As reader can't keep anything to myself put it:
Crushes are torture, but the most delicious kind of torture. They make you realize what a masochist you really are. It's such a fun feeling though when your insides are squirming and you're smiling at random people like an idiot because you're thinking about them again and your jaw hurts from smiling so hard/much.If you are suffering thusly right now, please know that you're not acting like such a pitiful lovesick idiot because you're inherently weak or out of your fucking head, but because cruel, cruel dopamine is totally screwing with you. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, "a kind of natural drug associated with the expectation of a reward that brings us pleasure," writes Sheril Kirshenbaum in The Science of Kissing. Dopamine can start fucking you up even during a first kiss. Writes Kirshenbaum,
Spiking during a passionate kiss, dopamine is responsible for the rush of elation and craving, and can also result in obsessive thoughts that many of us experience in association with a new romance--almost like an addiction.I'm sorry, did she say "almost like"? Because dopamine is involved with stimulating the mesolimbic reward system (Mmmm, you like it when I talk to you all scientifically, don't you?), the part of the brain involved with virtually all of the addictive drugs. Wheee!
It primes us to make us want more, making us feel energized. Some people pumping lots of dopamine even lose their appetites, or feel that they cannot fall asleep--not surprisingly, the same 'symptoms' commonly described when "falling in love."So maybe you're not in love, maybe you're just high on dopamine, you friggin' junkie. Which can go either way, depending if your ardor is returned. Writes the delightful Helen Fisher in Why We Love:
Because romantic love is such a euphoric "high," because this passion is exceedingly difficult to control, and because it produces craving, obsession, compulsion, distortion of reality, emotional and physical dependence, personality change, and loss of self-control, many psychologists regard love as an addiction--a positive addiction when your love is returned, a horribly negative fixation when your love is spurned and you can't let go.If you don't get your love fix, well, it's not good. The suffering includes all kinds of sucky withdrawal symptoms like "depression, crying, spells, anxiety, insomnia, loss of appetite (or binge eating), irritability and chronic loneliness," reports Fisher.
Fisher continues, and I suspect she based her research solely on my diary entries from 1987: "Like all addicts, the lover then goes to unhealthy, humiliating, even physically dangerous lengths to procure their narcotic."
Which is not good, either. (Well, it's sorta good.)
Our takeaways from all this? Hmmmmm, I guess, if you're going to get all hepped up on dopamine over someone, at least try to make sure that they might be someone who'll like you back. Which, you know, is totally easy. (Helpful hint: After years of painstaking research--ahem, Nobel committee--I can say with a fair degree of certainty that emotionally unavailable, meanish, and your basic garden-variety insane dudes are not, to my great surprise, good choices. You're welcome.)
Anyway, after awhile nature finally gives us a break. Because even a good dopamine ride can be, well, a bit much. I mean there's only so much time you can spend in a state of constant arousal, contemplating such uber-focused matters as the insanely lickable curve of a loved one's particularly enchanting body part. "Our biology places a limit on how long the 'high' conferred by dopamine can last," writes Kirshenbaum. "Studies have shown that levels of this intoxicating neurotransmitter decrease as we become more accustomed to a romantic partner, which might be why sexual desire tends to wane with the same person over time." (See also: the Coolidge Effect in "Our Genes Can Be Heartless Puppeteers").
On the other hand, it also doesn't seem reasonable, or at all fun, to avoid excessive, stupid, sexy, out-of-your-fucking-mind passion, for fear of getting the dopamine monkey on our backs. As "Slow Sex: The Art and Craft of The Female Orgasm" author Nicole Daedone's current, possibly grammatically problematic, Facebook status says, "Desire is there to be lived inside of."
I will await your tales from the front....
[addendum: As the unrelentingly brilliant and hilarious Betty Fokker points out below in the comments, the sweeter, more mellow high of attachment and bonding chemicals conveniently kick in just as the harsher high of the dopamine fades.]
(photo: Marlo Broekmans, Photo extraite de la serie "Autoportraits")