Romantic Love Versus the Real Thing
When expressing our love to a loved one, what do we normally do? We show affection with flowers, through words, through sharing responsibilities, or simply send a smile. Sometimes, we forget to show the real meaning of love. While love is always appreciated, its true essence is usually concealed under layers of superficial feelings. Understanding the true nature of love will enable us to fully enjoy it and benefit from it.
First, we need to understand that love is a complex network of complex psychological and neurological processes. The brain has been designed as the software that controls all our thinking, determining how we feel, how we think, how we make decisions, how we store information, and how we choose activities. Love is a complex set of behaviors and feelings characterized by intense intimacy, romance, desire, commitment, and intimacy. It includes emotional love, physical attraction, trust, care, affection, and romance, but it can also involve negative emotional responses such as jealousy, anger, sadness, depression, guilt, stress, fear, envy, worry, fear, anxiety, frustration, power aversion, and insecurity. These cognitive and emotional states are all determined by the working software of the brain called the “amygdala”, which is located in the midbrain and is responsible for storing and managing traumatic memories. For example, if you suffered a painful memory in the past, the amygdala might not react in the appropriate way and this could trigger an entire cascade of negative emotions such as anger, fear, sadness, etc.
In figure 1, love is actually the sum of our experiences and our behavioral patterns that have been built up over many years. It includes our genetic programming, our emotional responses to events in our lives, the products of our behavior (e.g., food, sex, tools), and the products of our imagination (e.g., fantasy, creativity, imagination). The result is an incredible amount of information that is processed in the brain over a period of time. One of the results is the formation of long-term memory, which is responsible for our ability to recall and execute instructions. Another result is the regulation of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. Lastly, the regulation of hormones like oxytocin and endorphins are also important.
In figure 1 we see love as an extreme of the basic principles of psychology: individual memory, individual preference, group memory, and social learning. This is because love is actually a neurological process and one that is controlled by both the conscious mind and the subconscious mind. When we are in love, there is an increase in both levels of functioning in our brain and in our hormones. There is also an increase in the production of two neurotransmitters, namely, dopamine and serotonin.
However, there are also some problems with romantic love. First, in order to be sexually attracted to someone all you really need is the ability to access the brain areas that allow you to experience orgasm and that allow you to enjoy other people’s company. This means that people who are highly aroused, both consciously and subliminally, will have access to these brain areas. Second, the actual physical act of sex does not directly give off dopamine and oxytocin. Thus, the increased neurotransmitters and hormones are not necessarily the reason behind this heightened form of sexuality.
Thus, while romantic love does have a biological basis, this does not mean that one must remain in this state indefinitely. In fact, many would argue that this form of attraction can work against a person’s happiness and success if they are stuck in it too long. Instead, one can work to let go of their attachment to this type of love and focus instead on the feelings of gratitude, joy, generosity, power, success, health, prosperity, creativity and abundance that can arise from true love. This will inevitably lead to more positive emotions and feelings and, as such, will provide a much higher quality of life.