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Love & Intimacy

Understanding Infatuation (Finding Your Soul Mate, Part 2)

In the previous article, we identified calmly and logically, myriad virtues, values, beliefs, attitudes and life choices you may or may not share in common with your future lifetime partner. The idea is pretty simple. If you're going to share your life with someone, you'd better have a whole lot more in common then just an inexplicable attraction or infatuation!

But this giddy, delirious infatuation we call "falling in love" is one of the most potent forces on earth. Why do we call it "falling?" Because it's usually unexpected and unplanned, and to boot, it seems to send us spiraling out of control.

Eckhard Tolle describes this unusual power this way: "You feel intensely alive, your existence has suddenly become meaningful because someone needs you, wants you and makes you feel special, and you do the same for them. When you are together you feel whole. The feeling can become so intense that the whole world can fade into insignificance."

Who of us hasn't buckled and then soared when saturated by the glow of this infatuation? Many observers have remarked that infatuation (the scientific term for falling irrationally in love with someone we may hardly even know) keeps us so high it's like being on drugs. And according to the latest research, that's an uncannily accurate assessment.

According to Don Colbert's M.D., author of Deadly Emotions : " Research is showing that romantic love is showing much like an addictive agent.many scientists believe that first meeting someone special triggers a flush of stimulants to the brain. These hormones, especially dopamine and norepinephrine, impact the same brain centers as cocaine and produce similar euphoric feelings. These brain chemicals cause lovers to lose their appetites and their desire for sleep as they simply think about their significant other."

Colbert goes on to discuss how scientists at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York have studied "the behaviors of drug addicts and people in love," and have found striking parallels. The research scientist who authored the Brookhaven study believes that either taking a drug or being in love raises one's dopamine levels to the "perfect zone". " When a drug addict is high or a person in love looks at a picture of his beloved, he activates the same regions of the brain, including the frontal cortex." Colbert cites yet another team of researchers at University College in London. When test subjects were shown pictures of their lovers, scientists reported dramatic results: " Four small areas of the brain lit up instantly-the same areas that have been shown to respond to euphoria-inducing drugs." Colbert explains that the chemical PEA "is one of the main stimulants of the nervous system" and is actively released when someone is "madly in love." PEA triggers endorphins, the body's natural analgesia; it also super charges the actions of dopamine, the brain's primary neurotransmitter involved in sexual arousal. Researchers believe that PEA is responsible for the restless, giddy sensation people properly refer to as being "lovesick."

Colbert concludes by citing one of the obvious problems: When we associate this "initial rush" with true love, the risk is that we can become addicted to these feelings rather then perceiving the reality that a long-term commitment must be based on "understanding, mutual respect, genuine empathy, companionship, etc."

The question is: What drives us to this state of high-pitched irrationality to begin with-a state that often doesn't survive the honeymoon, let alone the first years of marriage? No one has yet come up with the answer to this conundrum, whether the conjectures are of subconscious images (she reminds me of _____), compatible "energy," genetics (we're programmed to be attracted to a certain look or type), the aura of availability or the excitement of seduction. A sure answer has yet to be found-and when one is found, you'll probably think it doesn't apply to you! Some people believe that finding your mate is based on your fate or God's perfect choice. If so, God and fate seem to have a high-failure record (well over 50 percent) at matching life-mates.

Some observers argue that men are, in fact, designed to worship the opposite member of the species. John Eldridge, author of the best selling Wild at Heart , puts it this way: "Look at all the art, poetry, music, drama devoted to woman. Listen to the language men use to describe her. Watch the powerful obsession at work. What else can this be but worship? Men come into the world without the God who is our deepest joy, our ecstasy, aching for we know not what, we meet Eve's daughters, and we're history. She is the closest thing we've ever encountered, the pinnacle of creation, the very embodiment of God's beauty and mystery, tenderness, and allure." Whew!!

Other observers might speculate that it's a good thing God put an inexplicable, intense desire into both sexes, because given all our other differences, including totally separate communication styles and needs, man's competitive drive to dominate and women's social and nurturing nature, we would otherwise have very little reason to communicate with each other!

Our culture offers positive reinforcement to this phenomenon through TV movies and a myriad of magazine covers and books. Sex sells. Even car magazines have to include girls clad in bikinis to get men to look at pictures of "hot cars" inside. (I should say here: While I can't obviously represent the women's point of view, I suspect that they may have feelings about men similar to what Eldridge wrote about the male-idealized female, or perhaps not!)

All we really know is that we essentially have two approaches to select from when choosing a life-mate. One is to blindly wait until "Cupid's arrow" propels us serendipity-like into a relationship with no real rationale other than that the infatuation seems too strong to resist. The other approach is to thoroughly think through and lay out the criteria that would make a solid life partner, as we wrote about extensively in the previous article. With the latter choice, infatuation just might be replaced by mature love, founded on mutual understanding, respect and deeply shared values. Or, if you're really fortunate, you'll become infatuated with someone because you admire his or her values!