Kicking the Love Habit or Hooked for Life?

31Jan09

OK, well apparently I’m fixated.  I suppose I *could* rant about love at least until Valentine’s day. That’s my excuse, anyway. Having a failed marriage of my own (I just recently separated from an 8 year relationship), I wonder what components are essential for a successful relationship. Obviously one’s upbringing affects their capacity for healthy long-term relationships.  I have to say that already the odds are against both of us.  Additionally, I am interested in the role our physiology plays in interpersonal relationships, especially intimate ones, considering that it is already against natural laws to be committed to a partner for a lifetime.  I’m no expert but it seems to defy evolution. It is hypothesized that this behavior developed in species where the offspring are best raised by both parents in unison.

Leave it to scientists to figure out the “brainy” aspect of love… Only a handful of animals actually practice what is referred to as social monogamy (but not necessarily sexual monogamy) and these include: humans, Kirk’s dik-dik (African antelope), fat-tailed dwarf lemur, and the prairie vole (rodent).  Of prime interest in scientific studies is the prairie vole.  Mind you that there are other types of voles but only the prairie vole specifically exhibits commited behavior.  Researchers have concluded that the hormone arginine vasopressin is partly responsible for monogamous behavior and that mutations in the vasopressin 1a repressor gene result in promiscuity.  This effect has been seen in both the prairie voles and in a study of Swedish men who reported difficulties commiting to long-term relationships.  Studies where mice were genetically engineered to contain the gene from the prairie vole exhibited similar preference to remain with known mates rather than explore new territory, which is atypical for the species.

Furthermore, studies in prairie voles suggest that pair-bonding can be stimulated or repressed through manipulation of levels of both vasopressin and oxytocin, another neurotransmitter. This explains why many people (although this seems to be a more frequent phenomenon with women) get emotionally attached to sexual partners.  The brain releases both of these hormones during orgasm.  On an interesting note, it has been suggested that antidepressants (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as prozac and zoloft) impact the “ability to form long-term attachments” according to Dr. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist from Rutgers University.  I suppose if you suffer from depression and you’re in a new relationship, you have an uphill battle to fight. Knowing ahead of time that your medication may present an obstacle to your committment level will at least allow you to better deal with the issue. I would have never made the connection.  In fact, it almost seems counter-intuitive from the lay person’s perspective.

It would be interesting to see if one day these findings are developed into a “treatment” for promiscuity.  After all, some people rather enjoy their promiscuity!  It may not be inherintly a bad thing as long as adults behave in an honest and open manner with the appropriate precautions.  Monogamy can be a great thing and a huge emotional comfort but it isn’t for everyone.  On the other hand, this sort of treatment has the potential to save marriages and families.  Of course we are years away from implementing gene therapy in humans(or so it seems given it’s danger at this point), particularly for a non-life threatening condition.

So that’s my spiel on monogamy.  I thought it was interesting but I will have to do some searching to find another topic of interest.  It is rather intriguing but I’ve suddenly decided I’m over the whole love thing for now. Check back soon!

Refer to these sites for more details:

http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/12/love-vaccine/

http://judson.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/09/16/a-commitment-pill/

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3 Responses to “Kicking the Love Habit or Hooked for Life?”

  1. To be honest I think that monogamy is a human construct – there are very few animal species that are monogamous and even then they are known to sneak away when the other one isnt looking for a little nookie (sorry to anthropomorphise). I also think that monogamy for humans is an accident waiting to happen and we as a society set ourselves up for a world of hurt by expecting that he or she will be monogamous in a relationship for the whole of their adult lifetime. It also doesn’t help that we are force fed a very patriarchal anglo way of viewing relationships – where our whole personal construct is built on that the person we are in a relationship with views us as attractive and worthy of sharing bodily fluids with and if they are doing that with someone else then we must be not worthy of our partners attentions anymore – when that quite frankly is a load of bollox (most of the time). Sex is Sex is Sex – most of the time it isnt that your chosen mate is anyless attractive than they were the day before – more that there was an opportunity and your partner took it. But it has been indoctrinated into our young brains the appropriate response is to fall apart and pick our own self esteem to pieces – when that is just wrong. Apologies I may have ranted enough – I just dont think that the whole monogamy construct should define who we are in our relationships and be detrimental to our psyche(s).

    E.

    Phew – good god stop Eppendork when she has verbal diaorrhea! But does that make sense to you?

    • 2 extrovertscientist

      It totally makes sense to me… Actually, I’m curious to know whether men or women feel more self-doubt when they are cheated on. I tend to believe that the feeling is more pronounced in women. I think that as a woman I tend to take things a little more personally. We as humans have definitely gotten ourselves into an interesting predicament. We are so “rational” yet we still have those primal instincts that lead us astray from what we construe to be reasonable and acceptable behavior. Oi.

  2. On a psychological note, I’d say if you like yourself when you’re with someone, that’s a good sign of long-term viability. Most people focus on what they like about the other–but what do you like about yourself? (Consider that when you’re not out with the person!).

    On a physiological level, aren’t there some studies on oestradial (sp??) that suggest women who have high levels (symmetrical face, small waist) tend to be sequentially monogamous, finding dissatisfaction in a relationship and moving on within a few years.


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