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The Brain Function in Unrequited Love

The Brain Function in Unrequited Love

It is believed that romantic love developed to focus an individual’s mating energy on just one partner, while attachment works to tolerate this individual long enough to raise children together. If you consider this system carefully for a moment, you will realise that it directly guides us in forming relationships. Don’t copulate with people you don’t want to fall in love with, because indeed you may do just that. Testosterone can kickstart the two love neurotransmitters while an orgasm can elevate the attachment hormones. But the brain systems remain separate units, probably to allow each partner to cheat on the other!

It has been studied that romantic love, is a stronger craving than sex. People don’t kill themselves if they do not get sex when they want it, but it is not adaptive to be without love, and hence, a love deprived unrequited lover needs more attention in terms of getting over the situation, than, probably, a sex deprived husband/wife.

The subjects of a study who had been in unrequited love for 17 months displayed markers in the brain indicating the beginnings of the satiation response. Which, in other words, means they were already getting tired of the entire process. In a related study, the researchers found evidence that romantic love exists in 150 societies, even though it is discouraged in many of them. But with many women from these countries now entering the workforce and acquiring a sense of independence, together with medical science keeping us relatively younger longer, romantic love is expected to be on an increasing rise.

We often read things like “Researchers are finding that love truly is an addiction.” Love, obviously, is not actually an addiction. It’s a drive maybe, or an inclination or a feeling, yet it works on lovers like cocaine. In any case, as discussed in my blog Unrequited Love and Cocaine, unrequited love, probably, regularly has an unmistakable physiological, physical, and emotional profile. When you begin to get all starry eyed, your hormones go completely haywire. The energizing, startling, practically paranormal and unusual components of love start flowing, from hyper-activity of the amygdala, which is the fear sensing part of limbic brain. It’s a tiny, almond-shaped part of the cerebrum, located in temporal lobe of the head. Study of Evolution suggests that it also existed in the bodies of our ancestors and developed millions of years before the neocortex, which is responsible for logical thinking and reasoning.


High levels of oxytocin and vasopressin may interfere with dopamine and norepinephrine pathways, which may explain why attachment grows as mad passionate love fades. Meanwhile, elevated testosterone can suppress oxytocin and vasopressin. There is good evidence that men with higher testosterone levels tend to marry less often, divorce more regularly and be more abusive in their marriage. The reverse can be true as well. Also noteworthy is that when a man holds a baby, levels of testosterone go down, perhaps in part because of oxytocin and vasopressin going up.

A term called ‘frustration attraction’ indicates that getting dumped by your partner makes you love the person harder. Most of us have been dumped by someone we really love and an equal number also dumped someone who really loved them. ‘Abandonment rage’ and ‘frustration depression’ are two more terms that may paradoxically work to hasten the relationship’s end. This follows resignation and despair, which sink in when an unrequited lover’s brain’s reward system begins to realize that their love is never going to be reciprocated. Human need to belong is much deeply rooted than any other social animal. As discussed in my blog Stages of Rejection in Unrequited Love, this is partially because we are shaped by nature to create and sustain culture. Here, I don’t mean the culture of a country or community. Culture as a highly complex and flexible system of the society, based on role differentiation. We have been made by nature specifically to sustain culture. Intense longing, hope, regret, nostalgic reminiscing: they swing from one powerful emotion to the next. Many suffer abandonment rage which is outbursts of fury. Zealously they search for clues of what went wrong and how to reconcile with their wayward mate. Despair may seem counterproductive, but it is, in essence, a failure of denial that allows us to see the world for what it is and sets us on the road to finding a more suitable partner.

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