November 10, 2010
When scientists — arguably the most logical of humans — try to make sense of love, interesting things are bound to happen. As Albert Einstein concluded: “Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love.” (No one’s ruled out inertia, entropy, or nuclear fusion.) Traditionally, of course — metaphorically or otherwise — we trace the origin of love to our hearts. Thankfully, though, Syracuse University Professor Stephanie Ortigue suggests that our head has something to do with it, too — and not just when it’s over our heels.
In the new study “The Neuroimaging of Love,” Ortigue reveals that “12 areas of the brain work in tandem to release euphoria-inducing chemicals such as dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline and vasopression.” Basically, “falling in love can elicit not only the same euphoric feeling as using cocaine, but also affects intellectual areas of the brain.” Apparently, when it comes to love, we can go from zero to sixty in 1/5th of a second — meaning that euphoria can enter our system as quickly, if not faster, than a controlled substance.
So falling in love is like being on cocaine. It happens real fast, you’re on this crazy high — and then you come down. Interestingly enough, cocaine was once an ingredient in Coca Cola. Coca Cola was first introduced as a patent medicine “for all that ails you.” Since cocaine isn’t legal and has long been removed from Coca Cola, maybe all we need is love?
Dr. Sean Mackey, chair of the pain management division of Stanford University, might agree. Writing recently in Time, Alice Park explores Mackey’s research into to what degree love might “influence how we experience physical pain.” Mackey discovered that when people who reported being in the first stages of “new and passionate love” were shown pictures of their various pumpkins and pookies, they could withstand greater amounts of pain — even more so than when occupied by mental tests or when shown photos of equally attractive friends.
While I am all for love as a potential wonder-drug, one of my questions is: why only romantic love? Would throwing a different kind of love — say parent/child — into the pain equation garner the same results? Isn’t that love just as mind-altering? Nope, turns out. Well, not in the same way.
Ortigue’s study found that the reason parent-child love would likely not have the same effects on pain is that different parts of the brain are stimulated by different kinds of love: “Passionate love is sparked by the reward part of the brain, and also associative cognitive brain areas that have higher-order cognitive functions, such as body image.”
Parent-child love wouldn’t reduce pain physically because it doesn’t stimulate the reward center. However, that’s not to say that a parent wouldn’t be able to endure more pain should their child be in danger. In essence, Mackey’s study is strengthened by Ortigue’s assertion that the brain releases chemicals akin to cocaine to stimulate romantic love, because like cocaine, love works back and forth with the brain as it heightens certain things and dulls others. Love engages “our very deep, old and primitive reptilian system that involves basic needs, wants, and cravings.”
Since romantic love allows us to withstand more pain, perhaps it is the reason humans survive. While the end of love can hurt, to the point of making people lovesick, the euphoria of being in love keeps us coming back, much like cocaine keeps an addict coming back — all ensuring that we continue the species. From an evolutionary standpoint, the emergence of romantic love in humans may be all about survival of the fittest – rewarding us for the formation of potentially strong alliances with our mates and, as shown by Mackey allowing us to withstand greater amounts of pain, which from a primitive standpoint would have been useful in a fight with that mastodon.
Be thankful. Biology is looking out for us in more ways than one.
October 19, 2010
Via @Naunihal: Oldly-wed couples, counter-intuitively enough, might tank at The Newlywed Game. As Wired reports, a new study from the University of Basel has found that “couples married for an average of 40 years know less about one another’s food, movie and kitchen-design preferences [?!] than do partners who have been married or in committed relationships for a year or two.” (Dramatically, when data for these preferences were combined, all couples agreed that “Julie and Julia” worked better as a book. — BG)
This pattern was observed among 38 couples aged 19 to 32, versus 20 couples aged 62 to 78. The greatest knowledge gap was in predicting food preferences, which just seems weird. The researchers’ hypotheses?
— Older couples pay less attention to such specifics, figuring eh, what’s left to learn?
— Older couples, rightly or wrongly, perceive more similarity between themselves.
— Older couples come from a generation in which men and women generally knew less about each other to begin with (Cf. Don Draper and Megan, not that they’ll last long enough to qualify as “older”)
— Older couples may be more likely to use “white lies” to keep things running smoothly. (“Seriously, your beets are my FAVORITE”)
And yet! Even though they knew less about their partners in certain areas, long-term couples reported more satisfaction with their relationships. So even if we start to space on the little-ish things we like (“I could have sworn you’d prefer Ikea”), it’s the like-like we share that pulls us through.
