Highs and lows of love addiction
Shashank Anand takes his role as a champion of lovers very seriously. The 40-year-old sanyasi, who runs a meditation centre to help dejected lovers, wants to focus his energies in turning love into an "andolan" (revolution).columns Updated: Feb 10, 2014 11:06 IST
He's not quite Mike Myers from disappointing Hollywood romcom, The Love Guru, but Shashank Anand takes his role as a champion of lovers very seriously. The 40-year-old sanyasi, who runs a meditation centre to help dejected lovers find inner peace under the shadow of India's biggest prison, Tihar Jail in Delhi, now wants to focus his energies in turning love into an "andolan" (revolution).
One of his posters calling for revolution (all lovers should gather at Jantar Mantar on Valentine's Day, February 14, but he's iffy about what happens next) led me to this Osho-disciple, who wants to help young people channel their emotions through love. Anand is convinced that if young people find love, they will not rape. His simplistic argument is laughable but not surprising, coming as it does from a school drop-out who, in between running a meditation centre and leading revolutions, runs a restaurant outside a college in his hometown Shahjahanpur.
So what do scholars who study relationships for a living say about love?
In a line, being in love is like a bad hangover. Your heart races, your head feels whoozy, your stomach queasy, and your mouth dry. You can't think straight, you trip over your feet, you can't sleep. This hypomanic state — heightened mood, energy and activity usually associated with bipolar disorder — lasts till you fall out of love and till, against your better judgement, you fall in love again.
The reason for the manic state lies deep in the brain. While your body feels like a used and very disposable diaper, your brain is in a euphoric state quite like that induced by drugs. Being in love is like being addicted to cigarettes, alcohol, illicit drugs, sex and gambling, says Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University, and author of Why We Love. She uses stacks of brain scans done using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scientifically validate her theory.
Brain scans of people in love show heightened activity in areas that are rich in dopamine and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters associated with natural reward systems that makes us happy doing things essential for survival, like eating, drinking and having sex. It is also the system that gets hijacked by addictions.
This addiction also explains why breakups can be so tough. Fisher's 2010 study on the just-jilted and still-dejected showed that like a drug, love can make a dejected person crave, obsess and distort reality. Brain scans of the raw and reeling using fMRI showed activity in the regions of the brain associated with nicotine and drug addiction, physical pain and distress.
"Nobody gets out of love alive," Fisher said. "You turn into a menace or a pest when you've been rejected. That's when people stalk or commit suicide... There's a very powerful brain system that has a dramatic effect on your entire life." Fisher's prescription for the dejected is going cold turkey. Just as having a cigarette a day doesn't help people trying to quit smoking, trying to stay friends and exchanging texts and mails don't work for people getting over a break-up.
How intensely and who you fall for someone depends, like everything else, on your genes and environment, as does how likely you are to get along with your partner over time. Ted L Huston, professor of human ecology at the University of Texas at Austin, is more interested in why and how intimate relationships change when the honeymoon is over.
Huston's work shows that married couples are happier if they are satisfied with their sex lives and feel they have "influence" over their spouse. There are some gender differences-- women are more satisfied if they spend time with their partner, friends and family, while men are happier if they are doing well financially.
While the lovesick can do little else except to wait for time to heal, studies such as these help put love in perspective — an emotion driven by chemical changes in the brain that peak and ebb, and like a drug-induced high, don't last forever.