A woman’s touch, her smile or the light in her eyes can make an Alan-Alda type feel like Arnold Schwarzenegger; or make the Bruce Willis types realize there are better things in life than brawling and bragging.

The phenomenon is summarized with the humorous definition of woman –– “a creature who is either making a fool out of a man, or making a man out of a fool.” We’ve all seen it happen: that process that turns a testosterone-driven “boy” into a civilized, mature “man.”

Once the attraction trajectory begins, the couple has a chance to succeed in the difficult task of forging a happy marriage. Women have been praised through the ages as mothers, and rightly so. But before a wife becomes a mother, she needs to be secure in her husband’s love and he in hers. Together, then, the father and mother can succeed in the long, arduous process of nurturing offspring -- transforming them from little savages into productive citizens.

This, of course, all hinges on love and sexual desire. We sometimes think of these in terms of the actions they spur, but before they reach that level, they start out as mere feelings. Like the air we breathe, these feelings can be both insubstantial and powerful, but they are always vital.

When the air is still we are hardly aware of it, even as we fill our lungs with it. But let a storm stir the air into gale-force winds and it moves nearly anything that stands in its way. So it is with passionate feelings. Our rational side tries to understand and cope with our feelings. Yet wisdom teaches that without our feelings, we would no longer be human, but merely machines. Countless movies have explored this intriguing machine-man concept.

Love and sexual desire are, in some ways, like colors. We become aware of feelings, just like with colors, through experience. It is hard to explain to a child what colors are. We usually don’t try to explain them to a child but merely point to various examples. Eventually the child learns to associate “blue” with the color of the sky and other objects. Still we try to understand feelings, to somehow grasp their significance, to figure out what to tell ourselves about these “things” that we perceive. So we develop language to describe them.

This never-ending quest for understanding and meaning is part of what makes us human. It comes down to the nature of the messages we tell ourselves (and others), the messages by which we interpret our experiences.

We must learn to use our thought processes to channel and direct our feelings, just as the sailor learns to use the sail to make the power of the wind move his craft. The power of our feelings to determine our actions depends, to a large degree, upon what we tell ourselves about them, their meaning and significance.

We determine much of the quality of our lives by the messages we tell ourselves. But we don’t come by those messages completely on our own. The world declares that love and sex are “no big deal.” Since the larger part of our “doing” is determined by some combination of our thoughts and feelings, we must settle in our own minds our attitude toward love and sex.

Some say love is the most important, powerful thing in life and that it lasts forever. Some say it is foolish and futile, that it burns hot but soon grows cold. To the optimist, it seems priceless. To the cynic it is pointless or, worse, a meaningless fraud. To some, sex is the ultimate expression of love. To others, sex is the object of derision or guilt. The more good-humored among us see sex as Nature’s great joke on mankind, the ultimate contradiction to our high-and-mighty pretensions of rationality. They are answered by the serious-minded who remind us that this drive – which we share with the animal kingdom – is the means by which we participate in the creation of life, the most significant action of all.