Romantic Love Is An Addiction

See? It’s not just your friendly neighborhood dating coach who says so.

As reported in the July edition of the Journal of Neurophysiology, Dr. Helen Fisher’s new work indicates that for heartbroken men and women, looking at photographs of former partners activated regions in the brain associated with rewards, addiction cravings, control of emotions, feelings of attachment and physical pain and distress.

The love that endures is the one that remains steady.

Yep. That intense, yearning, magical feeling is a drug – and, like most tales involving drugs – it rarely has a happy ending. Love, as you undoubtedly know, is marked by high-highs and low-lows. Yet the love that endures is the one that remains steady.

That’s the one I’m always talking about, the one I want you to achieve by making different decisions in dating.

The good news, Fisher points out, is that time heals all. The more time that had passed since the breakup, the less activity there was in a brain region associated with attachment.

So, are you still going to keep chasing that “feeling” that has never resulted in your own long-term happiness? And if so, why?

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  1. 1

    Gee.. that is plain to see if you just think it for a moment.
    I am active, and I like sex that satisfies me as well as my partner..
    BUT the act of sex doesn’t feel like anything (no satisfaction) without excitement – it is like limp handshake – and why bother with limp hand shakes after a while?
    If I get no sexual satisfaction, why to have a relationship with a man at all?
    Without sex I could take a woman as   flatmate/ friend to live with me – and I wouldn’t need to spread my legs and feel like a prostitute (which I feel like if I have sex with a man I am not attracted to.)
    So that is wh I don’t settle even if you swear by it.
    BTW, you didn’t.. so don’t say we women should.
    So you asked why..
    Simply.. I don’t intend   to lay on my back and think of the “good of country”.. that time in womens history is luckily gone. =D

  2. 2

    Maybe because of my experience from having been in a nearly 30 year   relationship, but I think that lasting, enduring, real love has the capacity to stand the test of time by weathering all of the emotional highs and lows, and everything in between.
    I have noticed that a lot of the brain and relationship research projects pertain to college students who have been in fairly short relationships when passion is typically at its peak. It’s kind of a given that the region of the brain that’s associated with addiction would be lighting up. I wonder how the old noggin looks for other relationship groups. The best article I have read is the one that details the science of a heartbreak from beginning to end. Fascinating!

  3. 3

    In other words, real love doesn’t endure because there have been no relationship highs or lows, no ups or downs. The love endures because of its ability to withstand the forces that try and work against it.

  4. 4
    Christie Hartman

    As a scientist, I agree that chasing the “love high” is fruitless – it leads you down bad roads and it doesn’t last anyway. However, to some extent, we are all prone to the effects of love on the brain that Dr. Fisher talks about – both at the beginning of a relationship, and and its end. When we fall in love or become infatuated, we are flooded with neurotransmitters, one of which is dopamine, which is also heavily involved in addiction, reward, and novelty seeking. And when a relationship ends, the brain changes Fisher talks about create a “withdrawal” that persists until you readjust to life without that person. You can’t escape biology, but you can be aware of it and not let it make bad decisions for you.

  5. 5

    I don’t no if it’s an either/or situation. You can fall madly in love and then have it settle down to a stable kind of love. Isn’t this the way it often happens?   According to Dr. Fisher, this is biologically normal. Intense attraction to procreate and then lasting long enough to rear the young.
    Our cavemen/women ancestors died closer to 40, so chasing the love drug wasn’t a bad thing.
    Then we became “civilized”, women became “emancipated” and we now live well past 40. – and this is creating problem for older women who want to find love. And that is the reason why EVK gets 70,000 hits a month on his site.
    We women can no longer follow our biological instincts, if we want to find lasting love: ie chase after high status men, chase after the chemical high of love, etc. etc…
    What we have to do, is strive to live our lives on a higher, less animalistic level.

  6. 6

    Evan is not the only one who says this.   John Gray also says that if a woman is physically attracted to a man immediately, then she should probably run away as fast as she can because she’s idealizing.   I experienced that one time to the point where it scared me because it was so intense I was afraid I would not be in control of it.   It literally felt like a manic phase.   And looking back, that situation would never have worked.

    Now, I’m just trying to overcome avoindant personality disorder, but that’s another story for another blog along the lines of the “why bother syndrome”.