September 16, 2010
We have all, at some point, watched a close friend vanish into the hurl-dorable vortex that is love. I know I have! And, of course, many of us have entered that vortex ourselves. One that may include (for instance) repairing one’s beloved’s only flaw — “You’ve never seen Buffy?!” — with an intensive marathon that also, necessarily, includes Angel. Then she/he is all, “You’ve never seen The Wire?!” and poof, you emerge months later into the sun, glassy-eyed, watching your back for vamps, and wondering where all your friends went.
Well, Buffy or no Buffy, the friend attrition that comes with love is definitely a thing, according to new research at Oxford University. In fact, they counted:
Oxford University researchers asked people about their inner core of friendships and how this number changed when romance entered the equation.
They found the core, which numbers about five people, dropped by two as a new lover came to dominate daily life.
“People who are in romantic relationships — instead of having the typical five [individuals] on average, they only have four in that circle,” explained Robin Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary anthropology at Oxford.
“And bearing in mind that one of those is the new person that’s come into your life, it means you’ve had to give up two others.”
But it doesn’t have to be this way, does it? On the one hand, you know, your friends don’t come on your honeymoon: even grudging single friends should allow their newly smitten compadres and compadrinas a grace period. It’s a thrilling, fizzy, heady time, and we need to give them that, just as we’d want them to “let” us have ours. On the other, folks, even if you find that special someone who “gives you everything” and “meets all your needs,” well, they don’t. They may be wonderful in every way — even a wonderful friend to you — but they’re not a full-on swap-in substitute for friend-friends. The bestest love relationships are those that enhance your lives and sense of connection to people and the world, and those in which you each have space and time to nurture your own, separate, friendships. So once you stop seeing those early-in-love stars, make sure you keep seeing your friends.
May 19, 2010
March 5, 2010
Tracy Clark-Flory of Salon.com’s Broadsheet calls out the New York Times for misrepresenting statistics in the title of their article, “Living Together First Doesn’t Make Marriage Last, Study Finds.” Clark-Flory examines the statistics of said study and looks to other sources to sum up with her title “Living in sin not so bad after all”.
Now, a little something from revelations…for those living in sin, marriage isn’t always the end goal. Whoa. SHOCKER. How do I know this? Live in an overpriced metropolis where rent-controlled apartments are as hard to come by as the Holy Grail or the Ark of the Covenant and you find a lot of people shacking up for reasons other than a trial run for a walk down the aisle. Some of these reasons include freedom from rooommates, convenience, mobility, economics, and well, just plain old lust. So, what’s important in moving from “living in sin” to making an “honest man/woman/etc. out of someone/yourself”?
Having co-habitated a time or two, experience has taught me that what makes or breaks your relationship isn’t decided from the day to day stuff of living in each other’s space. It’s about sharing basic values and goals as a couple. It’s also about knowing why you moved in together and realizing that can change for both people. The day to day stuff just exacerbates an eventually doomed union. Really, even if someone keeps a clean house and finds your keys, it’s not going to fix your fear of commitment or the fact that you hate their work ethic. However, if a relationship is already working on the inner levels, leaving the cap off the toothpaste or drinking out of the orange juice carton isn’t such a big deal. Whether or not a couple lives together isn’t going to break them so much as reinforce what they already know – good and bad. As Clark-Flory notes “you’re better off following your own heart than any supposed make-or-break marital rules.”
The couples who do end up married after first living together most likely would have gotten married anyways – whether they both saw marriage as a possible end goal or they were the type to ignore doubt and just push forward. I am actually curious to know how many couples move in together and break up before the point of marriage. If living in sin is bad for anyone, it’s most likely divorce lawyers.
Just don’t forget the pre-prenup!
February 26, 2010
As Amy noted earlier, Christian at OK Cupid’s blog recently found, using all sorts of lovely charts and graphs, that “the male fixation on youth distorts the dating pool.” Maybe so, but I have an observation — or maybe a confession — to make: The fixation on youth isn’t just male. While it may be represented as such online, there’s still a whole lot going on offline. Since moving to New York almost 5 years ago, I have, ahem…well, I have developed a habit of dating younger men. Before living here, I mostly dated older men. Why the shift? Is it something in the water?
