February 18, 2007 at 2:29 pm #21227
note: good article, the writer is at least educated in classical literature on romantic love. But all these brain chemistry studies are still looking only at chemical effects, not energetic causes that trigger them. You need energetic resonance between two people to trigger the chemicals….and the level of your shen integration defines that energetic dynamic. -Michael
An Affair Of the Head
They Say Love Is All About Brain Chemistry. Will You
By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 13, 2007; C01
It’s all about dopamine, baby, this One Great True
Love, this passionate thing we’d burn down the house
and blow up the car and drive from Houston to Orlando
just to taste on the tip of the tongue.
You crave it because your brain tells you to. Because
if a wet kiss on the suprasternal notch — while, say,
your lover has you pinned against a wall in the corner
of a dance club — doesn’t fire up the ventral
tegmentum in the Motel 6 of your mind, well, he’s not
going to send you roses tomorrow.
God’s little neurotransmitter. Better known by its
street name, romantic love.
Also, norepinephrine. Street name, infatuation.
These chemicals are natural stimulants. You fall in
love, a growing amount of research shows, and these
chemicals and their cousins start pole-dancing around
the neurons of your brain, hopping around the limbic
system, setting off craving, obsessive thoughts,
focused attention, the desire to commit possibly
immoral acts with your beloved while at a stoplight in
the 2100 block of K Street during lunch hour, and so
“Love is a drug,” says Helen Fisher, an anthropologist
at Rutgers University and author of “Why We Love: The
Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love.” “The ventral
tegmental area is a clump of cells that make dopamine,
a natural stimulant, and sends it out to many brain
regions” when one is in love. “It’s the same region
affected when you feel the rush of cocaine.”
Passion! Sex! Narcotics!
Why do we suspect this isn’t going to end well?
Because these things are hard-wired not to last, all
of them. Short shelf lives. The passion you fulfill is
the passion you kill. The most wonderful, soaring
feeling known to all mankind . . . amounts to no more
than a narcotic high, a temporal state of mania.
“Being in love, having a crush on someone is wonderful
. . . but our bodies can’t be in that state all the
time,” says Pamela C. Regan, a professor of psychology
at California State University, Los Angeles, and
author of “Mind Games: A Primer on Love, Sex and
Marriage.” “Your body would fizzle out. As a species,
Some of these love chemicals in the brain, scientists
measure by the picogram, which is a trillionth of a
How fragile, this thing called love.
* * *
Just about all writing about love stinks, maybe
because so much of it begins with something like “O!”
or maybe because people are (a) in love when they
write it, which makes for a lot of senseless mooning
the rest of us couldn’t care less about; or (b) they
have just been Kicked to the Curb of Romance, in which
case they would rather be pinned to an insect board
and labeled than live another minute on this godawful
Planet of Hate.
Stendhal was onto something in the 19th century when
he observed that “The pleasures of love are always in
proportion to our fears,” because passionate love is
also partly about terror. Bill Shakespeare had it down
cold, when he had Friar Laurence warn young Romeo of
the perils of passion: “These violent delights have
And did Romeo listen?
Shucks, no! Wise counsel, patience, foresight, prune
juice — who wants that ? Is there one among us who,
at least once in this life, does not want to throw
everything out the door and sprint to the Disco Ball
of the Brain, where there are big white piles of
dopamine, where a hot and sweaty Barry White is always
on stage, thumping out “You’re My First! My Last! My
Everything!” And there’s that new girl in class!
Scantily clad! She’s on the floor, beckoning you! Yes,
Bubba, you! Out you go, and she’s saying your name and
her hand slips to the small of your back, and this is
going to last FOREVER AND EVER!
Here it goes, a long time ago, Abelard and Heloise,
two of history’s most famous lovers:
Abelard to Heloise: “So intense were the fires of lust
which bound me to you that I set those wretched,
obscene pleasures, which we blush even to name, above
God as above myself.”
She to he: “Even during the celebration of the Mass,
when our prayers should be purest, lewd visions of the
pleasures we shared take . . . a hold on my unhappy
HONEY! BABY! SWEETIE! CALL ME!
Did we mention Abelard was castrated as a result of
their affair? And Heloise went off to a convent for
the rest of her life? That they named their child
“Astrolabe”? What people! What passion! What the hell
were they thinking?
Actually they weren’t, and neither are you, not
really, when you fall passionately in love.
In her most recent research, Fisher and colleagues
gave 32 love-struck subjects an MRI scan while they
viewed a picture of their beloved.