  7. 7
    Karl R

    NN said: (#1)
    “the act of sex doesn’t feel like anything (no satisfaction) without excitement — it is like limp handshake — and why bother with limp hand shakes after a while?”

    How many men and women have divorced their partners because they “fell out of love” with them? How many have started extramarital affairs because they wanted excitement which was lacking in their relationships?

    Feeling excited is a choice. It’s a decision (conscious or not) about how we perceive events. As I was hugging my girlfriend in the kitchen this morning, I reached down and gave her butt a squeeze. To her, this is a sign that she is attractive and desirable, so this brings excitement to her. She could just as easily see me as a horny guy who doesn’t go all the way through breakfast without playing grabass with her, and therefore be completely disgusted by my actions. She decides how to perceive my actions; I don’t.

    Your partner can’t make the relationship exciting … not without your help. Imagine what would happen if your parents suggested you make your next visit to their place more exciting for them, because  your last  visit was a bit dull.  How would you go about it? You could try to take them to exciting events (which they may not like), fix exciting meals (which they may not like) or do exciting things around the house (which they may not like, or which may make a mess). But if you put some thought and effort into it, you might be able to make your visit more exciting than the last one … but it would probably take a lot more effort and expense on your part than your previous visit did.

    Now imagine extending that excitement from a single weekend with your parents to 20 years or more with them. How would you accomplish that?

    That’s what you’re expecting from a partner.

    Take responsibility for generating your own excitement within the relationship. You can accomplish this so much more easily than your partner can.

  8. 8

    Karl – very well said!

  9. 9

    The brain chemistry involved in infatuation may be addictive; and it may fade over time – but it’s hard to get enthused about even starting a relationship without some degree of it.   I’ve found my perception of someone’s attractiveness has gone up or down as I got to know them better. There had to be some  level of intrigue, a little zing, though to want to get to know them better.

    I’ve also dated men I found I was sexually incompatible with even though I was infatuated at first to some degree.   And if the sex feels like “a limp handshake”, icky,  or worse (!!) ,  then there will be no relationship to develop.   Honestly, for those who believe sexual compatibility isn’t important, all I can say is you better hope you find a partner who feels the same way.

    1. 9.1
      Evan Marc Katz


      All that’s been said is that staking your relationship on intense chemistry usually proves to be a mistake. As you can see.

      Dial down your chemistry from a 10 to a 7 and you may find happiness as so many of my clients have.

  10. 10

    Karl R: That’s definitely food for thought. I hadn’t considered it that way before.

  11. 11

    MY experience has been infatuation dials itself up or down depending on  getting to know  the person. And also that, you can’t make yourself feel what you don’t feel. Period.

  12. 12

    Karl, #8: To her, this is a sign that she is attractive and desirable, so this brings excitement to her. She could just as easily see me as a horny guy who doesn’t go all the way through breakfast without playing grabass with her, and therefore be completely disgusted by my actions. She decides how to perceive my actions; I don’t.
    Karl, that’s not it. That’s not what NN meant (yes, I can totally relate to what she is saying, including the self-hatred that strikes after giving in to the advances of a man I didn’t find attractive in the first place – not that I’ve done a lot of that in my life or would consider doing it at this point, but I know precisely how it feels). What is implied here by the lack (or absence) of excitement is when a man does all these things, and in fact can knock himself out demonstrating how desirable he finds you, and you just… don’t feel a thing. At best, it fails to arouse you, at worst – you recoil from the touch. (But then, I don’t allow the men who make me feel the latter touch me.)

  13. 13

    It is interesting to me to note that we almost have two different discussions going on here; one being about sexual chemistry and the other being about love.   I’d be willing to bet if we found love BEFORE the sex, that maybe a balanced level of chemistry would be there and the sex would be pretty darn good.   No, I’m not saying that sex isn’t important.   It’s just often a bit sooner that it probably ought to be.

  14. 14

    As far as I can see, Dr. Fisher is not being critical of romantic love per se, rather she is offering an explanation of how the brain functions in an addictive state when romantic love is present, and how people may better cope with breakups. Just because love relationships may end, does this mean that people should not seek out romantic love? I think that would be an impossibility. Most romantic relationships end (otherwise we’d all be married to our high school sweethearts), but that doesn’t mean that romantic love ALWAYS leads to a negative outcome, or that romantic love in and of itself is a negative thing. Yes, in order for a romantic relationship to be successful, other factors such as compatibility must be present, but Dr. Fisher isn’t discussing that here.

