Love, Lust and Drugs? The Highs and Lows of Romance
If you listen closely to the chatter of a group of close girlfriends, the conversation will eventually turn to men, sex and love. At least one of the women present will assign the title “best ever” to an ex, before describing the angst she experienced when the relationship dissolved and how hard it was to accept.
If she’s honest, she’ll admit that a part of her still craves his presence, if only because she can still remember how good being with him felt. I’m not just talking about sex here, although it goes without saying that it plays a huge part in explaining why a woman would feel this way about any man. When it comes to romance, it’s important to understand that Mother Nature always wins because “romantic love” is in many ways her very own elixir, leaving us to happily sip away at shots of infatuation that mask the real reason for our growing addiction.
“That girl is like crack cocaine to me.”
Musician John Mayer once referred to his ex-girlfriend Jessica Simpson as “sexual napalm”. In speaking of his relationship with Simpson, Mayer said:
“That girl, for me is a drug… and drugs aren’t good for you if you do lots of them. That girl is like crack cocaine to me… Have you ever been with a girl who made you want to quit the rest of your life? Did you ever say I want to quit my life and just snort you? If you charged me $10,000 to sleep with you, I would start selling all my stuff.”
Mayer’s description of his on-again, off-again relationship with Simpson may not have been politically correct, but he did touch on a feeling that we can all identify with on some level. More than any other emotional state, ‘being in love’ has the power to alter our outlook on life – leaving us content because we think we’ve finally found someone who will overlook or manage to enjoy the parts of us that we secretly don’t like.
We all remember the individual or individuals we connected best with physically and emotionally. I’ve only experienced that kind of passionate intensity twice in my life, but it’s safe to say that spending time with these men – even when there is no sex involved – leaves me inexplicably contented, balanced, and even high. I’ve likened their presence, and at least one guy’s smell, to the first sip of a perfectly mixed rum and coke, or a glass of my favourite wine. I’m not about to start selling my stuff for the chance to sleep with either of these men, but l am also not afraid to admit that I miss them, and the feelings I’ve come to associate with spending time with them.
Love is a drug. Lust isn’t too far behind either.
“Without… nature’s drugs, we would have little sex drive.”
Romantic or passionate love, with its euphoric feelings – when things are going well, mood swings – when things are not, obsessive thinking, and intense craving for an individual, characterises the attraction we have for people. Anthropologists like Helen Fisher describe attraction, as being driven by high levels of dopamine and norepinephrine. On the other hand, attachment, that is the sense of calm, peace, and stability one feels with a long-term partner, is driven by the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin. Without these hormones (nature’s drugs), we would have little sex drive, and it would be impossible for us to form relationships.
Fisher thinks romantic love developed to focus one’s mating energy on just one individual, while attachment works to help us tolerate an individual long enough to raise children as a team. Regardless, it goes without saying that the systems are connected, and yes orgasms elevate attachment hormones.
In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of Neurophysiology concluded:
“Romantic love is an addiction. It’s a very wonderful addiction when things are going well but a perfectly horrible addiction when things are going poorly.”
The undisputed truth is that Mother Nature’s drugs, activate the same regions in the human brain that cause us to become addicted to illicit substances like heroine, crystal meth and cocaine.
“Every romantic gesture… triggers a chemical reaction in our brain.”
No man or women is a drug, but it goes without saying that women are more susceptible to the call of nature’s attachment hormones. We are the vessels that incubate life, and our oxytocin receptors have been finetuned by Mother Nature and reinforced by natural selection. As a species, we have evolved to the point where we wield enormous control over our natural surroundings, and our own bodies, but it is important for us to remember that we will never be completely free from our own biochemistry.
Nowadays, sleeping with people we have no intention of forming long-term partnerships or procreating with seems to be the norm, but this is not exactly what Mother Nature intended. Every romantic gesture, from hugging and hand holding to sex, triggers a chemical reaction in our brain. Some of us are more susceptible to the effects of these drugs than others. It’s one thing to acknowledge that someone is your “best ever”, and another thing entirely to stalk that person. Thankfully, most of us never go further than the occasional drunken text, and in some cases this can lead to a mutually beneficial end result.
I always remember my father telling me “man know thyself”. When it comes to sex, love and romance in these liberated times, it is important that we first acknowledge and understand our own tolerance to risk – lest we become unwitting addicts.
Image courtesy iStockphoto.com; TRITOOTH.
Check out the rest of this week’s issue (1/11/10, Issue 30):
- a_phake: Expressive, Eclectic, Electric
- Bullying in T&T: Jokes that Hurt
- The Most Irritating Person on Facebook Awards goes to…
- Underappreciated? Giving Aunties and Uncles a Bligh
- Making Dreams Real: My Chelsea Experience