$40 for a rose. What are these people on?

by Bill Ralston / 14 February, 2014
I am at a loss to explain the romance epidemic I see around me.
Love is in the air. It may be the effect of Valentine's Day or it may simply be because it's a long, hot summer and people are not wearing much in the way of clothing. Whatever the reason, there is a distinctly horny -atmosphere out there.

Everywhere I go I see couples mooning over each other, holding hands, exchanging meaningful glances, surreptitiously rubbing each other's bits in public. Normally, you become acutely aware of things like that only when you have split up with someone, and the overall effect of smouldering -pheromones is calculated to drive you into deep despair - or a bar.

That last move is usually a mistake, as the joint is inevitably booming with music thumping "Unst! Unst! Unst!" and full of writhing people indulging in acts of mass frottage. You end up stomping home alone in frustration to down a bottle of some lethal spirit while watching reruns of Antiques Roadshow, a programme guaranteed to be the least horny thing you will see on TV.

However, as I am joyfully coupled, I am at a loss to explain the romance epidemic I see around me. Is it that Watercare is pumping tonnes of Ecstasy into the mains? Could it be a panicked response to the worldwide recession? "Quick, let's do the wild thing, it's cheap, it's fun and will take our minds off losing the house!"

The passion outbreak does not seem confined to the young. From my observations, it seems to affect almost all ages. If anything, the baby-boomers - happily beyond their baby-producing years - seem to be relishing their freedom from fecundity by going at it like baboons on heat.

I did notice some research from the University of Otago that suggests love actually improves with age. The study of people aged over 50 found not only did romance become more intense with age but also physical and emotional intensity was higher than that of young people.

It even discovered older people were prepared to consider more racy alternatives and that some elderly women in nursing homes were happy to share a boyfriend. On behalf of blokes everywhere, I say, girls, don't wait until you're balanced precariously on your walking frames, start sharing now before it's too late. We won't mind. Honest.

Now, as a serial monogamist, I am not advocating promiscuity. In fact, I took heart from a team of Stony Brook University scientists in New York, who proved some couples can have just as much passion for each other after 20 years of marriage as they did on Day One.

They used brain scans to trace the reactions of people to photographs of loved ones to whom they had been married for two decades or more. One mature couple in 10 had the same kind of chemical reaction they would have had when they first started making whoopee.

Of course, that means 90% of the sample were well and truly over each other, and it didn't test what kind of reaction the long-married men and women had when shown photos of Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt.

Sadly, most research shows that for the unlucky 90%, a thing scientists call "limerence" (and I call horniness) starts to fade after the couple's first 15 months. The chemicals continue to ebb so that by their seventh year together the itch is often being scratched elsewhere, and by Year 10 true romance is dead.

Determined to maintain the magic in my marriage, I have done a bit more swotting and discovered more about the chemical reaction that sparks true romance or, at least, rumpy pumpy.

Indeed, in the interests of science, I thought I should conduct my own field trials with my beloved. We are remarkably happy, but you cannot get too complacent about things like this.

Apparently, the romantic chemical reaction that pumps the great natural drug dopamine into your system is stimulated by smell, taste and even -auditory stimuli.

Scientists claim that men with deep voices are subconsciously perceived by women as having more testosterone and are therefore more attractive as mates. I have taken to wandering the house lately singing Ol' Man River in a rumbling bass, but it's too early to tell if that is having much effect.

Scientists have laboratory-tested women's react-ions by making them sniff blokes' sweaty T-shirts, and found the smell of some men was definitely an attractant. As an experiment, I tried not changing mine for three days, but the subject of my study simply gave me a stick of deodorant.

According to the published research, taste has the most effect in stimulating the romantic reaction, so perhaps a prolonged game of tonsil hockey will be the next step in my research.

Whatever the cause of romance, it must be a mind-bending substance to make you pay $40 for a single rose on Valentine's Day.


Originally published in the NZ Listener, February 14 2009 ,with the headline "Coming up roses"

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