  15. 15

    If I get no sexual satisfaction, why to have a relationship with a man at all?”

    Don’t know about the rest of you; that statement of NN’s made ME recoil.

  16. 16
    Karl R

    JuJu said: (#14)
    “I can totally relate to what she is saying, including the self-hatred that strikes after giving in to the advances of a man I didn’t find attractive in the first place”

    Your previous comments support that.

    JuJu said: (in a previous thread)
    “With my ex-husband the two primary things I compromised on were looks and ambition. He was otherwise a great person — the kind of man who’d always be faithful, devoted, and madly in love [with me].”
    “Only the lack of attraction on my part eventually resulted in my not wanting sex with him anymore  […] and the total absence of ambition, I guess, affected my overall perception of him as a man. I could not respect it,”

    For the full context:

    I would say that your situation supports the point I was trying to make. Your ex-husband was sufficently wonderful that you married him in the first place. His lack of attractiveness and ambition were there before you married him.

    While you were married, you shifted your focus from  your excitement about him being a “highly sophisticated and intellectual person”  who was  “very much  in love” with you,  to instead focus on his lack of attractiveness and lack of ambition. And that shift in focus was a choice (whether conscious or unconscious).

    You’ve basically described what I see as a marriage nightmare scenario. I could find and marry someone who loves and accepts me just the way I am … and later she could change her mind about the “just the way I am” part. And that’s completely outside of my control.

    You now place heavy importance on physical attraction, and have in the past stopped having sex with your husband because he lacked it. One thing I can guarantee about me, my girlfriend, you and anyone you end up marrying: we’re all getting older and less attractive. Unless we die first, we will end up gray, wrinkled, shriveled and flabby. Unless you can make the choice to focus on your future husband’s positive traits instead of his physical traits (and he can do the same for you), any marriage of yours is going to eventually suck.

  17. 17

    Re: # 17

    A bit crudely put perhaps, but for some of us sexual satisfaction is what differentiates a romantic relationship from a platonic friendship. That’s what I interpret when I read NM’s posts.

  18. 18

    Karl #17
    JuJu can speak for herself, but i think what she is saying is that she ignored aspects of her relationship that bothered her because other things were so good. But after a time, she realized that she could no longer ignore those issues, that they were more important than she’d let herself believe. I’ve heard similar stories from other divorced/split-up friends.
    Selena #19
    That’s my interpretation also.

  19. 19

    BeenThru, #17,
    I am trying to see your point, but not sure I understand what you mean. Besides, didn’t you yourself marry a gorgeous man a decade younger than yourself? I don’t mean this in an ad hominem sort of way – just trying to figure out the way you think.
    Karl, #18,
    I don’t know if you saw my follow-up in that same topic, but things didn’t actually entirely start out that way (in terms of both attractiveness and ambition), so it wasn’t even that my perception changed, it was that whatever [justified] hopes for a normal future I initially had were crushed. It’s possible that my lack of sufficient physical attraction to him was even brought on by the rest of his behavior (I know for sure that my love for him (and I still loved him when I was leaving him) was eventually destroyed by his resulting hostility: yes, he was in tremendous pain – not sure, though, that that was the way to handle it).
    Besides, as you read about his eventual “career” plans (if you, in fact, saw that post), did YOU feel like you could respect that choice? To be honest, as I was typing that, a thought even occurred to me that that bit was too embarrassing to share. 😐

  20. 20

    Besides, I think I am being somewhat misunderstood here: Evan is trying to persuade us to “settle” for a 7 on the chemistry scale – hey, I’d be deliriously happy to find that! I never did hold out for a 10! By far with most men I am capable of finding intellectually interesting, though, the physical chemistry ranges between somewhere on the negative scale and maybe 3-4. Which is why it’s so difficult to keep your infatuation in check when you meet a halfway interesting man who is also sexually attractive.
    One of my two best friends, who is also probably the most self-aware and “enlightened” individual I know in real life, used to be married to an overweight woman. He loved her, but was never in love with her, and that was actually the reason she eventually ended things. When he started looking for a life partner again, the weight thing was a complete non-negotiable for him, because he already knew how it would affect him if the woman weren’t in shape. For me the main issue appearance-wise is probably height (after several relationships with relatively short men), but just saying, these realizations happen, and it’s nothing to apologize for.

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