POLL: Would you take a drug to stay madly in love?
The truth about romantic outliers. At last, a preliminary report on the brain scans of couples who have been passionately in love for decades! I was particularly excited about this research because it promised to give us insights into why some people are able to preserve the intensity of their initial love, while for most couples passion fades or becomes something more like a comfortable companionship. The researchers — Bianca Acevedo, Lucy Brown, and Helen Fisher — found that these outliers, madly in love for more than twenty years, have something in common with people who have just recently fallen in love: an active ventral tegmental area (VTA), a “reward region” of the brain. The VTA releases dopamine, the hormone of pleasure and addiction (also activated by cocaine and chocolate).
While a super-stimulated VTA defines most early-stage love affairs, it’s exceptional in twenty-year marriages. But what separates these late-stage lovers from early-stage lovers is calm in the the brain regions associated with anxiety and compulsion. They get passion without obsession.
The results inspire further questions: Love is expressed in so many different ways; how to measure its intensity? What makes some people romantic outliers in the first place — good genes or the right partner, or both? What are the other characteristics of romantic outliers — are they Panglossian iby nature? When, exactly, does the VTA dim in most relationships, and why, and how to prevent it?
We know from other studies (detailed in BLONDES) that there are certain hormone receptors in the VTA that influence pair-bonds in romantic relationships, and genes for these receptors vary among individuals. Some people have receptor genes that have been associated with commitment problems. Other genes that have yet to be identified might do the opposite — facilitate long-term love and bonding.
To be madly in love with one person for decades! Too many couples are nostalgic about the first years of their relationship, wishing they still felt that old fervor and zeal. If you could take a gene-altering drug to help sustain intense passion for your partner — to maintain the flame that burned so brightly in the beginning — would you do it?