A crazy little thing called love can be sad, perhaps scary

February 14, 2007|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,Sun reporter

Oh, can't you see You belong to me How my poor heart aches With every step you take The Police, from "Every Breath You Take" Love makes you do crazy things.

Poor Lisa Marie Nowak, the diaper-wearing desperado of desperation. We giggled at and tsk-tsked the space walker's plunge into madness when we first heard tales of her arrest complete with wig, trench coat, latex gloves, buck knife and a BB gun. It made us hum that classic line from Joe Jackson's 1979 hit, "Fools in love, are there any creatures more pathetic?" Then we felt pity for the mother of three's sad, bizarro fall from that rocky orbit of unanswered love.

The sting of rejection has pierced many a heart, after all.

Deep, deep down, who didn't feel a pang of heartache for Nowak because in some microscopically infinitesimal way, we connected to her wretched sense of yearning?

Yes, we're talking to you late-night dialers out there who have called and hung up just to hear your ex's voice. If you've ever cruised by your beloved's home to check for visitors or a light in the bedroom, this would include you, too.

Same goes for anyone who has tracked down an old flame on the Internet or logged onto instant messaging just to see if the subject of your charms is signed on, too. Ditto for those lingerers who frequent old hangouts in the hopes of an encounter with an unsuspecting sweetheart.

It's that inability to let go that has been the subject of much music, film and literary work. In some cases, it's fairly harmless love, such as in rock band Radiohead's 1993 song "Creep," about an inebriated man who tries to get the attention of a woman he is attracted to by following her. Sometimes it's scary love, like Glenn Close's bunny-boiling Fatal Attraction for Michael Douglas. Occasionally, its destructive love, as Emily Bronte wrote of Heathcliff and Catherine's dark, unresolved passion in Wuthering Heights.

And sometimes, it's even hilariously interspecies love, as seen on YouTube between a determined turtle who hopelessly and relentlessly follows an indifferent tabby cat to the strains of "Some Enchanted Evening."

What makes Nowak's story so fascinating, though, is that she reminds us that love can provoke daffy deeds in anyone -- even aerospace-engineering pilots who are Naval Academy graduates.

"This is a human act," says Andrew Abarbanel, a California psychiatrist who wrote Loving Madly, Loving Sanely, a 1997 book about psychiatric disorders and their effect on relationships. "It's all based on a continuous range of emotion or different degrees of an axis. Someone who daydreams about a high school sweetheart is on one end of the axis, and someone who pursues that person in a criminal way is at the extreme other end of that axis.

"A little anger, a little jealousy, a little possessiveness is normal," Abarbanel says. "Everything you think or feel is the result of a chemical component in your brain. If those processes are put under enormous stress, those feelings tend to be exaggerated and lead to obsession."

But there is a considerable line that you must cross to jump from heartsick to stalker. The difference?

Heartsick: Penning unseen poems or love letters never mailed to an unknowing dearest. Keeping a box filled with flower petals, a worn ticket stub, beer caps and other knickknacks that remind you of The One. Lying in bed for days without an appetite because you feel inconsolable. Sniffing an old shirt your sugar left behind.

Stalker: Popping up out of bushes to surprise the object of your obsession. Slashing tires as a sign of commitment. Showing up every day at your darling's place of work to declare your undying devotion. And yes, kidnapping rivals.

One is a little sad and maybe sentimental. The other dangerous and, perhaps, criminal. One internalizes the anguish. The other lashes out in anguish at all who might stand in the way.

So it was with perfect timing, we thought, that Nowak launched her moon mission for Commander Billy-O. Just in time for Valentine's Day -- a day marked by couples with flowers, dinner or exaggerated attempts to prove ardor. For singles, it's often a day marked with scorn by those who bear their solitary life with pride or, sometimes, anxiety by those who feel pressured to couple up.

This year, perhaps, may we suggest it be a happy day for all those who have ever loved and lost, or who were lost in love and managed to pull it together in time to come to their senses, step away from the edge and say with much relief, "I am no NASA astronaut."


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