Posted on September 8th, 2010 by Marisa Robson 6,207 views
Women in Love
In his poem Don Juan, Byron said; “Man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart, ‘Tis woman’s whole existence.”
For many women, this statement is mildly offensive. Sick of being branded as irrational, over-emotional and easily swayed by love, any woman who reckons she’s got her head screwed on straight will deny it in the interest of preserving what scraps of gender equality are available to her (not to mention keeping her dignity intact). The sad fact is any woman who reckons she’s got her head screwed on straight is wrong.
Even the most rational woman will find herself at home (mooning about) relaxing (waiting for the phone to ring) with a glass of wine (drinking away the sharp edges of her anxiety) and listening to Kate Bush CD’s when she falls in love, her normal assured level of sanity (considering PMS, bra’s and the other miscellaneous complications that every woman deals with) reduced to the level of neurotic obsession.
On being jilted, the same rational woman will find herself in a black night of the soul that leaves her unable to concentrate on work, unable to eat or sleep and unable to stop crying or thinking of her absent lover. With the right set of stimuli, Sensible Sue will turn into a crazed jackal-brained bitch who will stop at nothing to take revenge on her ex. We’ve all heard the stories.
Dr. Louann Brizendine neurobiologist and author of ‘The Female Brain’, explains that “the state of early romantic love can be reignited by being dumped, which actually heightens the phenomenon of passionate love in the brain circuits.” That is to say, a woman will often spin out into an agitated, obsessive state in which she loses all sense of context and becomes hell-bent on getting her lover back.
This is not because the poor thing has nothing better to do with her time. It’s because of the way that Mother Nature (not all that sane Herself) designed her; for the survival of the species.
Dr. Brizendine explains how, by its very structure (bigger emotional memory center, greater ability to read cues, different chemical composition) the female brain is a completely different kind of engine from that of the male, elegantly designed to function primarily for the purpose of relationships, emotion and nurturing.
This has a profound influence over her priorities. When love comes to town, the coolest ice queen is driven by her biology to become warm, supportive, psychotic and dedicated to her mate.
Yes, that did say psychotic.
Hey man, got any Dope (amine)?
The chemistry of the human brain is remarkably similar to those science lab experiments that involve a rat, a maze, some cheese and a nerd. Rat presses red button, cheese. Rat presses green button, electric shock. Except in our case, the maze is our lives and we don’t get cheese we get dopamine, a neurotransmitter which turns on our pleasure centres, reinforcing positive responses to stimuli like food and sex. Dopamine is part of our fundamental survival mechanism. But when our dopamine level gets too high, things can get a little weird.
Eros and Psychotic
In March of this year, Nature Neuroscience published the results of a study that linked psychopathic behavior to elevated dopamine levels in the brain. Joshua Buckholtz, lead author of the study was quoted as saying that a hyperactive dopamine reward system “may be the foundation for some of the most problematic behaviors associated with psychopathy, such as violent crime, recidivism (yeah I had to look it up too, it means “chronic tendency toward repetition of criminal or antisocial behavior patterns”) and substance abuse.”
The other nerd on the team, associate professor of psychology and psychiatry David Zald, added, “These individuals appear to have such a strong draw to reward—to the carrot—that it overwhelms the sense of risk or concern about the stick.”
There is also evidence linking high dopamine levels to schizophrenia.
“Yes,” you say, “but what has that got to do with women in love?”
Madly in Love
Well, this. After conducting MRI studies on the human brain, Rutgers University research professor Helen Fisher observed “When our subjects look at a photograph of their sweetheart, one of the main parts of the brain that lights up is the ventral tegmental area, a tiny little region that makes dopamine and sprays it around the brain.”
Hang on a second… did she just say “sprays dopamine around the brain?” Isn’t that a little reckless?
Well… yes… but so is breeding when you think about it; getting us to bypass the common sense that tells us it’s dangerous and stupid to give birth takes some powerful chemical convincing.
Addicted to You
According to Fisher, Dopamine is associated with “arousal and, at very high levels, anxiety and fear (as well as) addictions. When you take cocaine, dopamine soars. Alcohol, Nicotine, Morphine – they all elevate levels of dopamine.”
Put in plain English, when we fall in love, we literally become irrationally addicted to object of our affections. We are rewarded with secretions of dopamine (among other feel-good chemicals) in the presence our lover, and experience the biological equivalent of withdrawal when he’s not around.
Depending on how of this neurotransmitter you secrete, you may not experience this as a gentle hormonal nudge in the right direction. In some women it is more akin to an overriding instinctual drive which turns us into dumb dopamine puppets for bonding to a mate and procreation. This has nothing to do with our common sense, intelligence, code of conduct or diet. It is not something that we can control or switch off. It is blinding, and uncompromising. In short, under its influence, we are crazy.
Hell hath no fury
Bearing all this chemical warfare in mind, it’s not surprising that women hardly ever come out of a breakup intact. We all have coping mechanisms be they downing a bottle of tequila and doing a striptease on the bar counter, guzzling a litre of rum ‘n raisin in front of telly or emptying a bottle of sleeping pills.
We have all been on one or other side of that grief-stricken six-hour conversation about how your heart feels like it’s got a knife stuck through it and you just don’t know how you’re going to live without him.
Some women snap a little further under the influence of the hormone screwdriver served up by the brain. They scratch “Manwhore” into the paintwork of their ex’s Beemer, burn his clothes, drive the car over the postbox and through the front door and run screaming into the night. They vandalize, stalk, leave abusive phone messages and harass in the name of love.
We label them “psycho-bitches”. We laugh and say “Hell hath no fury” but considering the cocktail of crazy juice sloshing around in their systems, it’s surprising that these extreme reactions aren’t more common.
In effect, asking a woman to react rationally to a highly emotional breakup is like asking someone going through their second day of heroine cold turkey to please behave nicely at your tea party.
And dammit, the miracle is that we actually manage it most of the time. We go on with our jobs keep our commitments and perform our chores. We force ourselves to cope even though we’re up against formidable chemical odds. We come home alone after days of smiling at everyone and collapse in privacy to wail underneath our duvets. We despise ourselves for loving so deeply, we lock our feelings down for sake of female dignity and we swear that we will never, never fall in love again.
We probably will (Mother Nature didn’t get where she is today by giving up that easily) and once we have, there’s a passing chance that we will find ourselves in that place where we want to tear the tiles off the bathroom wall and set flame to the curtains when he leaves… but next time you go off the rails over a man, cut yourself a little slack. It’s hardly like nature plays fair.
Tags: Addiction, brain chemistry in love, David Zald, dopamine, Helen Fisher, jilted women, Joshua Buckholtz, Louann Brizendine, mating, neurobiology, passionate love, psychopaths, Schizophrenia, The Female Brain, Women in relationships
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