Infatuation

Throughout history, mankind has deemed the heart the center of love. But scientists tell us love is all in our mind or brain. And fueled by chemicals and chemistry.

When two people are attracted to each other, a virtual explosion of adrenaline-like nuerochemicals gushes forth. Fireworks explode and we see stars. PEA or phenylethylamine is a chemical that speeds up the flow of information between nerve cells.

Also, involved in chemistry are dopamine and norepinephrine, chemical cousins of amphetamines. Dopamine makes us feel good and norepinephrine stimulates the production of adrenaline. It makes our heart race! These three chemicals combine to give us infatuation or "chemistry." It is why new lovers feel euphoric and energized, and float on air. It is also why new lovers can make love for hours and talk all night for weeks on end. This is the chemistry or the love sparks we all seek.

Actually when we have chemistry with someone, it's not exactly flattering. In fact, some might call it insulting.  Why? According to Sam and Bunny Sewell, Family Counselors for the Best Self Clinic in Naples, our brain dumps PEA when we identify someone who can:

1. Finish our childhood business.

2. Give us back what we lost to the socialization process of growing up.

Singles search for love armed with a list of qualities desired in a mate/lover, such as honesty, fidelity, loyalty, sense of humor, intelligence, warmth, etc. Yet when that person appears they say, He/she is a really nice person, but nothing clicked, just no "chemistry." Unfortunately, we hear that click when we recognize our original parent/child situation. That's when our brain really gets those phenylethylamines and other chemicals moving.

Some people become veritable love junkies. They need chemistry or this chemical excitement to feel happy about and intoxicated by life. Once this initial rush of chemicals wanes (inevitable after six months to three years, depending on the individual and the circumstances), their relationship crumbles. They're soon off again, detectives seeking a quick fix to their forlorn feelings: another chemical high from infatuation.

These love junkies also have one other problem. The body builds up a tolerance to these chemicals. Then it takes more and more chemistry to bring that special feeling of love. They crave the intoxication of chemistry and infatuation.  Many adults go through life in a series of six-month to three-year relationships. If these love junkies stay married, they are likely to seek affairs to fuel their chemical highs.

Manipulating the chemistry of attraction

Summarised from a story by Peter Aldhous, entitled 'What's serotonin got to do with it?', in New Scientist (Feb 22nd '97).

'Lust is governed by testosterone and oestrogen, and attachment by oxytocin and vasopressin'

A research team led by anthropologist Helen Fisher, of Rutgers University in New Jersey, leading research into the neuroscience of love, is hoping to isolate the chemical formula for falling in love. Love, according to Fisher, falls into three distinct mental states. First comes lust, then attraction, then finally attachment, which predominates in more enduring relationships. According to Fisher, the chemical basis of the first and last of these states is already quite well-known: lust is governed by testosterone and oestrogen, and attachment by oxytocin and vasopressin.

The chemistry of the second, volatile phase of romantic attraction is less well-known. Fisher believes it is caused by changes in signalling within the brain involving a group of neurotransmitters called monoamines, which include dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. To plot these changes more exactly she has been wiring up smitten and lovelorn New Yorkers to a functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) brain scanner. This machine can pinpoint minute changes in blood flow in the brain associated with infatuation.

Fisher's slightly alarming hope is that by calculating the chemical recipe for attraction in this way, it will be possible to produce drug treatments for people in whom this condition has run out of control. Her belief is that such treatments could be very useful for suicidally depressed unrequited lovers, and dangerous obsessives such as stalkers.