How many blogs have started with a comment along the lines that romantic love is one of the great mysteries of life? I hate to think. But it's Cheery-Ch(T)une-Ch(T)uesday, so we are going to concern ourselves with love and its mysteries.
With modern technology, "love" is actually becoming somewhat less mysterious. Developments in neurobiology through technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging are providing insights into exactly what is going on in our brains as we do almost anything, including going through the various experiences that we think of as “being in love”.
THE LIVED EXPERIENCE OF LOVE
So what are the obvious statements that we can make about love from our lived experience of it? There are a few aspects of love that just about everyone can relate to from one or more romantic involvements in their lives:
The experience of early infatuation and obsessive love is exciting and distracting. It is characterized by high arousal, sexual desire and mono-focus on the object of our desire.
The phase of love described in 1, doesn’t last forever!
Long-term love is characterized by deeper attachment and caring companionship. This does not have to mean complete loss of sexual desire, though it may not be as consistent or spontaneous as in stage1. Love moves into a different phase more conducive to longer-term endeavors such as building a family.
SO WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE NEUROBIOLOGY OF LOVE?
We now know what is going on in our heads in these recognizable phases of love. For example, we know that intense romantic love activates dopamine-releasing regions in the brain (such as the striatum, part of the brain’s “pleasure center”). Dopamine release is what gives us strong feelings of enjoyment or satisfaction. Intense romantic love also activates the insula, a region of the brain associated with reward. So, being with the one we love makes us feel good and rewarded. Who’d have thought?!
What has also been found is that while sexual desire and romantic love both stimulate the striatum, only romantic love stimulates the insula, the reward region.
So, as Robert Weiss puts it in his Huffington Post blog on this topic, “the striatum is responsible for sexual desire and initial attraction, and the insula is responsible for transforming (giving value) to that desire, and turning it (potentially) into love”.
But let’s not get bogged down in the neurobiology. This is Cheery-Chune-Chuesday, after all so…
LET’S CELEBRATE THE FIRST, SILLY STAGE OF LOVE
…with those masters of the 80/90’s Indy pop song, The Cure. In Friday, I’m in Love, Robert Smith and the boys get off on that joyous experience of youth – I don’t care what’s happened for the rest of the week, it’s Friday night, and I’m in love! The tune is upbeat, the band seem to be having a bunch of fun, the dopamine is pumping, and all is right in the world!
Here it is:
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