LOVE IN THE TIME OF SIMILAR
Dr. Lester CN Simon
Have you ever wondered what really goes on in your body when you are in love? You become obsessed, possessed even. Thoughts, images and impulses occur over and over again and you feel out of control. You are seemingly compelled to undertake irrational acts repeatedly. You regularly call on the phone and you drive by just to see if the house is still there because you know your true love is inside thinking of no one but you. It does not enter your mind that your lover may be totally oblivious of you and your desires. Are you in love or are you a stark, raving mentally ill person?
In 1999, Donatella Marazziti of the University of Pisa in Italy discovered a similarity between people who say they were in love and people with a mental illness called obsessive-compulsion disorder, OCD. A substance called serotonin plays a key role in brain chemistry. It is known to modulate mood, emotion, sleep and appetite, and it has a calming effect. Marazziti found that the level of serotonin was below normal in the in-lovers and in those with the mental disorder, OCD. When love takes over, you have alterations in your mood, you become emotional and you cannot eat or sleep. Are you in love or have you wandered too far from the land of mental normality to a crowded island of madding lovers?
After measuring the substance serotonin, Marazziti went on to look at other substances in those who are in love. An article in the New Scientist of 8 May 2004, outlined the results of research by Marazziti and her team. They measured several substances in 12 men and 12 women who said they had fallen in love within the past six months. They compared the results in these in-lovers with those from 24 other volunteers who were either single or in a stable long-term relationship.
The New Scientist reported that one finding was that both men and women in love had considerable higher levels of a substance called cortisol. Cortisol is known as a stress hormone. The higher levels probably reflect the stressful nature of falling in love whether you are male or female.
Marazziti reported that the most intriguing finding was related to testosterone. Testosterone is widely known as a male sex hormone. Actually, testosterone is found in both males and females but the levels in males below the age of 50 years are much higher than the levels in females below age fifty.
Testosterone is positively linked to aggression and sex drive. Marazziti discovered that men in love had lower levels of testosterone than other men. However, women in love had higher levels of testosterone than women who were not struck by the love bug. She suggested that in regards to testosterone, men in love had become more like women, and women in love had become like men! She thought that this may be nature’s way of eliminating the difference between men and women when they are in the love zone.
Another scientist, Andreas Bartels of University College London pointed out that the changes in testosterone levels could be as a result of sexual activity between those in love. Marazziti discounted that argument as the explanation for the changes in testosterone levels. She noted that in her study those individuals in the control group (not in love) were having sex just as often as those in the in-love group.
Additionally, testosterone levels in men usually rise as sexual activity increases. Hence, reported the New Scientist, if the changes were just the result of sex, the testosterone levels would be expected to increase in men, rather than fall.
It seems that the lowering of testosterone in men-in-love and the raising of testosterone of women-in-love might be an attempt to converge the two levels. This may help lovers overcome their differences (or make them blind to each other’s faults).
Sadly, Marazziti found that the blissful state of romantic love did not last. She re-tested the same subjects one or two years later when they said they were no longer madly in love, although they were still together. The levels of testosterone had returned to normal.
So what should we do to remain in love? Sorry men, but it seems that you have to cut back on your testosterone, your so-called “maleness” and aggression (at least in this circumstance) and allow for less difference between you and your mate. Is there any proof of this? Since older folks are said to be wiser, we should probably study elderly couples who are still living together in loving, in-love, harmony.
In females and males over 50 years of age, the levels of testosterone are lower than in younger females and males. The testosterone gap is smaller. This suggests that for elderly couples in love, they would have to try less hard than younger couples to remain in love, based on the testosterone levels.
There is a contented, in-love, elderly couple somewhere. The man and woman are smiling because the natural testosterone gap has decreased and they are still in love. But within this tendency towards similarity, there are many reasons for the smiles.
The man does not want to actively lower his testosterone any more. He depends on his falling testosterone level for his sex drive. Most times he displays a very low testosterone level by being less aggressive and more agreeable. At other times, they both relish his relatively higher testosterone sexual drive.
He is smiling because he thinks she is unaware of his clever balancing of testosterone levels. She is also smiling because unbeknownst to him, she is well on top of his testosterone balancing ruse. And so they live in blissful, loving compromise, happily ever after.