Welcome to the second post in Liana’s Science of Love series! Catch up on the first post here.
Yesterday we talked about the science behind Lust. The mad, crazy, passionate time when you are truly obsessed with another sentient being, or at least obsessed with getting in their pants and scoring a DNA exchange.
After a short period of time the original chemical lust wears off. Reality sets in and you start to really see the person. Yes, the genetics and pheromones might be enough for the hind brain (the crazy bit with the spear – remember?), but the fore brain has STANDARDS.
Actually, a lot of attachment has to do with the hind brain screaming, “Ahh! There’s a parasite in my uterus somebody find me ice cream!!!”
While the hind brain stuffs ice cream in it’s mouth to drown the obscenities the logic centers perk up and go: Hot tamale! I ain’t raising this kiddo alone!
The brain works overtime, hustling the chemicals to produce permanent bonds that will make sure someone else is around to change the baby’s diaper at 3am. The conscious mind may tell you that you are madly in love, that this is fate, you are truly soulmates… and that’s sweet. Really, I’ve been with my husband over a decade and I applaud you (or your character) for thinking that.
It’s a lie, but it’s such a pretty lie.
The Science Behind Attachment
Let’s go back to one of the examples we addressed yesterday. Pride and Prejudice: The Worst Proposal Ever!
What do we see here?
Mr. Darcy is running on mad Lust at this point.
The first time I heard this part of P&P (I listened to the audio before reading) I nearly died laughing. By the standards of the time Darcy was acting on what he understood to be love. But the attachment portion of the relationship wasn’t there. Yes, Lizzy Bennett was a wonderful choice from a genetic stand point, the chances of her being in-bred with the same line as Darcy’s in-breeding was fairly low, but from the view of science this was a no-go.
Obviously because the Dracy’s weren’t in the habit of doping their guests drinks with Oxytocin at dinner, and Darcy had overlooked the key ingredient of staring into Lizzy’s eyes for prolonged periods of time [reference].
Lust is all about sex, all those hormones, the testosterone in the saliva, the dopamine pinging the brain’s reward center are all aimed at getting naked as fast as possible. Norepinephrine, the chemical responsible for obsessive focus in the early stage of Lust is the bridge between the wild monkey sex and the point where you start picking out baby names [reference].
Expiration Date: Four Years
The second stage of love, Attachment, is dictated by two primary hormones.
Oxytocin – is responsible for you wanting to cuddle, and is usually released during sex. The hind brain (Mr. Rough-Hewn Spear) wants sex for sex’s sake. It feels good! It spreads the genes around! Yay! Oxytocin is the rest of the brain’s sneaky way of making you stay with someone long enough to raise the kids.
Interestingly enough, oxytocin is also released just after birth and when a woman nurses. In the laboratory scientists have messed with block oxytocin (thus making a rat reject it’s young) and doping subjects with oxytocin (making a rat fawn over other young) [reference]. I’m waiting for the perfume industry to come out with a perfume that has oxytocin in it. Just think of the results!
Vasopressin – which controls your kidneys as well as your fidelity index. Low levels of vasopressin are associated with infidelity in mammals. Scientists are still working on the why behind this.
All of this feel-good chemical love does not add up to a wonderful marriage, Happily Ever After, or anything else a writer can put to work. This explains why you want to cuddle, and why relationships cool down after a certain period of time. Evolution set the child raising alarm clock for four years, at that point, the hormones wear off and other things kick in [reference].
Yesterday I eviscerated Scarlet (and the GI Joe script writers) for her portrayal of smart girls. Everyone falls in love. This is a normal biological function the same as breathing. Short of a malfunction in the hormone producing centers of your body this is not something you can control.
I love the paranormal books that try.
Pheromones are one of those tidbits of science that have become almost cliche. I groan when I see an ill-advised author whip out pheremones as a reason why the characters can’t keep their hands off each other. Yes, the smell works. But you can’t build Happily Ever After out of smells and Lust.
The oxytocin and vasopressin in the Attachment phase are what glue Lust to Love.
Poor Mr. Darcy needed Elizabeth’s brain to flood with a healthy dose of oxytocin before she would think of saying yes. Yes, they had a physical attraction, Lust was working fine. Yes, all the factors for an ideal Commitment (Stage 3 Love) were there in the forms of wealth and approving families (at least on her end). What Darcy and Elizabeth lacked here was the Attachment in the middle.
Remember how I said the fore brain has STANDARDS? Eventually those prejudices and conscious desires kick in and you realize the person you’re raising the kids with isn’t what you wanted in life. Evolution doesn’t care about a persons socio-economic status, religious views, or sexual orientation. All evolution and the hind brain care about is making more Homo sapiens sapiens.
The oxytocin makes you cuddle, the vasopressin makes you hang around, but what keeps the relationship going is a new a stage of love altogether.