The Neuroscience of Romance

It was just three years ago that I was writing about the Chemistry of Love and the magic of Valentine’s Day. That love is a chemical we know and understand, more than that, we actually feel it. But love is, of course, way more than that.

Because nothing can exist that cannot be thought of or about, love starts in the brain. Love, it would seem, particularly romantic love, is a reward. At the same time love is obsessive, addictive and risky. There is a really good reason for all this and it is found in the way we have evolved to survive.

As Helen Fisher is eager to acknowledge, romantic love is something we crave. The way the brain falls in love is also something we can now understand better. And let’s not forget that love and romance are the building material out of which relationships are forged. A secure relationship has a whole lot of other things associated with it that make it very desirable.

The increasing body of research around love and romance should help us all understand why love happens and how it evolves. Men and women approach love differently and that, in itself reveals how we are affected by cultural constructs. Love’s origins may be in ancient Greece or maybe a little later.

It is interesting that something as deep, pervasive and primal as love is it is also something that we have examined very little while, all the time, we talk about it a lot. Frustration, for example, may be necessary to feel satisfaction when in love.

Unsurprisingly, as we have turned to pseudoscience to help us solve the mystery of love, or rather address the problem of unreciprocated love we are also now using science to overcome the ache of love spurned.

A lot of the problems we face in this world are of our own making. The neurobiology that ensured our survival and ensconced us at the pinnacle of the planetary food chain also conspires to foil our expectations and complicate our behavior. If behavioral science can explain the patterns that lead us to fall out of love it stands to reason that its strength and the addiction we feel to it is also based upon behavioral neurobiology.

This creates an interesting conundrum. On the one hand we can accept who we are at a neurobiological level. Accept that not every relationship is destined to last, that we may, indeed, naturally fall out of love with someone we are in a relationship with or take steps to stop feeling anything for someone who doesn’t return our feelings.

Or, we may, instead, create a construct in our minds (as we have) of what love and relationships are supposed to be like because we know that the aspiration changes us and how we behave, elevates our thinking, changes our perspective and actually makes us, overall, better versions of our self.

The struggle between the caveman and the astronaut in us is real. We have a lot to learn about how we truly behave (and why) and, as I showed in The Sniper Mind the road to controlling our impulses and rising to greater cognitive and emotional heights starts with an awareness of our physicality and small steps designed to help us use it better.

I know, that you know that. The ability, for instance, to get through each Sunday Read and come out the other side having learnt new things and acquired a fresh perspective is predicated upon the success of the previous day’s hunt for plenty of coffee and croissants, cookies, donuts and chocolate cake. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.