This article was originally published on February 14, 2022.

People have fought wars, crossed oceans and died in the name of love. Epics have been written about it. And you could sink a ship with all the poems, books, movies, operas, and songs that center on that theme. You’ve probably heard the phrase “everyone loves a good love story.” And it’s true, most of us like the idea of love. But why?

One answer is simpler than you think. Love is addictive. We spoke with Helen Fisher, an anthropologist and senior fellow at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute and chief scientific advisor for Match, on how the brain reacts when you experience the highs and lows of love; even better when you’re addicted to love.

Read more: In the brain, romantic love is basically an addiction

What happens to your brain when you’re addicted to love

“Romantic love is one of the most powerful sensations on Earth,” Fisher said in a 2008 Ted Talkand much of her research supports this notion. We all have a look, or as Fisher calls it, a “love card.” — an unconscious list of what we look for in a romantic partner. Naturally, we are attracted to people similar to ourselves; this can include similarities in socioeconomic background, race, political background, level of attractiveness, level of education and religious beliefs, according to Fisher.

Humor is another trait that most people are drawn to. “Laughter,” says Fisher, “is good for the brain.” Laughter can help calm social situations and relieve anxiety. Since 2010, Fisher has held “Singles in America”., and surveyed over 55,000 people. Every year, one of the top five things a person looks for in a potential partner is someone who makes them laugh.

When you find someone who fits your love chart and you’re ready for love, the brain can trigger what Fisher calls romantic love. Romantic love takes over the brain in the same way that an addictive substance would. Romantic love activates a part of the brain called ventral tegmental area (VTA). VTA creates dopaminea neurotransmitter that helps create that feeling of euphoria, especially when you’re around someone who sparks romance in you.

Dopamine also affects certain behaviors and functions such as sleep, mood, and attention, which is related to the foundations of romantic love. According to Fisher, the basics of romantic love are as follows:

  • Meaning: The person you are attracted to takes on a special meaning, and this can extend to material things like a car or a backpack.
  • Focus: You focus your attention on all the good things about this person, ignoring the bad.
  • High Energy: You resist sleep so you can spend more time with them, maybe talk to them all night. This is also where you get the “butterflies in your stomach” or lightheadedness.
  • Separation anxiety: You feel panicky when they’re not around or don’t text or call you.
  • Possessiveness: Also known as guarding your partner, you may have a strong sexual desire for them and only them.

Most importantly, as Fisher says, when you’re addicted to love, you crave an emotional union with that person, you’re highly motivated to win them and their affection, and you experience compulsive thinking. You cannot get this person out of your head, every thought is absorbed by him. Fisher calls it “someone who camps out in your head.”

If you’ve been in love, then you’ve probably experienced these traits. And while they may seem a bit far-fetched, there’s a good reason to put up with them. Fisher explains that the VTA is located near hypothalamus, the part of the brain that controls thirst, hunger, and sexual desire—among other things. These features help you live. So in a way, romantic love is what keeps you alive to pass on your genes and ensure the survival of the species. It doesn’t sound very poetic, but romantic love is as much a brain function as it is a survival mechanism.

“Thirst and hunger keep you alive today,” says Fisher. “Romantic love makes you focus your marital energy and send your DNA into tomorrow.”

That sounds a little more poetic.

Your heartbreak brain

“Nobody gets out of love alive,” says Fisher. And as much as we love a good love story, there are just as many songs, poems, movies and books about heartbreak. Love is an addiction. When we have it, we feel good. Without it, we tumble from the heights and fall hard.

While the VTA is great at producing dopamine and stimulating our feelings of romantic love, it also does a great job of keeping us from forgetting the subject of that romantic love. Fisher and her colleagues scanned the brains of 17 people who had just experienced a breakup. Their findings show that there is activity in areas of the brain associated with physical and mental suffering, deep attachment, dopamine, regions associated with craving and the primary brain area associated with addiction. nucleus accumbens.

Losing love is like suffering withdrawal from an addictive substance or behavior such as gambling. The dopamine high is no longer there to provide you with those feel good chemicals. But there is hope for healing a broken heart.

According to Fisher, you should treat heartbreak like any other addiction. Stop addressing this person. Get rid of any reminders of them, such as photos, books, clothes and gifts. If disposing of these items is too difficult, place them in a box in the attic, closet, or garage. Stop asking mutual friends about this person, and most of all, try not to remain friends with this person – at least at first, as this will only keep hopes alive that you will win them back.

Rejection in love will trigger parts of the brain that make you evaluate gains and losses. What will be lost – home, pets, visitation time with children? How different will life be? This is the brain’s way of processing the loss of connection. While it’s natural to think this way, it’s also important not to dwell on it too much.

“Stop talking or thinking about them,” says Fisher, “or you’ll keep reviving the ghost.”

Instead of hiding at home to watch sad movies or listen to sad music, Fisher suggests using this time to discover new hobbies and find other ways to produce natural dopamine. Take an art class, try yoga, exercise more, try new foods, listen to new music, and get hugs from friends and family. These activities will help increase natural dopamine.

Generally, Fisher says, time will heal a broken heart. Romantic love can be a good addiction when it’s with the right person. But if you find you’re not with the right person, there are ways to survive being addicted to love (maybe this transition, too).

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