The Brain in Love

Posted on December 18, 2017


The holidays are supposed to be about loveof family, of friends, of Jesus, of materialism, and, this year especially, of one’s love (and utter relief) of 2017 being finally put to bed. For this reason, Life in the Boomer Lane thought she’d take the opportunity to devote this post to love. It’s a win-win: She gets to acknowledge love, as well as to stand in defiance of the Trump administration’s order to the CDC to refrain from using the term “science-based.”

Because of this last item, LBL will now stand on her roof (newly installed this year to the tune of umpteen boatloads of money) and shout the following: This post is SCIENCE-BASED!  This means BASED ON SCIENCE and SCIENTIFICALLY-BASED and BASED ON SCIENTIFIC PRINCIPLE! 

LBL doesn’t rule the Centers for Disease Control, and she truly laments the fact that they will now attempt to control disease worldwide, without the benefit of science. But she, unlike the CDC, is her own entire universe, ruled only by herself. And, unlike the current administration, she can acknowledge science, if she so chooses.  And, oh boy, does she so choose.

And, now, love. SCIENCE-BASED love to be specific. In other words, the following, based on research into brain chemistry, will be brought to you by Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist. Fisher has done extensive research into brain chemistry, specifically brain chemistry as it relates to what we call “love.”

Fisher started with people who were happily in love.  Their love triggered an area at the base of the brain, with cells that produce dopamine, a natural stimulant. That same area is triggered when one experiences the rush of cocaine. Romantic love, according to Fisher, is an obsession. “Somebody is camping in your head.” But, unlike cocaine, it isn’t illegal and doesn’t cost a ton of money or cause one to be hunching over mirrors all the time, an unwise activity for anyone over the age of forty.

The other group of people tested were those who had recently been dumped. LBL’s favorite line in the article referred to these very people:  “It was very difficult, actually, putting these people in the machine, because they were in such bad shape.” LBL imagines wailing and flailing, as electrodes were attached to their heads, or worse, kicking and screaming as they were stuffed into helmets. She imagines them silently screaming, “I don’t WANT anyone to know what is inside my head now! It’s filled with endless therapy sessions with friends and embarrassing texting in the middle of the night and dialing a number and then hanging up as soon as the person answers!” In other words, completely normal behavior for a typical eighth grader.

In the case of dumpees, there were three areas of the brain that activated. The first was the same one as romantic love. This is entirely predictable, as humans want something even more when they know they can’t have it. LBL will find an article of clothing that she is only so-so about. But if she sees it is out of stock in her size, she will then spend all day, trying to find a store that has it.  Don’t even get her started on eBay, where she has bid ridiculous amounts of money for mediocre items, simply because somebody else was bidding on it.

But, since we are not here to discuss, LBL’s various neuroses, we will now continue with the topic at hand:

Dumpees also had activity in a brain region associated with calculating gains and losses. One might be surprised, at first, to hear this. After all, love is all giddy splendor, whether it be in the grass or on a trip to Costco, right?  Not so. Dumpees are mentally calculating what went wrong in the relationship and what they had lost. This activity, alone, can be quite time-consuming and can obliterate all other activities in life, including breathing. 

Lastly, the researchers found activity in a brain region associated with deep attachment to another individual.  According to Fisher, “When you’ve been rejected in love, not only are you engulfed with feelings of romantic love, but you’re feeling deep attachment to this individual.”

This final item is not good, any way you slice it. You’ve been dumped, but that abandonment only makes you feel even more attached to the person. And worse, you wig out when researchers try to put you into any kind of machine, in order to find out just why you are acting the way you are.

What can we learn from all this?  First, if you are happily in love, you are on a road with lots of stunning scenery and great weather and driving a really cool car.  If you have been dumped, you are on a poorly-maintained road with confusing exit choices that aren’t properly marked and your GPS is malfunctioning and it’s getting dark and you are running out of gas and your shit car is making some kind of strange knocking noise. But you are completely attached to the road you are on, even though it will probably end up killing you or having you stand at the side after you run out of gas, trying to wave down a passerby who isn’t a serial killer. Except it’s guaranteed that they will be.

The only positive in all this for those who have been dumped is that you are benefitting from scientific research, in order to better understand why you are so depressed and have developed a morbid fear of having your head stuck in a machine. Be grateful that you don’t have a weird disease and have to depend on the CDC to help you out. Those guys are on the verge of having to advocate for blood-letting, as a means to cure you. Then you’d be dumped and losing blood for no good reason whatsoever.