Love and Loss

Parting is all we need to know of hell. --Emily Dickinson

I've been fascinated by Biological Anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher who has made a career out of studying love. Check out her talk...it's fascinating and ever so compassionate in a Jewish grandmother sort of way. Among other things, she maintains that humans have evolved three core brain systems for mating and reproduction: Lust—the sex drive or libido, Romantic attraction—romantic love, and Attachment—deep feelings of union with a long term partner. Each have a different function.

She writes that "the sex drive evolved to encourage you to seek a range of partners; romantic love evolved to enable you to focus your mating energy on just one at a time; and attachment evolved to enable you to feel deep union to this person long enough to rear your infants as a team.”

The most intense system, characterized by both skyrocketing highs and heart crushing lows, is romantic attraction. She equates it to addiction. As in addiction, when in the throes of romantic love, a person's brain becomes focused and obsessive, it craves, distorts reality, and is willing to take enormous risks to get what it wants. The exact same region of the brain gets activated in romantic love as when it is under the influence of cocaine!

There are some takeaways from this. One is that if you are in the throes of romantic attraction, you are on drugs and your judgment might not be able to be trusted. Getting vetting from trusted friends about your partner (and you from your partner's friends) would be a good idea before making a lifetime commitment. If you are in an attached relationship, that does not protect you from romantic or sexual attraction. Be careful.

Also, if you are rejected while in romantic attachment, feeling a lot of pain is expected...you are not crazy. Unfortunately, as in addiction to a substance, you become engulfed with feelings of attachment to the object of withdrawal. Intense obsessive energy, focus and motivation to get it back is triggered. And as in addiction, there is tolerance, withdrawal, and relapse. Breakups can leave you feeling heartbroken, lost, demoralized, and even physically ill. This is a time when people need real support.

The post on 2/24/14 will offer some ideas on how to get through.

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