A nice warm little flush sweeps through you when he races up to your office seconds before your presentation, bringing you that cable you need to connect your laptop to the projector after you left it on the kitchen counter.
‘What a biscuit,’ you think
You give him a great, soft and deep smackeroo on the lips and your eyes fill with tears of raw emotion. What a great man you have. What a catch. Then you turn around and the next deep and meaningful thought pops up in your mind: Should you touch up your make-up quickly before the clients arrive?
In a ten-year relationship, you spend very little time actually feeling anything close to love. In fact, when did that feeling extend to anything more than a fleeting thought?
If you look at your relationship analytic-ally, you will notice that, of necessity, you are feeling something that resembles love less than 2 per cent of the time. The remaining 98 per cent of the time you’re probably not thinking about your life partner at all. They aren’t even on your radar. You’re too busy living your life, managing your kids, getting through your day and having a blast.
Everybody – even mad Burt and Linda – move from the mad, ‘bonking-on-the-pool-table’ kind of love to the banal, ‘pass-me-the-loo-roll-won’t-ya’ type of love. It would have happened to Helen and Paris. It’s certainly going to happen to Brangelina. But a whole load of us feel that that’s not good enough, and we judge the rest of our relationship as dull against that first brilliant flash of light. How often have you heard people say:
‘It’s never been the same again …’
‘We just don’t have that same spark …’
‘I just wish it were like it used to be …’
‘It’s got so ordinary …’?
This is not to say that attraction or chemistry ends, but the ‘walking on air’ chemical high certainly does.
There are many theories about why that intense initial phase of ‘in love’ strikes up between you and a specific person. Freud would say it’s a subconscious wish to bed your father; Jung that it is driven by the collective unconscious, that you have found someone who fits your anima or animus archetype. Anthropologist Dr Helen Fisher, regarded as the new Alfred Kinsey, says that being ‘in love’ is doomed. She claims that it is a biological certainty that it won’t sustain after children. She suggests that relationships frequently break up at around four years, just after the arrival of your first child. Why?
Because this chemical love is nothing more than an evolved mating instinct – an innate desire to propagate your DNA, and four years is about how long it takes to raise a child through its infancy. Then the still-fertile parents can trot off to find a new mate and have more children. Just long enough to ensure the continuation of their DNA.
Dr Fisher has really shaken up the romantic notion of love. She has spent a whole lot of time scientifi-c-ally studying love and lust, doing things like scanning the brains of couples who are madly in love, and she is pretty clear that the heady phase of romance ends fast.
Hormonally speaking, the reason romantic love fades could be because our brains have found a way of dealing with the surge and release of dopamine, as it does with any excessive drug. Our neurons have become desensitised and need more to function – like a cocaine addict who develops a tolerance for coke.
A Princess Di of a high
Dopamine. It seems this little critter can do no wrong. It’s such a cele-b-rity it has graced the cover of Time magazine twice. The first time was in the nineties for its apparently key role in drug and alcohol addiction. The second time was in the twenty-first century for its role in making couples fall in love. What is the connection? Dopamine is a chemical messenger in the brain that we associate with feelings of pleasure. It does lots of other important things, but scientists link it to the exhilar-ating high you get from drugs, nicotine and falling in love. In the right doses, it creates intense energy and a feeling of exhilaration. It can make you go beyond your limits.
Remember those nights you sat talking until the sun came up? Or when you drove six hours straight to surprise him on his birthday? Now, dopamine is just flooding into your brain when you’re crazy in love. It makes you do and feel things intensely. The flip side? It doesn’t last. It’s not as short-lived as a cocaine high, but the chemical triggers will fade, and, with them, the intense feelings.
A second chemical that neurobiologists have tracked is phenylethylamine. Its effects are similar to an amphetamine high, making you eat less, sleep less and want to spend all your time with the object of your desire. Here, too, like an alcoholic, you’ll build up a tolerance for the chem-ical, and the high will eventually fade. This usually takes four years.
Then there’s oxytocin, the ‘cuddle hormone’ we talk about in Chapter 3. Intimate touch, orgasm and thrilling experiences cause it to flow. As these activities dwindle, so does the supply of the hormone.
When these chemicals leave your system, you’re left with nothing but your very own brain to contend with the travails of life. By the time you have detoxed your mind of these bliss-inducing chemicals, you’ll find that you have two kids, a house, a pair of Rottweiler pups and a pretty normal guy. Luckily, society has given you these incentives to help you hang in there and make things work.
Over time, the quality of love changes. If we hang in long enough and want to make it work, the relationship may not be exciting in the way it once was, but as we are forced to take ourselves more seriously, the intimacy with the other person has the chance to deepen, and the relationship can graduate to a whole new level, where a more profound quality of love exists.
The opportunity for growth is enormous, because when the going gets tough, you often have to dig deeper than you anticipated, and in the process you may find that you have resources you never knew existed. In fact, love has very little to do with a good working relationship. Self-knowledge, growth, com--munication and hard work are the things that keep your relationship going. Not love.
TOP TIP: Need an artificial sweetener? Dr Fisher talks about how you can simulate romance by stimulating oxytocin. So, grab your man and share a thrilling experience with him. What about a roller-coaster ride, a skiing trip or a bus ride without brakes (hey, it worked for Sandra Bullock in Speed)? There is nothing like a high-speed, jaw-dropping activity to get your oxytocin levels soaring. Scientists have found that it is this same response that many long-term couples foster. They consistently chal-lenge themselves by doing exciting stuff together.