This is Your Brain on Drugs


The myth of falling in movie-love

Love isn’t finding a perfect person. It’s seeing an imperfect person perfectly.” —Sam Keen

In the movies, love stories often depict a beautiful, but frustrating dance wherein our hero and heroine keep missing each other. Something always keeps them apart. A job. Children. Fate. Maybe something more science-fiction-ish keeps them apart, like a galaxy or time travel. But in the end, fate always brings them together. They kiss—or make mad, passionate love—and the world buzzes, alive with chemicals, with connection, with love. You’re in the audience, munching on your popcorn and Skittles, and you’re crying. Right? “Why can’t I find that? Why can’t I live happily ever after?”

Falling-in-love movies are addictive. They are as addictive as falling in love itself. Some people want to take movie-love home with them. You know who you are. And you might think I’m only speaking to women here. But I’ve seen it on both sides of the gender gap. You yearn for it. You crave that all-encompassing love that happens on the big screen. And once and a while, you meet someone and it really does feel like it is right out of the movies. You can’t think of anything else. You wait for his or her call, text, or tweet. You scour his or her social networking sites looking for any mention of your name. You check your emails thirty-six times a day. You read between every line (what did he mean by that?). You’re losing sleep over this. You feel almost intoxicated with anticipation. No one else could possibly understand, but this is real love. Like the elusive Holy Grail, you have found it. And you’re sure of it because it would never feel this amazing, this connected, this incredible, if this were not “the one!”

You are not alone. History is full of books, poems, movies, music, and a myriad of fictional and factual characters that have made love a cultural focus of attention. Think of the likes of Shakespeare, Don Juan, Jane Austen, William Wordsworth, or the swashbuckling Errol Flynn. In my mother’s day it might have been Rock and Doris, Spencer and Katherine, Richard and Elizabeth, even Nick and Nora Charles. Casablanca. An Affair To Remember. The Philadelphia Story. More modernly, we might think of the rich voice of Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli. Or movies like Sleepless in Seattle, Ghost, Pretty Woman, The Notebook. Consider Brad and Angelina. William and Kate. Victoria and David. The adorable Will and Jada Pinkett Smith. And whose heart doesn’t skip a beat at the thought of a Johnny Depp flick?

The thing about fiction is that it is, well, fiction. In the movies, we see tiny snippets of real life between dramatic and romantic perfection. Even when things aren’t perfect in romance movies, somehow everything always feels so damned perfect. But falling in love or not, in real life, ultimately, somebody has to do the laundry, somebody is going to leave the top off the toothpaste, somebody is going to leave the toilet seat up, and somebody has to get up at 2am, then again at 4am, with the baby, or the 4 year old who is having a nightmare. We have to go to work. Walk the dog. Pay the mortgage. Get the kids to school. Then to soccer. Baseball. Dance class. Meet the teacher. Pick up the babysitter. Your mother is coming for the weekend. His brother is crashed on your couch. Someone needs to get the car fixed and clean up after last night’s meal that was thrown together from a box of instant-something in the ten minutes you had when you both got home after a very long day at work. How long does this list go on in your house? See? You don’t have TIME for love.

The point is that, in general, life is not all that romantic.

Inevitably, that “this is it” feeling that comes with new love fades into something that feels so desperately ordinary, or worse—it crashes completely. Either way, you are left mourning it for the rest of the relationship, sometimes the rest of your life.

And what does that sound like? In addiction circles, they call it “chasing the high.” That first experience was so hot and intense, it leaves you forever trying to get it back.

According to an early article in The Economist, scientists are finding that “...after all, love really comes down to a chemical addiction.”

Here is the science of it. You’re addicted to oxytocin, a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. It has even been dubbed “the cuddle chemical.” Research has found that it is released during touch, even hugging between people. It is thought to contribute to recognition, bonding and trust, and it is even known to contribute to maternal, nurturing behavior.

That’s not all. There are other drugs at work when you fall in love. You might recognize the surge of adrenaline, which is what kicks your heartbeat up several notches and has you a little short of breath. The neurotransmitter dopamine is busy stimulating desire and has you looking for pleasure. And the ever-important serotonin is increasing your overall sense of well-being and general happiness. All in all, no wonder you’re in a state of euphoria.

Ultimately, your body can’t sustain the increased and dramatic level of intensity that comes with falling in love. So if falling in love is nothing but a really good chemical reaction, what is left when the drugs fade to realistic levels? What happens when you crash off your high and you’re dragged back to dreaded reality?

This is where real love comes in.

And that’s the good news. Movie-love is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. It’s the very beginning of real love. Coming off your high doesn’t mean that love is gone. It means it’s time to get serious, to go into a deeper love. At this point, real love becomes a decision, a decision that will require all your higher reasoning skills to be solidly connected to your emotional intelligence. Is it time to decide to take this movie-love deeper, to create something so much more meaningful, or is it time to accept that it has run its course? Of course, you also have some other choices: You might decide to simply accept that it will never be what you yearn for, and live in silent (or not-so-silent) martyrhood. Or you could decide to keep chasing the high (with this candidate or another), but just ask any addict: That high is fleeting and rare, and it was never meant to last.

Choosing real love isn’t the easiest choice. It is work. It is compromise. And there is a lot of learning and growing to be done. But in the end, it is the most fulfilling love of all. It is a love of contentment and commitment, of trust and empathy, of deep respect and friendship. And yes, of real passion.

This is love that lasts.

This article was originally published at Bobbi Jankovich. Reprinted with permission from the author.