– WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE? –
What is love? Dr. Michael R. Liebowitz, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, believes that falling in love is influenced by our brain chemistry. This connection is the focus of Dr. Liebowitz’s book, The Chemistry of Love. In an interview with People magazine, he discussed his neurochemical theories of romance.
Don’t you find it upsetting to reduce an emotion like love to a chemical equation? I’m a big believer in romance. The emotions we feel when we’re in love are so powerful that when they’re going on, nobody thinks about chemicals in the brain. Look at it this way.
I know how digestion works. I know what goes on in my body when I eat something. But that has nothing to do with my enjoyment of a good meal.
What is love, chemically speaking?
I try to distinguish between romantic attraction and romantic attachment because I think they’re chemically distinct. The symptoms of attraction falling in love – are very much like what happens when you take an artificial stimulant.
Your heart beats faster, your energy goes up, you feel optimistic. There are certain chemicals in the brain – phenylethylamine (PEA) is one – that produce the same effect when released.
What, then, is the basis for romantic attachment? What keeps us together?
There is an area in the lower brain called the locus ceruleus where feelings of panic and separation anxiety seem to begin. There are certain brain chemicals, called endorphins, that slow down the activity of the locus ceruleus. I believe that we’re programmed at birth to produce endorphins when we’re in close relationships.
It’s nature’s way of keeping us together. When the relationship ends or when we’re afraid that it might end, the production of endorphins stops and we’re thrown into a panic.
Why do people grow tired of each other? What’s intense in a relationship is the newness. That’s why the great romances of literature are never between people who stay together. Romeo and Juliet, for example, never had a chance to get used to each other. Why does being in love make everything in life seem wonderful? Our pleasure centers need a minimum level of stimulation to function. Love lowers this level. When we’re in love, it takes less stimulation to give us pleasure.
That’s why everything feels possible when you’re in love, why everything looks more beautiful. Do people work better when they’re in love, or are they too distracted? When people’s emotional needs are being met, they work better.
Love gives you more energy, more enthusiasm. How do you keep love alive? How do you keep the PEA flowing in your own ten-and-a-half-year marriage? You need newness, sharing, and growth, My wife has changed careers lately. We shared that. She gave me a lot of ideas for this book. We were able to share that.
We’re buying a new home, an old farmhouse with some land. We’ll be farmers together in a small way. All these shared changes are important. The brain has to experience a change, or there will be no excitement