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Hormone rule

Our hormones steer our moods, personalities and thus relationships, writes Shalini Pahwa.

sex and relationships Updated: Jun 26, 2008 11:13 IST
Shalini Pahwa

What drives relationships, or what a relationship actually is, has been a subject of much debate. When you sift through all the evidence, the points and the counterpoints, it turns out that hormones — those chemicals busily doing duty inside us — steer our moods and personalities and, thus, our relationships.

Take the case of the sane man who has been living peacefully and pampered in a household of himself and three women — all quite sane as well, until suddenly, the river of hormone changes course. The mother hits menopause; the wife falls pregnant; and the young adult sister suffers PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome). At this point, the definition of a relationship according to that fount of all Google-age knowledge, Wikipedia — “a specific connection between objects, entities or concepts” — is turned on its head.

The mother no longer considers feeding her son as her life’s mission; she is too busy trying to get used to hot flushes. The wife, when not crying uncontrollably over sentimental film situations, acts cranky and experiences peculiar cravings. The sister is irritable as hell, displaying rather more rebellion than being 18 warrants. The lone male, unaware of the havoc wrought by the rise and fall of oestrogen levels, sits befuddled at the 180-degree turn of the home situation.

For women only
Women can be at the receiving end, too. The testosterone that makes a man chase an unavailable woman like a hunter stalking his quarry drops considerably when the woman becomes available, or conquered, if you will. For a man, it's almost the same thing as wanting to own the biggest, shiniest car in the showroom. In fact, a man’s excitement over a new car lasts much longer than his excitement over a new girlfriend.

This could be because a car gives a man speed and mobility; a steady relationship hinders both. In other words, the car gives him an adrenaline rush that a woman can’t — once she has stopping making him run after her. Even when you have got a relationship going, you still have to reckon with a third party: the stress hormone, cortisol. More than the 'other' woman (or man), stress is most likely to make a relationship go bust. Out-of-control cortisol levels can leave a person physically and emotionally damaged — and single.

Beyond the wreck
But hormones are not always relationship-wreckers. They can be your friend, too. There is the lovely compound oxytocin, which induces a mood of romance and relaxation. And it's easy to make its level rise. Research shows any physical show of affection, like cuddling or hugging, for as little as half a minute can cause an oxytocin rise.

The bottomline is, he who harnesses the power of hormones, rules relationships. May his plate, or bed, or heart never be empty.