Chemical Cocktail

“We get caught up with the butterflies and rapid heart beat of “falling in love” that we sometimes forget what’s even more important….Do you like the person?”

Those are words that my friend Matt Clayton expressed while we were discussing what some can argue as a pattern of failing relationships in North America today. If you look at statistics, the divorce rate is increasing every year. While this may be the cause of numerous factors (the accessibility to divorce, etc), take a look at your own sphere of friends and acquaintances. I know that out of the couples I know that are either together or married, there is a higher ratio of them in unhealthy and unhappy relationships than positive.

The chemical cocktail

Myself included, perhaps we are too caught up wanting that rush of “falling in love” and fail to realise that the rush is temporary and the doing of chemicals. For instance, a study was done on the brain patterns of people who had recently fallen in love. The study showed that one of the parts of the brain that was activated has a lot of receptors of dopamine, the “feel good” neurotransmitter associated with motivation and pleasure. Dopamine is also released with activities such as cigarette smoking and the use of cocaine. Addictive stuff. The British study shows that there is a great deal of overlap between the activity in the brain in love and the brain on euphoria inducing drugs.
“The toleration for sleeplessness, lack of appetite, feelings of exhilaration and focus – all these characterize the first phase of infactuation, but they’re also very similar to what happens when you do a line of cocaine” (Ref 1).

When we are in the early stage of falling in love, two other chemicals are released that may be responsible for some of the common emotions felt at this stage. Phenyethylamine (PEA) is a natural amphetamine that elevates your mood, is stongly associated with pleasure (its one of the chemicals released when we eat chocolate) and also acts as a strong stimulant. In fact, it can make you feel so jumpy in the first weeks of romance that you can literally feel sick to your stomach – a sensation that’s easily mistaken for butterflies when you see your beau.

The other chemical that your brain releases is noradrenaline which is typically associated with a state of emergency – it is responsible for your elevated blood pressure and heart rate, and an intense focus on your beloved. Your serotonin levels may also be reduced – often as low as someone with compulsive disorder. The low serotonin levels can also be why, when you’re not “speeding on love’s terrific high, you’re insecure and susceptible to the terrifying bogeymen that tell you he’ll never call again and that he’s all wrong for you and that you’ve just made a tremendous fool of yourself by manufacturing this whole inane schoolgirl infatuation in your head” (Ref. 2).

Love blindness

Have you ever looked back at an infatuation and asked yourself, “what the heck was I thinking when I was head over heels over him?” If you’re like me and many others out there, you may have experienced love blindness. For instance, our brains in love may blind us to our parnters’ faults. “The normal faculties that you bring to assessing another person in a social situation (”His voice is squeeky” or “She looks tired”) are largely silenced when looking at your new lover. Theose neural circuits simply don’t fire.

“This love blindess promotes bonding. If we noticed all of each other’s warts and bad habits in the first few weeks, the majority of relationships wouldn’t make it through the first month. Your brain in love not only puts you in an altered state, but also puts a cloud on your regular thinking – or at least, the critical judgement part of your brain.” (Ref 3).

Down with love?

Am I saying that the giddyness and smiles that come with the first stages of love/infatuation are nothing but a mix of chemicals that won’t last? Of course not. I’m a romantic at heart and believe that the passion felt in the early stages of a relationship can live on until you grow old with your partner – I believe that passion just evolves and takes a different form throughout time.

I do think that there are many (including myself) that may put too much emphasis on finding that first stage of lust/infatuation and in doing so, you may have a preconceived notion of what “love” is supposed to feel and taste like. Let’s face it, nomatter how many Hollywood romances are made, the unrelenting urge to jump your partner’s pants when you’re a senior citizen is probably unlikely. What’s important is if we actually like the person. Do we respect who our partner is as a person – their values, what they stand for, who they are, how they are. Is that person a friend first? As my friend Matt phrased it, “Cus when it comes to laundry and those day to day things you have to deal with, you better like the person. Put kids in the picture, and that’s a whole other story all together”.

Do you like your partner. Seems like a rhetorical question…why else would I be with him/her if I didn’t like them? However, it’s often not as easy to answer as you think.

When committing in a relationship/marriage, we need to be able to look beyond the infatuation, the feel good chemicals, the fun and newness of the first few months or first few years because at the end of the day, we can be attracted and have lust and even feel in love with the person, but if we don’t like the person firs and have a healthy friendship with them, that will creep up eventually.

References:

-Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget – Marianne Legato

-Blink Malcolm Gladwell

Photo credit: arnoKath

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