In spite of these advantages, unreason is always looming ahead. Indeed, the dark side of love is a pathway to many imbecilities some consider to be unnatural. Flash marriages, “Billy Bob” tattoos, couch-jumping on television, reckless driving, or the engage­ment in otherwise risky behaviour, are but some of the eccentricities of people in the “falling-in-love” stage. Other symptoms of such love sickness include sleeplessness, lack of appetite (for food), or the display of compulsive conduct, for instance calling or texting their beloved dozens of times a day. In his book Better Love Next Time, J. Michael Kearns describes the state of being in love as both baffling and powerful. Baffling because “it conjures up a bizarre combination of emotions, including euphoria, desire, excitement, adora­tion, dreami­ness, jealousy, hilarity, reckless audacity, worship, and loss of one’s rational faculties”; and powerful because “it trains this arsenal on a single person of our acquain­tance and impels us to grant this person a special status in our lives”. He, therefore, compares it to a dangerous and potent witches’ brew that throws people in a singular strain of madness. In its most benign form, such folly may cause someone to be totally absorbed by another person, lea­ding to decreased productivity, for example at school, at home or at work.[1] The poor devil is constantly craving for attention and affection from the “target” of his or her feeling and becomes gradually haunted by the demon of love.[2]

Further down the path of insanity, however, emotions may become uncontrollable to the point where they override rationality and the most natural survival mechanisms. In the case of “folie à deux”[3], for example, a delusional couple bound by passion decides to commit double-sui­cide (“shinjū”, a Japanese term composed of the two Chinese characters 心中, i.e., xīn, “mind” and zhōng “centre”), or the man chooses to kill himself after finding out that his beloved died of poison (as happens in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet). Yet the greatest dangers of love lurk at the opposite extreme, namely, situations where love is not reciprocated. Once the possessed fancier finally notices that his feelings will remain un­answe­red, attraction can become fatal. Sensations of sweetness and airiness give way to jea­lousy, bitterness, despair or paranoia, as nefarious desires for psy­cho­lo­gical aggression (e.g., blackmail, stalking) or physical violence (rape, assault, physical injury, or even mur­der) begin to consume the person under the spell.

So what is it in love that makes people do crazy things or wreak havoc in their own minds? As is the case for other phenomena and emotional conditions described in this book,[4] the discipline of neurochemistry offers quite a number of answers. Indeed, love appears to be nothing else but a state of the brain resulting from the release and combination of several chemicals, actually the same as the ones that drive other mammals to find suitable partners. In particular, researchers in the field found out that there were three well-defined brain systems for mating and reproduction – lust, romantic love, and long-term attachment – each of these being associated with distinct hormone activity triggering feelings and behavioural changes in lovers. In the first stage, namely, that of being passionately in love (or infa­tuation), the state of the brain is surprisingly similar to that of obsession, mania, thirst, hun­ger, intoxication[5], or even mental illness. According to John Marsden from the British National Addiction Centre, love is addictive in similar ways as drugs such as cocaine and speed. Likewise, anthropologist Helen Fisher determined that when someone is in love, exactly the same brain circuits light up as if he were taking cocaine, experiencing similar ela­tion, i.e., the sensations of joy, lightness, or euphoria that one gets when high on drugs.[6] The neurochemicals instrumental for such reactions are the following:

  • Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that stimulates desire, motivation and reward by triggering an intense rush of pleasure. It is often called “the happiness hormone”. High levels of dopamine are closely connected to heightened attention, goal-oriented behaviour, hyperactivity, short-term memory, and sleeplessness. Newly love-struck couples often display the signs of surging dopamine, including increased energy, less need for sleep or food, focused attention, etc.
  • Phenylethylamine (PEA) is another chemical that, when released by the brain, increases excitement levels, and gives people this elated physical feeling of being in love, for instance by making one’s heart race, hands sweat, pupils dilate, accelerate the blood flow in the cheeks and genitals, etc. It is also the main cause for the colloquial “butterflies” in the stomach. As the body’s natural version of amphe­tamines, phenylethylamine has the same effect as speed and ecstasy.
  • Norepinephrine (or Noradrenaline) functions both as a hormone and a neuro­transmitter. It affects those parts of the brain where attention and responses are controlled. In the context of love, it is partly responsible for the increase of the heart rate, faster breathing, for triggering sex drive as well as for inducing the sensation of being able to achieve anything.
  • Epinephrine (or Adrenaline) is another chemical released by the brain when bum­ping into one’s new love. During such an adrenaline rush, the heart rate speeds up, making the idoliser more alert and helping him to feel great. As stress hormones, both norepinephrine and epinephrine cause the fight-or-flight response that infa­tuated lovers may encounter when facing their target.
  • Endorphins (“endogenous morphine”) are the morphines that the body produces when it feels pain. When a person is in love, they have the same effects as heroin and opium in their abilities to produce a feeling of well-being. They also cause a lover to feel content and joyful.[7],[8],[9],[10],[11]

Related proverbs and citations:

生活有爱幸福,为爱生活愚蠢

shēng huó yŏu ài xìng fú wéi ài shēng huó yú chŭn

A life with love is happy, a life for love is foolish.

鼠目寸光

shŭ mù cùn guāng

A mouse’s vision is an inch long.

Short-sighted. Can’t see beyond the end of one’s nose. Under such “vision”, one sees only short-term benefits that may jeopardise long-term interests.

萝卜快了不洗泥

luóbo kuài le bù xǐ ní

A hastily cooked radish may still have soil on it.

Haste makes waste.

Hurrying will cause you to make mistakes.


Notes

[1]    Kearns (2008), p. 170

[2]    Rosen (2007), p. 74

[3]    Folie à deux (literally “a madness shared by two” in French), or shared psychosis, is a psychiatric syndrome in which symptoms of a delusional belief are transmitted from one individual to another. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folie_%C3%A0_deux)

[4]    See chapters 3 “Men like, women love”, 27 “A deliberate inaction is better than a blind action”, and 32 “Hearing something one hundred times is not as good as seeing it once”.

[5]    Brizendine (2006), p. 66

[6]    Fisher (1994)

[7]    Pease / Pease (2009), p. 216

[8]    http://www.drlauraberman.com/sexual-health/sex-and-brain/natural-love-drugs?xid=aol_lb-news_1_20120213_&aolcat=HLT&ncid=webmail8#/slide-7

[9]    http://lazur.hubpages.com/hub/Hormones-and-love

[10]  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endorphin

[11]  Notice that the neurochemicals that have the biggest influence in the generation of sexual desire, as opposed to romantic love feelings, are testosterone, oestrogen, oxytocin, and vasopressin. These are described in further detail in the chapters 1 “Men are like mud, women are like water”, 9 “The path to a woman’s heart passes through her vagina”, and 29 “Cosiness and satiety breed lust”.

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