At the ripe age of 31, while staring into space writing at a coffee shop, I noticed a guy looking at me rather intently. He caught my eye, smiled furtively and then took a swig of his grande. I smiled back and continued about my business. The next time I looked up, his eyes met mine and he executed a rather sheepish wave of his hand. Within seconds he was sitting in front of me and by the time I left, a date was planned. About four dates in, we met up with one of my friends for drinks. Somehow the subject of age came up.
I figured he was younger from conversation and just how he carried himself. I’d also dated a 22-year old the summer I was 29, so when coffee shop guy told me he was 26, it didn’t faze me. What I wasn’t expecting was his reaction to my age. At first it was incredulous disbelief. Had I no proof of identification and a friend to verify, he wouldn’t have believed it. He had guessed I was 24 or 25, but suddenly it clicked. I was confident and self-assured, had lived on my own in quite a few places, and pursued various interests. I wasn’t 25 or even close.
Suddenly he made assumptions about what I wanted: something serious, marriage, babies. Like, with him.By next week. It didn’t matter that we were on date number four or that I was just out of a tumultuous relationship. In his head my age screamed entrapment. Like I was ready to drag the first guy who smiled at me that morning to the altar. Needless to say, our date was cut short and the warm goodbye that ended our previous date was replaced with a very reticent hug.
While looks have something to do with attraction to the young and virile/fertile, maybe the reason per Christian’s data that “the median 30 year-old man spends as much time messaging 18 and 19 year-olds as he does women his own age” is not only about physical attraction. What might also be at play is what those men want at the moment and what they perceive rather than just cut and dry looks. People seem to think that once women hit a certain age, we’re on this warpath to the altar or the birthing center. Yes, we have a time limit with reproduction, but we already know that and a lot of us make peace with it one way or another. However, we don’t have an expiration date when it comes to love, lust, spontaneity or enjoying life. We also don’t want to marry and make babies with everyone we go out on a few dates with. While we are more likely to be looking for a real relationship, we also like to meet new people and explore our options. What we don’t want is a constant reminder of how old we are and questions like “shouldn’t we be finding that special someone soon?”
For me dating younger men has been an eye-opening experience. At first I found myself drawn to them because they are cute and fun, but that’s not all they are and that may be a common mistake when going younger – the seriousness factor. The men who are choosing younger women are potentially not doing so at a disservice to older women, but possibly as a disservice to younger women.
When I dated a 22-year-old at 29, I embraced the experience. Surprisingly, fitting into each other’s worlds wasn’t actually that much of a stretch. What I was surprised about was the reaction from my friends, particularly my female friends. A lot of them voiced some concern because 22-year-olds wouldn’t want to get married anytime soon. That was just it. At the time, I wasn’t ready to get married. I was running far away from commitment and wedding freak-outs. Dating a 22-year-old was safe.
In terms of OK Cupid’s data, I would like to see a chart comparing what exactly each person is looking for – like are the 30 year old men who are messaging 18-19 year olds looking for a relationship or a “playmate”? Odds are, they are not looking for a life partner. As such, young women as a whole may be getting the short end of the deal in terms of their interactions with much older men. They may not be taken seriously or seen as viable long-term partners. Maybe the disparity between men and women’s dating habits with regard to age in the OK Cupid data is just as much about emotional age as it is about physical attraction. Hell, if those men need convincing that older women can be as full of fun and energy as a younger woman, then maybe older women don’t want them anyway.
My point is we often date people we think we might not get serious about when we are not ready to be serious –- which is fine, but we should also be open to the possibility that someone will surprise us. What I’ve learned as I’ve returned to a place where I am ready for a relationship is that men of all ages can be both fun and serious, thoughtful or thoughtless. Internet dating eliminates nuances as it makes us all check a box, but it’s only reflective of what we as a society already perceive. It’s time older women and younger women alike get as much credit for their whole person and not categorized by stereotypes of age and gender.
January 20, 2010
Used to be that when the issue of “green” came up in a relationship, someone had a jealousy problem. But now the New York Times reports that therapists are seeing a growing number of couples with serious disagreements about how far they should go to save the environment. What’s a couple to do when one wants to consume, consume, consume and the other wants to reduce, reuse and recycle?
In my own life, I’ve found myself too environmentally conscious for some and not enough for others. What it really comes down to is clear communication and the ability to gauge whether or not different values equal dealbreakers. Since I am not married, the extent to which I choose to be environmentally conscious is already a part of the whole package; slight variations in the size of our collective footprint are negotiable. Basically, I choose my battles if I really like someone.
