Written by Haley Adams
Unfortunately, loving someone does not always result in a happy ending, and “almost nobody gets out of love alive.” (Fisher, 2008). At a certain point, everyone experiences the pain of losing a loved one, and Emily Dickenson described this feeling best when she said, “parting is all we need to know of hell.” If love can result in so much pain, why do we as a society continue to seek it?
Why do we love?
Many single individuals experience the basic human drive to find a suitable mate. Similar to other animals, this drive involves the need to procreate and continue the human species. This drive does, however, differ from the sex drive because the feelings of romantic love motivate and allow an individual to focus their mating energy on one person at a time (Fisher, 2008).
What happens when our love is not returned?
Lucy Brown, a neuroscientist, recognized that three regions of the brain are activated when an individual who had been in love is dumped. The first region is the same area that is associated with intense romantic love, meaning that even after the relationship is terminated, these intense, romantic emotions are still being experienced. In fact, rejection can increase activity in this area, leading to stronger emotional experiences. The second area in which activity increased is the region that is associated with the calculation of gains and losses. This area is also active when an individual is willing to take risks that can result in an enormous gain or loss. The final area in which brain activity was observed is the region that is associated with deep attachment (Fisher, 2008). The combination of the increased activity in these three areas explains the reactions that occur in individuals who experience this rejection. Deep attachment, serious feelings of love, and a willingness to take large risks can help explain the crimes of passion that are often seen in the media.
Is love an addiction?
Additionally, similar to those experiencing addictions, those in love build up a tolerance and begin to crave being with the object of their love more and more as time passes and these emotions grow. When these increasing cravings are unable to be met, the individual in love experiences a form of withdrawal during which they intensely miss his or her partner. Lastly, those who were in love may experience an emotional relapse when attempting to move on after rejection, which can be caused by various triggers, such as a song or a movie that makes the individual think of his or her partner.
Final thoughts on love
The increased activity in the brain, including in the areas that spur intense feelings of love, the assessment of gains and losses, and deep attachment, influences the actions of the individual in love. Similar to other influences on the brain, reactions to love vary from individual to individual. However, the theme of love surrounds society and inspires a large portion of media creation, including the creation of books, movies, music and other forms of art. Without love and the intense feelings it creates, life may seem boring or meaningless to a large portion of society. As Robert Palmer would say, you “might as well face it, you’re addicted to love.”
Fisher, H. (2008, February). The Brain in Love. TED. Retrieved March 5, 2016.
Dr. H. Colleen Sinclair
Social Psychologist, Relationships Researcher,
Ms. Chelsea Ellithorpe
Lab Manager of the Social Relations Collaborative and Blog Editor