Love is an addictive drug. No seriously, it is, and 83% of you agree. Or maybe the more accurate thing to say is lust is a drug. As Lee Ann Obringer writes in her awesome article on how love works ,”the same chemical process that takes place with addiction takes place when we fall in love”. Here’s some cliff notes from the article:
Dopamine is the “pleasure chemical,” producing a feeling of bliss. Norepinephrine is similar to adrenaline and produces the racing heart and excitement. When two people have sex, oxytocin is released, which helps bond the relationship. The more sex, the greater the bond. Vasopressin, is the chemical associated with the formation of long-term, monogamous relationships. The longer we’re together with someone, the more oxytocin and vasopressin start interfering with the dopamine and norepinephrine pathways, and the passionate love fades as attachment grows.
Let me break down this addictive euphoria for you in real terms: You see someone. You think they’re hot, i.e. I want to make out with you. You talk to them. You like them even more i.e. I want to get naked with you. If you’re at a club, you end up dry-humping them on the dance floor. Maybe you pry yourself off, because you don’t want anyone thinking you’re a slut, or maybe the feeling is so intense you say fuck it, go home with them, and have a wild passionte night of sex. The next morning, you try to remember their name, so you can exchange numbers, because you really do want to go on a date with them. And when that date goes extremely well you start OBSESSING, idealizing, pining for the phone calls, the next date, the next night of hot sex, until you have The Conversation that establishes you’re in a committed, monogomous relationship (or not). As the months, maybe even years go by, you fall more and more in love with them, until…your “date” nights start turning into renting movies, cuddling up on the couch, and falling asleep by 11PM, and you realize you’re having more fun with your vibrator. You still love them, care more deeply for them than ever, and would take a bullet for them, but the high is over, and you find your eye wandering more and more…
Then what? I have no idea. I think this is my next question for Dr. Sex as I continue to go through the coming-off-the-high phase with hubbie.
Endorphins continue to provide a sense of well-being and security. Oxytocin is still released when you’re having sex, producing feelings of satisfaction and attachment. Vasopressin also continues to play a role in attachment. But that euphoric feeling and passionate love fades and is nearly gone after two or three years.
Yup. So…are you a prairie vole or a montane vole?
Only three percent of mammals (aside from the human species) form “family” relationships like we do. The prairie vole is one such animal. This vole mates for life and prefers spending time with its mate over spending time with any other voles. When the prairie vole mates, oxytocin and vasopressin are released. Because the prairie vole has the needed receptors in its brain for these hormones, it forms a bond with its mate. As further reinforcement, dopamine is also released when they have sex, making the experience enjoyable and ensuring that they want to do it again. And because of the oxytocin and vasopressin, they want to have sex with the same vole. Because the montane vole does not have receptors for oxytocin or vasopressin in its brain, those chemicals have no effect, and they continue with their one-night stands.
I think I might be stuck somewhere in between, a praitane vole.