Boy, did their brains light up!
There are two shrimp-size things on either side of
your brain called the caudate nuclei. This is the gear
that operates bodily movements and the body’s reward
system: “the mind’s network for general arousal,
sensations of pleasure, and the motivation to acquire
rewards,” Fisher writes. And when the test subjects
looked at their sweeties, these things started singing
“Loosen Up My Buttons” with the Pussycat Dolls!
This, then, kicked the party over to the tiny ventral
tegmental area, a little peapod-size thingy that sends
dopamine bopping around your head.
This is what scientists call lots of fun.
A separate study by Italian researchers several years
ago showed something else.
Serotonin, another neurotransmitter in the brain
associated with obsession, depression and racing
thoughts, was greatly affected — right down to the
molecular level — by romance and surging dopamine.
People newly in love and people with
obsessive-compulsive disorder showed the same lowered
levels of the “platelet 5-HT transporter.” In other
words, dopamine appears to suppress serotonin, which
in turn triggers obsessive-compulsive thought
You can’t stop thinking about Dave. No wonder! Dave’s
hiding under a wet flap of cortex!
Your brain is officially in love, and it officially is
driving you crazy.
Oliver Sacks, the famed neurologist and author, once
cited the case of a 90-year-old woman who had suddenly
become radiant, flirty, even frisky. The diagnosis: a
long-delayed onset of neurosyphilis had loosed the
reins on her inhibitions.
She did not want to be treated.
“What a paradox, what a cruelty, what an irony,” Sacks
wrote. “That inner life and imagination may lie dull
and dormant unless released, awakened, by an
intoxication or a disease . . . it is the very realm
of Cupid and Dionysus.”
* * *
Cupid can’t last, you know.
Oxytocin and other chemicals kick in, running around
your brain to make you bond with your lover, producing
a mellower, more sustainable relationship.
Women: contented sigh. Men: light snoring.
Or, your Previously Perfect Love Pumpkin turns into
possibly the most selfish, cheating, low-down dirty
dog this side of Amarillo. You get dumped. This is
what produces “drama.”
“Drama” is not good for your “brain.”
What it feels like:
A one-way ticket to the Tex-Mex Border Bar of the
Mind. It’s always dark in here, stinks of old cigars.
The clock on the wall always reads Beer:30. Your
caudate nucleus is now slouched over a bar stool in
the dark. Sitting next to it is Freddy Fender.
Suddenly your brain bellows, off-key:
WASTED DAYS AND WASTED NIGHTS!
Freddy looks up from his beer.
I HAVE LEFT FOR YOU BEHIND!
Freddy throws his arm around your brain and joins in:
FOR YOU DON’T BELONG TO ME!
YOUR HEART BELONGS TO SOMEONE ELSE!
Your brain can spend entire days doing this.
This is because your brain has kicked into reverse,
and love is long gone.
Rejection, rage, despair!
Dopamine leaves the scene of the affair, now running
off into the nucleus accumbens, the insular cortex,
the lateral orbitofrontal cortex, research by Fisher
and others shows. Jilted lovers’ brains now light up
in these areas when they look at pictures of their
former flames — this brain matter is associated with
taking big risks, addiction, physical pain and
obsessive-compulsive disorders. This is why,
researchers theorize, people become obsessed with lost
love, and are driven, in extreme cases, to stalking,
suicide, homicide, rubber tubing.
Regan, the California researcher, notes that such
cases are rare, and may have more to do with existing
mental issues than simple unrequited love. Still, she
says, passion is destined to end, whether mellowing
into long-term love or blowing up on the freeway at 4
a.m. Given this, she wonders if “we do our self a
disservice by glorifying passionate love so much.”
“The search for eternal passion is very misguided,”
she says. “It’s the search for the perfect high that
keeps people discarding relationships right and left .
You don’t feel the same way you did; people want to
break up, instead of seeing it as normal.”
And so, alas. Even neurologists, to go with
Shakespeare’s priest, now tell us passion is true
love’s fool’s gold, a flamboyant dead end on the
evolutionary chain of primate happiness.
The only problem with this insight is that no one pays
it any mind. Doomed passion may not make us right, and
it may not even make us very happy.
It only makes us human. It only makes us who we are.
We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.
The religious man is he who does not belong to any religion, to any nation, to any race, who is inwardly completely alone, in a state of not-knowing, and for him the blessing of the sacred comes into being.
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