In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow listed the experience of love as being one of the foundation blocks in the hierarchy of human needs _ the only things being more pertinent were oxygen, food and water. It makes sense, really; it's everywhere. It’s at Starbucks. It’s on reality television. It’s in the air. You can’t escape it.
Few would disagree that love is one of life’s greatest mysteries … and for many, the quest to find, fall into, or fall head over heels in love … is reason enough to get out of bed in the morning.
If you think back to the movie Roxanne, Steve Martin plays an articulate, put-together fire chief _ but enter Roxanne and he turns into a bumbling fool. WALL-E was totally smitten with Eva and risked life and electronic limb for the object of his affection. And in both Titanic and Romeo and Juliet men died for the women they loved. Some may refer to the things people do when they’re smitten off their asses as being temporary insanity. Science however, rebukes the theory.
When I was a junior in college, half asleep during my Thursday afternoon biopsychology class, my professor said something that immediately revived my consciousness. My lecture notes from that day read as follows:
When two people are attracted to each other, a virtual explosion of adrenaline-like neurochemicals gushes forth. Fireworks explode and we see stars. The brain releases three neurochemicals: dopamine and norepinephrine (chemical cousins of amphetamines), and phenylethylamine (PEA). Dopamine makes us feel good, and norepinephrine stimulates the production of adrenaline. The third, PEA, speeds all of this up, and the physical sensation of infatuation is little more than a biochemical malfunction. The parts of the brain that respond to this chemical reaction are the same places in the brain which respond to when one takes euphoria inducing drugs such as ecstasy or cocaine.
This week, a friend and I were talking about relationships, changing dynamics and why many of us can tend to get a little weird on the inside when there's a shift in the way they function.
I couldn't help but laugh, because all in an instant, it was clear. This state of discomfort we feel when the status-quo changes is something over which we have no control. On a biochemical level, it’s nothing more than withdrawal symptoms.
Driving home that night I made a random pit stop to purchase a Venti hot chocolate and a brownie, which at the time was an action I'd given little thought. Yet the following day when I stumbled upon an article that said (surprise) that trace amounts of PEA were contained in chocolate, I realized, unbeknownst to me, I had been reduced to little more than a junkie seeking out the next best fix.
In a relationship that begins to want on both sides, the breakup always seems to go a little more smoothly since both are going through the gradual weaning of brain chemicals. It's only logical, then, when a breakup occurs clear out of the blue, why the person on the receiving end can tend to react a little less favorably: chemical crash. And if the crash is severe enough, it may be a catalyst for what I like to refer to as the “crazy ex” syndrome.
So, what we really have here, then, is a mass epidemic. And all we can do now is work on conceiving a working plan of action.
In the world of recovery, there are support groups, de-tox clinics, and in some instances, prescription methadone to wean people off the substances that they're trying to rid out of their lives. Why isn't this the case for love? Why isn't there a “Hallmark Card De-tox Center” where people can check themselves in when a relationship sours? Why hasn't Hershey's founded some sort of “Betty Crocker Clinic” where dark chocolate bars are passed out three times a day in lieu of medication? Why can't we get a prescription for a dopamine/PEA patch that we can slap on our upper arm when we get out of the shower in the morning? Something like that would surely quell a lot of the discomfort felt after the end of a romantic involvement.
But all joking aside, chemical malfunction or not, love is still like an earthquake _ unpredictable, ground shattering and even a little scary, but when the hard part is over you realize how lucky you truly are.
Experiencing the downs are only an indicator that we're open to experiencing all the amazing and wonderful things that happen when we connect with someone, no matter how short the connection may be. Enjoy it, embrace it and hold onto it ... all of it. And if all else fails, you can always try snorting a line of cocoa powder.