Friday, February 25, 2011

It's a Trip!

Whoever coined the term "falling in love" got it right. The sense of letting down one's guard and pitching forward (or backward as the case may be) into a relationship is certainly a sense of release and abandonment—as well as a leap of faith. We usually tumble into romantic relationships heart first, not giving thought to the realities of the situation. And when you fall, well, you often get hurt, right? Or at least skin your knee, or bruise your ego. 
   As it turns out, falling in love is a neurological process. It's even been documented by scientists. The act of falling in love prompts the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine and the chemical, serotonin. A scientist at Rutgers, Helen Fisher, studied the brains of love-struck couples and found increased levels of dopamine in their brains similar to reactions of a person snorting cocaine. Yes, love is a drug. And maybe that's not such a bad thing. If not for this heady sensation, many humans might not pair off long enough to procreate.
   Another study showed that infatuated couples had levels of serotonin coursing through their brains similar to levels in people afflicted with obessive-compuslive disorders. So that feeling of being "obsessed" with the object of your desire, is real—even if the attachment you've built around them is fantasy. And once you have sex, well, there are a host of chemical reactions going off in the brain that help solidify the bond and convince you to stick around.
   Usually, all these reactions occur without much thought to the biology and neurology involved. It's not exactly sexy to tell your lover, "Honey, you're really making my dopamine levels surge!" but that's pretty much what's happening. Understanding those phenomena is helpful when you are, a-hem, of a certain age and entering the world of romance and dating again after more than a decade of monogamy.
   When I was younger, I thought of love as something no less than magical (thank you very much, Walt Disney.) One minute I'm talking to a guy about my work, the next thing I know I'm imaging what it would be like to kiss him, and before long, I'm picking out the perfect china pattern for us in my head. I thought there was no real rhyme or reason for these feelings. I thought I was just swept up in the moment. Now I know better. It's all biochemistry. (Damn, I knew I should have paid more attention in that prerequisite Baby Bio course I took in college. If only I hadn't majored in English Lit. perhaps I would have figured this out sooner!) But alas, after all this time, I realize it wasn't fairy dust at all, but good old bio-chemicals coursing through my brain.
   Turns out, Arthur Arun, a NY psychologist, even came up for a formula for falling in love. It goes like this: Boy meets Girl + Boy & Girl talk intimately for 30 minutes + Boy & Girl stop talking and stare into each other's eyes for four minutes = Boy and Girl fall in love. (If you happen to be gay, just substitute genders as necessary.) That's IT.  It's that simple. Other studies have shown that it doesn't matter so much what you say, but how you say it. In other words, the tone of a person's voice, their meter and tone and speed, resonates more than the profoundness or profaneness that issues forth. (So that's why I'm not attracted to men with thick Southern accents!) And, of course, body language—that which is unspoken—is central to attraction too. In fact, non-verbal nuance the most significant means of attraction.
   Thinking back on my romantic liaisons past, I'm hard pressed to recall one relationship that did not begin with intense conversation, followed by that all-important moment or two (or four) of meaningful silence when eyes met eyes and I knew something was about to happen.
   Alas, in the past,  my verbosity has gotten me into some disastrous relationships. But armed with this new knowledge of the mechanics of falling in love, I feel a bit like Lex Luther discovering Superman's weakness for kryptonite. I realize was born with the gift of gab (my Dad used to say I was "vaccinated with a phonograph needle,") and can strike up meaningful dialogue with just about anyone. That's a valuable talent for a reporter to own, but now that I'm almost-single, I must exert my Buddhist mindfulness when unleashing this super-power on the world—lest I trip, and fall.

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