Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Love Shyness - Love as a Drug

This is part of a series on Love Shyness. The index can be found here.

Most people have been in love at one time or another. Gilmartin discusses the biochemistry of falling in love.
The available data indicate that romantic love feelings commence in the region of the lower brain that is known as the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is composed of a dense cluster of nerves which controls hundreds of bodily functions and impacts in a large host of ways the entire nervous system. Whenever a person subjectively perceives another human being as romantically appealing a portion of the hypothalamus transmits a message by way of various chemicals to the pituitary gland. And in turn the pituatary releases a host of its own hormones which rapidly suffuse the entire bloodstream. The sex glands respond to these hormones by rapidly releasing into the bloodstream their own hormones which have the effect, even among preadolescent children, of creating a more rapid heartbeat and a feeling of lightness in the head. Simultaneously the nerve pathways in and around the hypothalamus produce chemicals
that induce—provided that these chemicals continued to be produced over a long period of time—what people refer to as "falling in love".
Gilmartin tries to link the hypothalamus to the love shy.
Simply put, for severely love-shy men the "love nucleus" portion of the hypothalamus may "awaken to full operation" seven or eight or nine years prematurely, long before adolescence is arrived at with its normal surge of sex hormones. The prepubescent child who does not have any awareness of sex or of erotic feelings (as these do not usually occur prior to adolescence) interprets the powerful feelings he does feel as being those of overhwelming romantic love.
Do you remember the last time you started to fall in love with someone?
Among the first signs of "falling in love" is a giddy high similar to what might be obtained as a result of an amphetamine boost. This "high" is a sign that the brain has entered a distinct neurochemical state. This occurs as a result of the hypothalamus releasing a chemical substance (probably phenylethylamine) that is very much like an amphetamine and which, like any "upper", makes the heart beat faster and confers energy.
This high is enough to give the average person the motivation to act on their feelings. The love shy on the other hand are incapable of harnessing this energy through flirting and winning the attention of the loved person. Should the love not be reciprocated, this high usually quickly fades.
In not being able to make the approach to the love object the biochemical "high" remains endemic in the love-shy child's brain for an indefinite, usually quite lengthy period of time. And the elementary school boy (or man as the case might be) becomes "hooked" on his own brain biochemicals.
I remember during high school having long term crushes on girls, lasting anywhere from half a year to years on end. Despite this, it was extremely rare for me to do anything about it and when I did - and usually failed - I would quickly move on to another person. Looking back, I can appreciate the love as a drug analogy. The high was a period of happiness, whereas "coming down" always left me morose.

Gilmartin suggests that "the ability to share many experiences with the love object would operate to remove the "rosy colored smokescreen" of infatuation, thus preventing this addiction." This is something that I can appreciate, despite never having spent any length of time with any object of my affections.

On the effects of withdrawl, Gilmartin notes:
A key consideration for anyone who gets hooked on drugs is that of withdrawal. Whether a person gets hooked on pills or on natural drugs that the brain produces, the "crash" of withdrawal can be highly distracting and debilitating for a person of any age.
Gilmartin also discusses the role of chocolate - something which should be familiar to lonely single women...
But of especial interest here is the finding that people who "crash" after having been deeply in love tend to have an unusually strong craving for chocolate. Very noteworthy is the fact that chocolate is high into phenylethylamine—the very substance that is released by the brain into the bloodstream as a concomitant of falling in love. When the love-feelings cease the body craves chocolate because it has developed a tolerance to the phenylethylamines which it is no longer getting—because the brain has stopped secreting them.
I can say that I usually have strong cravings for chocolate. Now I know why!

1 comment:

maggie.danhakl@healthline.com said...


Healthline.com recently launched a free interactive "Human Body Maps" tool. I thought your readers would be interested in our body map of the Hypothalamus: http://www.healthline.com/human-body-maps/hypothalamus

It would be much appreciated if you could include this tool on http://reasonablyaaron.blogspot.com/2010/06/love-shyness-love-as-drug.html and / or share with friends and followers. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Thank you in advance.
Warm Regards,

Maggie Danhakl- Assistant Marketing Manager
p: 415-281-3124 f: 415-281-3199

Healthline Networks, Inc. * Connect to Better Health
660 Third Street, San Francisco, CA 94107 www.healthline.com