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?

Join our conversation (41 Comments).
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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.

  21. 21

    I don’t know how people are able to scale sexual attraction this way. For me it’s pretty much either there or it isn’t. I’ve seen it blossom from an uncertain starting point, but if it’s not there after a few weeks, it doesn’t happen.

    Using a 0 to 10 scale, zero meaning no interest whatsoever and 10 meaning can’t keep your hands off the person, what’s a seven? Being  70% sexually attracted to them out of a possible 100%? Being sexually attracted to them 70% of the time? I think the error here is trying to apply a measurement system to something that can’t easily be measured.

  22. 22

    Using the attractiveness scale is actually foreign to me too, but I need to express myself in the way that other people will understand :-), and so I have no choice but to use it.
    But yeah, never once did I think to myself something like, “Well, he is not good enough for me since he is only a five.” Or, “I wonder how they ever got together in the first place – he is an 8 and she is a 2.” 😐

  23. 23

    Yeah, I’ve never thought that way either, but what I was refering to in #23 was more along the lines of what you wrote in #22. I don’t find myself overwhelmed by sexual attraction to a man, particularly at first. But when the attraction has developed and IS there, it has never, ever occured to me to evaluate it on a 0 to 10 scale. It seems to me if you do that, then no matter what the number is, you are subtly telling yourself what you are feeling isn’t what you could have – thereby preventing you from just enjoying it thoroughly with that person.

  24. 24

    The numbers drive me buggers, too. Rating chemistry, physical appearance, etc. seems a bit silly to me. It’s all speculative anyway. It’s a good thing I didn’t judge my former husband on a numbers scale. He started out as probably a 2. There was little chemistry or physical attractiveness based on  how I felt about him in the beginning. If I had of, I would have very likely passed up what became some of the best years of my life.
    Interestingly, I find myself being more discerning now regarding physical attractiveness. It’s kind of odd to me in a way. When I was young, I didn’t seem to care. If he was nice, he was nice. But now, maybe because I am somewhat ambivalent about having a man in my life, I notice the physical traits more. I am more selective. But I don’t worry about intense chemistry getting in the way. The odds of my accidentally stumbling upon such a man are about one in a billion. 🙂

  25. 25

    Your post made me smile. I’ve found as I’ve gotten older my perception of physical attractiveness has become much more of a relative thing. Like Karl R. has written, I’m more apt to find an attractive attribute in a person and focus on that. Eg. he has nice hair, eyes, smile, arms, whatever. I’ve yet to come across anyone in my ideal age bracket (44-55) that made me swoon with desire just from looking at them. Although I’ve seen some men that have made me sigh and wish I was 25-30 years younger. 🙂

    To me, chemistry is a compatibility of personalities – you can have that with anyone – close friends, favorite relatives, enjoyable co-workers. In a romantic relationship chemistry is compatibility of personalities + sexual attraction. If you don’t have both you feel something is missing.  If you do have both why would you rate it (chemistry) on a scale?  That’s what I don’t get.

  26. 26
    Karl R

    Selena said: (#23)
    “I don’t know how people are able to scale sexual attraction this way.”

    We don’t, at least not on a regular basis. But I’m willing to bet everyone can scale it on a “more” or “less” basis. Take any two men you’ve dated, and I’m willing to bet you can very quickly tell me which was hotter. Even if that opinion may change over time, you can probably give me a current opinion without much thought.

    We’re all capable of making these assessments, but they don’t translate well into an online forum. I can compare a woman to my ex-girlfriend Theresa in a multitude of ways (attractiveness, sex, intelligence, temperment), but that will mean nothing to you, since you don’t know Theresa. There’s no basis for comparison.

    On the other hand, we all have a good grasp of the numbers 7 and 10. Even if I don’t think of people in numerical terms, I can instantaneously grasp the concept of dating a 7 instead of holding out for a 10. And it’s the concept that Evan is trying to communicate, not a numerical scale. The numbers are arbitrary.

