Tag Archives: the brain in love

Parting is all we need of hell

11 Oct

I’ve been on a bit of a mission. I’m trying to understand how my ex could tell me he loved me, and found me really attractive, and I made him happier than he’s ever been in his life, but he was not in love with me. My counsellor tells me he actually doesn’t know what he means. He had never had a girlfriend before me (at the ripe old age of 31), and she thinks he honestly couldn’t recognise how he felt.

I’m not sure. I just know after ten weeks it still hurts so much it knocks the breath out of me at times. And I need to make some sense of it.

Where do you go when you need inspiration in this day and age? I go to Ted Talks.

Last night I watched a fantastic Ted Talk by Helen Fisher

Helen was doing research at the time (it’s from 2008), into what the brain gets up to when it’s in love. She makes the point that it is a physical/chemical thing. In fact, anthropologists have found evidence of romantic love in 170 societies. They have never found a society in which it didn’t exist. Wow. Imagine how many people have been through what I’m going through now.

OK, what does the brain get up to? Well, a bit of the brain called the VTA goes crazy when you’re in intense romantic love. Apparently this bit of the brain is below cognitive thinking or emotions. It just is. It does its own thing. And it’s associated with wanting, motivation, focus and cravings. How’s this for scary? It’s the same bit of the brain that gets stimulated when you get a rush from cocaine. And it leaves you unable to stop thinking about the object of your affection.

Ever had the experience when you’ve just met someone, fallen for them in a big way, and you can’t sleep at night? Try sleeping after cocaine. Actually, don’t, I’m not advocating that kind of thing. But you get the point.

Now here’s the really scary bit. What happens to the brains of people who have just been dumped? Well, a few parts of the brain get stimulated. Amongst them, the exact same part of the VTA that’s involved with intense romantic love. Oh, nature, you little trickster. When we get dumped, we think even more about the person. We want them even more. We need them.

Yup. Sounds about right.

In the TedTalk (which you’ve really got to watch), Helen references an Emily Dickinson poem. I love Emily Dickinson for often summing up exactly how I feel in truly beautiful, magical language. How’s this for accurate, ‘Parting is all we need of hell.’

True. Story.

So, I’m no closer to understanding my ex. What was his brain up to when we were together? But, what I have got is a slightly better understanding of what my brain has been doing to itself since the pizza of doom.

This week has been tough, but I’m trying to be positive. I really am. While I’m on the subject of Emily Dickinson, here’s the opening of one of my very favourite poems,

‘Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune – without the words,
And never stops at all.’

Hope. If there’s a bit of my brain that’s associated with hope, please god, let it be limbering up for action.

Here’s a little something to help stimulate it. Helen has also done research into people who say they are still in love 10, 20, 25 years after meeting their other half. Guess what? The very same bit of the brain’s VTA is stimulated as for those who have just fallen in intense romantic love.

The kind of love I’ve been looking for does exist. And, if I get it right, it can last a lifetime.