Illustration: Jim Pavlidis.

Illustration: Jim Pavlidis.

I am in love with intoxication, an enthusiasm I have followed in a grand variety of ways, many of them stupid.

Most of these avenues to euphoria are boring to talk about and have in fact become boring in their own right. Just about all of them were a substitute for falling in love in the old fashioned way, where you are so happy you could crash your car.

For a long time, I thought you could live like that - wildly in love! - day after day, year after year. It seemed impossible that every hour should not be filled with emotional rose petals and bunny-shaped clouds. If you had to characterise in-loveness as an illness, I saw it as more like ribald malaria (incurable, frightening, delirious) than a temporary fever.

Forget seeking help for the symptoms: let it burn!

The problem is, as I discovered with great regret, there's not much clear thinking involved. To run with a great moment as if it could last forever … well, you end up doing something wacky like marrying a girl you've only known for four days.

Her name was Lisa and she was, and remains, one of the great characters. We were strangers who wrote letters to one another. After four months of a correspondence full of projections and prophecy, she'd flown in to New York, where I was living at the time, on Christmas Day 1987.

That she was equally struck by visionary impulses should have been no surprise: she was 21 years old.

What a bummer it was when we called our parents from Iceland - yes, Iceland - to let them know we were man and wife and as happy as hummingbirds.

''Keriste, don't tell your mother,'' my father whispered.

I had heard these words many, many times from my dad at the end of a telephone. On this occasion he actually sounded frightened.

Five years later I was a single father with a two-year-old daughter, Milo. Later, when she was 16 and I told her the full story of ''how I met your mother'', she snorted and said: ''You guys were idiots.''

On balance though, I felt we got away with it.

And so I continued to be an idiot for many years, walking aflame through an endless field of flowers, leaving behind much charred earth and unbalanced poetry slipped under countless windscreen wipers and momentarily abandoned coffee cups.

Writing love poems to strangers became my methadone until I found the next big thing (dare I say it: THE ONE!) and married the hell out of her.

This is the wife I can't talk about at all. Except to say she attempted to caution me, wisely, repeatedly: ''Ebb and flow, man, ebb and flow.''

Another thing she said was something like: ''It's not a marriage if you're just chasing highs.''

Still I continued to heap my romantic ideals at her feet, not recognising that they had become akin to so many dead mice dragged in from the garden by a smelly old cat.

In between these unreasonable pink-cloud highs were of course periods of ocean-bottomed oblivion, where I almost seemed to exist, even for myself. Please, let's not label this with pharmacology. I just needed to grow up. But I didn't have my great calming epiphany until we had crashed our car for good.

And now the flag is up. In-loveness and me have parted. Not so much because I have learnt about candles burning too brightly and all that lyrical soft-soaping. It's because it's a young man's game.

I don't say this grudgingly. A great part of my job is talking to anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists and philosophers from all over the world. I've got to know some of them such that we talk long and hard about, well, life.

A couple of years ago I had a chat with social researcher David Chalke. He didn't believe that people of a certain age can fall in love. One can care deeply, he said. One can find great contentment and companionship, one can even romp about in a fit of giggles, pants on and otherwise. But whatever it is you're feeling, once you get past middle age, he said, ''it ain't love''.

Of course, Chalke, witty and at times darkly comic in his pulse-taking of the Australian psyche, is full of abiding love - I get the feeling - for his nearest and dearest, kittens and butterflies and the soft kiss of a golden sunset. But he measures his pleasures, not so much using T.S. Eliot's maudlin coffee spoons, but by deploying Aristotle's life-sized arc by which one gauges one's overall happiness.

So it goes. Simmer and you don't get burnt is my recipe for restoration.

These days, when I need a dose of raging bliss, I go to sea where the world is all turmoil. I go chasing seabirds. I've been sailing to the bottom of the world, when I've had the opportunity, for more than 30 years.

I was down there in December, out on the back deck at 4.30am every morning, no matter the heaving, pacing back and forth, following the movements of an albatross or a petrel until I'd lose it, and have to pick up another one. This is how I get high, and there's no way I can do it every day. It's a love story I could have written about in full, but I'd rather not.

Footnote: I still write love poems to strangers, but for medicinal purposes only. There is nothing consuming and dangerous behind the prettiness. Just flirting really.

John Elder is a Sunday Age senior writer.