Love is involuntary. Brain science tells us it’s a drive like thirst. It’s a craving for a specific person. It’s normal, natural to “lose control” in the early stage of romance. Love, like thirst, will make you do strange things, But knowledge is power. It’s a natural addiction and treating it like an addiction can help you.
We were built to fall in love. Are YOU in love?
The ancient Greeks called love “the madness of the gods.” Modern psychologists define it as it the strong desire for emotional union with another person. But what, actually, is love. It means so many different things to different people. Songwriters have described it, “Whenever you’re near, I hear a symphony.” Shakespeare said, “Love is blind and lovers cannot see.” Aristotle said, “Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.”
THE OVERALL HYPOTHESIS
But we think that romance is one of three basic brain systems that evolved for mating and reproduction:
The sex drive or lust—the craving for sexual gratification–evolved to enable you to seek a range of potential mating partners. After all, you can have sex with someone you aren’t in love with. You can even feel the sex drive when you are driving in your car, reading a magazine or watching a movie. Lust is not necessarily focused on a particular individual.
Romantic love, or attraction—the obsessive thinking about and craving for a particularperson–evolved to enable you to focus your mating energy on just one individual at a time. As Kabir, the Indian poet put it: “The lane of love is narrow; there is room for only one.”
Attachment—the feeling of deep union with a long-term partner–evolved to enable you to remain with a mate at least long enough to rear a single child through infancy together as a team—although many of us remain together much longer, and enjoy the benefits of life with a partner even when there is no goal to have children.
These three brain systems–and feelings–interact in many ways to create our myriad forms of loving.
We began our studies with attraction. Whether it’s called romantic love, obsessive love, passionate love, or infatuation, men and women of every era and every culture have been affected by this irresistible power.
The intensity of romantic love tends to last somewhere from six months to two years before turning into attachment in most relationships. Romance is where love begins, and it seems to have the most extreme effect on human behavior.
Behavioral traits of early stage romantic love:
- Special meaning: the romantic partner is the center of the world, and you like anything they like
- Intense energy and it’s hard to sleep
- Loss of appetite
- Mood swings
- Separation anxiety
- Intense motivation for emotional union
- Intrusive thinking
Love Is A Drive
“What wild ecstasy,” exclaimed poet John Keats in his poem On A Grecian Urn. Romantic love has many feelings–from wild ecstasy to utter despair. But common to all those men and women whom we put into the brain scanner was activity in primitive brain regions linked with motivation, with drive. Romantic love is a basic human drive that evolved millions of years ago to start the mating process with a preferred individual.
Like all drives, romantic love is tenacious. Emotions come and go: you can be angry in the morning and happy in the afternoon. But if you are in love at dawn, you will remain in love all day and night—often for months, even years.
This passion is also focused and goal oriented. As the thirsty person is dedicated to finding water, the lover is riveted on the beloved. The goal: to win him or her. And just as the parched individual remains focused until their thirst is quenched, the lover single-mindedly concentrates on the beloved–until their sweetheart is won. The mind becomes consumed with finding, courting and keeping a cherished partner.
And, like all drives, romantic love is difficult to control. As Stendahl wrote, “Love is like a fever; it comes and goes quite independently of the will.”
Romantic love is an urge, a need, a homeostatic imbalance, a craving, a drive to win a mating partner. Perhaps most significant: like all drives, love is orchestrated in large part by the reward system in the brainstem. This is the level that controls involuntary reflexes like breathing and heart rate. No wonder it’s nearly impossible to control this primordial passion.