Chemistry Class

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You’ve got a chemistry class
I want a piece of your mind
You don’t know what you started
When you mixed it up with mine
Are you ready for the final solution?
– Elvis Costello

The human brain is wired to seek connection with others in order to increase the chances of survival. It has a biological reward/punishment system. Through hormones and neurotransmitters like endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin, it rewards us by giving us pleasure any time we do something which is essential for the survival of the individual and the species. The same system punishes us with pain if we do something which is potentially not useful for the individual and the species. Without this system we would be merciless creatures, and we’d end up killing each other until only one of us survived.

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Love is part of this reward/punishment system. Its evolutionary purpose is to keep two individuals together long enough to guarantee pregnancy to happen, and care for the child long enough for the child to survive. Love is an organic, biological, wildly irrational (though pleasurable) psychosis. It creates a temporary biochemical reaction in your brain rendering you very happy, stupid, and nonsensical.

Feels nice, right? Sure. But still, things often go the other way. The chemical reaction becomes most pronounced in its breach.

Being dumped actually heightens the phenomenon of passionate love in the brain circuits of both men and women. That brain region desperately, hungrily seeks the loved one. Withdrawal, as if weaning from a drug, takes over. The exhilarating expansion of the self that happened rapidly during the romantic-rush state of love is now in a painful retraction. It may be that the “brain pain” of lost love evolved as a physical alarm to alert us to the dangers of social separation. Pain captures our  attention, disrupts our behavior, and motivates us to ensure our safety and end our suffering. Given the importance for human survival of finding a mate, reproducing, and gaining food, nurturing, and protection, the pain of loss and rejection is likely hardwired in our brains so we’ll avoid it – or at least move on quickly to another mate, who’ll sweep us off our feet on a new, rapturous dopamine- and oxytocin-intoxicated high.- Louann Brizendine, MD

So what can be done about this? Find something in your life with meaning. Perhaps you don’t believe you have a purpose and that life has no meaning. Doesn’t matter. Not believing that you have a purpose won’t prevent you from discovering it, just as a lack of belief in gravity won’t prevent you from dropping and breaking stuff. (“I said UP, dammit…..!”) All disbelief will do is make it take longer to discover yours.

Nature abhors a vacuum. If you have no great focus or meaning to your life, that’s what the other person becomes. If all there is in your life is “pay the bills” or “graduate college,” then of course you’re going to fall into the pit of being vulnerable to another person. But this is very important: she’s not going to be in your life forever. In the modern era all relationships are temporary, and that includes marriage.

So enjoy the good feelings of love. Good feelings are what life is all about. But the minute you start compromising on the focus or meaning in your life, understand that you’re placing the future of your life at risk for a few squirts of chemicals in your brain.

The thing about getting mind-fucked is that you only let it happen once. – Vicomte

(This has been a mashup of excerpts from blog posts I stumbled upon, a synthesis of many great thoughts. Props to Blackdragon; Steve Pavlina; Franco; George, Brad, and Dex; Donlak; and Victor Pride for fueling this.)

3 Comments on “Chemistry Class”

  1. Scott, I’ve read this and part II, and I have to say that these are very well written articles.
    Good research and well integrated. Not to mention one of my all time favorite memes-I’m with stupid. Great job buddy.

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