    Selena said: (#25)
    “It seems to me if you do that, then no matter what the number is, you are subtly telling yourself what you are feeling isn’t what you could have – thereby preventing you from just enjoying it thoroughly with that person.”

    I am under no illusions that I am the best-looking, funniest, most intelligent or best lover of all the boyfriends that my girlfriend has ever had. That doesn’t prevent her from enjoying our relationship. Because the relationships that she had with the other men (smarter, better looking, better in bed) all had problems. And even though she could definitely get some of those men back, she would also get the problems back.

    And if she found new men who had those traits, they would likely come with their own sets of problems.

    There is only one area where I am the “most” or “-est” of the men she’s dated. I’m the easiest to get along with. She doesn’t have to work at the relationship to keep things flowing smoothly. Similarly, she’s the easiest to get along with of all the women I’ve ever dated.

    We both have a number of positive traits to go along with our easy-going natures. Neither of us is giving up on intelligence or attractiveness in order to get a great relationship. But both of us are willing to have a little less in some areas in order to come home every night to a partner who won’t start a fight with us.

    And if you’ve recently been in a relationship where you felt like you were walking on eggshells all the time, what would you give to have a relationship where you’re as comfortable as you are when you’re just hanging out with your cat or dog?

    1. 26.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      I’m telling you, Karl: don’t start a competing blog. I’m watching you…

  27. 27

    Selena #25,
    I was only quoting Evan, and can only guess approximately what it means. I suppose a chemistry of 10 is like this person is your personal god, and 7 means there are some flaws, but nothing you can’t live with.

  28. 28

    To Selena #27, now you’ve made me smile. 🙂 I hear ya. When I was young, I was terrible about noticing the men. Friends would say, “Don’t you see that guy staring at you?” I was interested in a man’s sense of humor, integrity, responsibility, how he treated me, etc. On a deeper level, I may have thought that a handsome man would be less likely to have the inner handsomeness I was hoping for. I was fortunate in that I had my cake and ate it, too. The inner handsomeness that I found completely changed how I saw him on the outside.
    I am now much more aware of their casting looks. This makes me notice their outside packaging more, and I see little of interest in my age range. I still carry the same fundamental belief as I did back then, but my needs and life have changed. I also don’t think so much about what I want in a man, as I do about what I want in my life and those don’t necessarily involve a man. Maybe the physical attributes feel more important, too, because I wonder about their state of health and in the years ahead when so many men from my gen are smokers.

  29. 29
    Katarina Phang

    Physical attraction, for me anyway, is very vital.  Without it relationship won’t last.  I know beauty fades, but if you don’t have that to start with, other attractions can’t develop properly because lack of steam/gas won’t sustain relationship over time.

    But in some very rare cases, I guess, you become physically more attracted to someone after you find him/her emotionally attractive (I think it perhaps happens more to women than men).  But at least, you have to find them “neutral” first physically, not unattractive.

  30. 30

    Karl #28

    First of all I don’t walk on eggshells around anyone. That would be a clear indication that person wasn’t for me. As I stated in #27, compatibility of personalities IS part of what I consider chemistry.

    Second, yes I could tell you which previous partners of mine I think are/were better looking than others – now. But it was irrelevant when I was in each relationship.

    That’s the point: when I’m happy in a relationship I don’t compare. I don’t compare looks and I don’t think about whether there is more or less chemistry than there was with some other guy. Obviously any other guy is out of the picture and I’m enjoying the one I’m with now. That’s why this idea of “seeking out” someone you have a level 7 chemistry with instead of holding out for a level 10 is so odd to me. Chemistry is either there, or it isn’t. No levels when you are happy being with someone.

    JuJu, maybe you have it right 🙂  I have never experienced personal god-like chemistry with some guy (there is such a thing? really?). I’ve only experienced the kind where there are flaws that I can live with. I still think we’d all be better off scrapping these scales altogether.

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