Romantic Love

Romantic Love

“We pine for love, kill for love, live for love and die for it.” – Helen Fisher, in her UTube talk: The Anatomy of Love.

Love is about reproduction but comes with a craving originating in childhood. Unlike other animals, human babies cannot protect themselves or run away; their life depends on their relationship with their mother or primary caregiver/s. Over millennia we have been selectively bred for security and survival within families and groups. We have adapted for group functioning; in the brain paths of connection have been hard wired for this kind of social survival.

That tender intimacy we had from our early caregivers built up an unconscious jigsaw or, as Fisher says, a “love map” of traits that we crave for when we leave home. We also crave the things that we felt were missing. As adults, caring for others becomes part of this loving need, as well as being cared for.

When we see someone who we think will supply that lost intimacy and sexual pleasure, who will fit into our jigsaw of traits, we fall for them and feel we have discovered our lost other half.

Then extraordinary things happen. Brain scans show how, as our passion flows, norepinephrine, serotonin are released. Endorphins and dopamine are activated and scientists say the euphoric feeling chemically replicates a cocaine rush. Fisher described this as “one of the most intense feelings on earth”. From brain scans she concludes that romantic love, unlike other emotions, comes from “the wanting and craving part of the brain”. It feels spiritual, like a “cosmic union”.

The neurologist, Luis Cozolino says romantic love even “turns off the fear system in the amygdala … and other cortical areas in the brain … Love is a relief from scanning the outer world for threat and our inner world for shame.” So our loving feels forgiving and liberated, as well as free, energised and very sexy.

However, as with cocaine, this early addictive rush cannot last. Withdrawal symptoms can materialise in struggles and resentments: partners just won’t do those things which brought about such ecstasy in the beginning. Relationship problems can develop. Indeed, it is partly delusional as nobody can fulfil every one of our needs. Yet, many couples find ways of retaining powerful elements from the “honeymoon” time. While long-term love is not the same, they learn to find the different ways in which it can feel romantic and be deeply fulfilling.

You might also like:
Imago
Long-Term Love
Romantic Love, the pitfalls

With thanks to:
This.com, “How do you define love?” by Dr S Pinto,
TED talk, “Why we love, why we cheat” by H Fisher,
The Neuroscience of Human Relationships by L Cozolino
Imago and “Getting the Love you Want” by H hendrix.

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