywood movies from India? In a land where many marriages are still arranged, the plots of these films revolve around finding The One and getting married despite what Mother and Father have decided for you. (Personally, I’m quite fond of them.)

We celebrate the conquest of marriage by love every February 14, Valentine’s Day. It’s one of the great commercial holidays, whose origin is unclear since there are three Valentines who were martyred in ancient times. But we all run out to buy cards, chocolates and roses, and make dinner reservations. Well, at least I do. In our culture, remembering whom we fell in love with (or those we might like to) is an important ritual.

Cupid’s arrows aren’t cute

It points up the facts that Dr. Coontz presents. Whereas most human societies thought that marriage was too serious and important to leave up to romantic love, ours slowly came around to that point of view. The cupids cutely shooting little arrows that adorn our Valentine’s Day cards, etc., are nothing like the Greek god Eros, the son of Aphrodite the goddess of love and Ares the god of war (or the Roman version, Cupid, Venus and Mars). The ancients believed that to be hit with one of Cupid’s arrows was in fact a tragedy, because romantic love was a madness powerful enough to destroy lives.

On this point they were not necessarily wrong, despite all the rom-coms we love to consume. Or rather, as most of the romantic comedies seem to prove. Cynics today will blather on about how “Love may be defined as an emergent property of an ancient cocktail of neuropeptides and neurotransmitters.”[3] In other words, the person you fall in love with is simply that human who triggers a sequence of hormones in your brain.

There is some truth in this, except for the word “simply”. Romantic love can drive people to suicide, and that…



Pierre Whalon

Bishop in charge, Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, 2001–2019. French-American. Musician, composer, author, happily married.