Dating and Mate Selection — 26 February 2008
Falling in love is wonderful

There is a constant fascination with the phenomenon of falling in love. Many theories have been created to explain this wonderful and perplexing event. The magic and mystique associated with the process of being madly in love has been an inspiration for writers, poets, musicians, painters and other artists, for as long as humans have existed.

Many theories have been devised to explain the causes and nature of falling in love. Recently, research findings have shocked us into the awareness that as much as we would like to believe that this process is due solely to the magic of attraction to the right person, new neurological data suggests otherwise.

Dr. Helen Fisher Rutgers University and colleagues conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of brains of people who were “intensely” in love. She found an increased activity in dopamine rich areas in their brain that is associated with reward and motivation. She states: “Romantic love, that creates craving, motivation, goal oriented behavior – and ecstasy is a motivation system, rather than an emotion”. Dr. Pfaus, a psychologist and sex researcher of Concordia University in Montreal clarifies: “You think someone made you feel good, but really it’s your brain that made you feel good.” What these researchers do not detail is why these Dopamine activators occur with certain people and not with others.

Other studies suggest that falling in love is nature’s program for perpetuating the species. When mate selection is exciting, pairs are more likely to pursue a life commitment and child bearing. They eventually alter the “in love” state through Oxytocin- to the attachment phase.

Interestingly, romantic love is distinguishable from sexual attraction as Dr. Jankowaik found in an array of traditional societies. The “in love” state is marked by intense preoccupation with the beloved with addictive, unrealistic adulation. It differs from sexual attraction, which is a separate pull for physical contact. Yet, those who fall in love regularly find their beloved exceptionally physically desirable.

Of course, lovers may not be convinced by biological research that the cause of the highly pleasurable emotions they feel is chemically programmed. The arousal and excitation has driven some people to not only feel “crazy”, but to act in most unusual ways. Shakespeare described it in the “The Merchant Of Venice” this way: “But love is blind and lovers cannot see the pretty follies that themselves commit”. Now we know that it’s the Dopamine that makes people in love act “dopey”.

Despite the high anxiety, obsessive preoccupations, erratic behavior, (even for sane folks) and the toll the high excitation takes, few people would forgo a moment of the madly in love experience. The elation and pleasure of being chosen and admired are intoxicating and addictive. Lovers spend a great deal of time excessively praising each other, seeing perfection in the beloved and treasuring every instant together. It is a time of delirious insanity – but none complain. In fact, they wish to perpetuate this highly charged state as long as possible.

And as all good things come to an end, so do the super-charged emotions and preoccupations. that are unsustainable for the long haul. The storm has to die down to a sweet, secure and permanent state of togetherness, in comfort and sanity.

If you are madly in love:

• Cherish every moment. Drink up the love and admiration. Stock up on the sense of your perfection and infallibility.
• Embrace the excitement/anxiety that is associated with being cherished, coupled with the fear of it ending.
• Permit yourself to engage in wild, illogical behavior that does not jeopardize your long-term health or wellbeing.
• View this euphoric state as a gift for the blessed. Some people never experience this state as much as they desire to find it.
• Do not fret about the future. Languish in the delights of the moment.
• Being insanely in love will become a memory you will cherish for the rest of your life.
• Ignore the comments of outside observers, they would blindly trade places with you.
• When your heart resumes its normal pace and the wave of uncontrolled impulses subsides, embrace your newfound calmness, stability and loving commitment to your partner. This is not a state of loss, but of a found stability.
• When the “in love” state matures into the lifelong loving phase, remember that you can intermittently reactivate the infatuation with a few simple steps and re-experience the intoxication of your passionate love again and again and again.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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