As family and marriage therapist Linda Buzzell tells the Times, “The danger arises when one partner undergoes an environmental ‘waking up’ process way before the other, leaving a new values gap between them.” The article makes it sound as if for those already married, this is akin to someone suddenly finding God (and being married to a heathen). While it can be that dramatic in terms of thought process and lifestyle, it can also be explained as just an aspect of personal growth — which is natural over time and especially over the course of a marriage. My question is whether the problems couples are experiencing stem more from an inability to stay connected and cope with personal growth on any level (whether that takes the form of a new environmental consciousness or an interest in hot rods) or if we are looking to scapegoat Mother Nature?
Robert Brulle, a professor of environment and sociology at Drexel University in Philadelphia, said that he himself has seen this issue break up a marriage. Typically, “One still wants to live the American dream with all that means, and the other wants to give up on big materialistic consumption, “ he says. “Those may not be compatible.” Maybe it’s time to find a new American Dream and give healthy marriages and a healthy environment a place to grow within it.
Coda: Have you ever grappled over greenness? Share or opine in the comments!
January 15, 2010
The really rather cute Peter Backus, a Ph.D. candidate in economics in England, has boldly attempted to solve one of the great mysteries of the universe, otherwise known as “Why I don’t have a girlfriend.”
To do so, he employs The Drake Equation, which “is used to estimate the number of highly evolved civilisations that might exist in our galaxy,” he writes. “I have used this approach to estimate the number of potential girlfriends in the UK. The results are not encouraging. The probability of finding love in the UK is only about 100 times better than the probability of finding intelligent life in our galaxy.”
The equation was developed in 1961 by Dr. Frank Drake at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia. The equation is generally specified as:
G = R • fP • ne • fl • fi • fe • L
G = The number of civilizations capable of interstellar communication
R = The rate of formation of stars capable of supporting life (stars like our Sun)
ne = The average number of planets similar to Earth per planetary system
fl = The fraction of the Earth-like planets supporting life of any kind
fi = The fraction of life-supporting planets where intelligent life develops
fc = The fraction of planets with intelligent life that are capable of interstellar communication (those which have electromagnetic technology like radio or TV)
L = The length of time such communicating civilizations survive
Backus makes the following adjustments:
G = N* • fm • fl • fA • fU • fB
G = The number of potential girlfriends.
R = The rate of formation of people in the UK (i.e. population growth).
fW = The fraction of people in the UK who are women.
fL = The fraction of women in the UK who live in London.
fA = The fraction of the women in London who are age-appropriate.
fU = The fraction of age-appropriate women in London with a university education.
fB = The fraction of university educated, age-appropriate women in London who I find physically attractive.
L = The length of time in years that I have been alive thus making an encounter with a potential girlfriend possible.
With me so far? I am now going to attempt to apply Backus’ equation to my chance of finding a man in New York — with the following caveats. (more…)
, Drake Equation
, New York
, Peter Backus
, U.S. Census Bureau
, Warwick University
January 7, 2010
Neenah Pickett set herself this goal: find a husband in 52 weeks. And no, as Lemondrop reports, she didn’t find the proverbial ONE — yet! — but to say she spent a whole year looking for love and not finding it negates all that she did find.
From the sound of it, Neenah actually did find love in many places -– in the support of a community that rallied behind her efforts, and in a new-found knowledge of herself. Love, after all, doesn’t just come in one form. Non-romantic love can be as significant as the romantic kind. While marriage and family are worthy endeavors that do require effort to establish and sustain, to look to each as a goal or something to be achieved in X amount of time doesn’t leave room for spontaneity or for the unexpected joys along the way.
What next? “Pickett has actually vowed to take a break from dating in 2010,” Lemondrop notes. “But she still believes love is out there.” With all of her new knowledge, let’s hope Neenah doesn’t pursue non-dating in 2010 as rigorously as she pursued a husband in 2009. If love is out there, you might not need to pursue it daily, or even weekly, but you’ve got to at least be open to it.
November 23, 2009
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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s strategy for attracting bright young talent gives new meaning to the phrase “nuclear fusion.”
As Jim McDermott, NCR chief human capital officer, said last week, “There are incentives, and then there are incentives. When we’re hiring, we say, ‘Is there a significant other in the picture?’ If there’s no significant other, I tell them, ‘We can help.’ ”
As the Federal Times blog explains, “McDermott said his unorthodox recruitment pitch works because while nuclear engineers may know how to split atoms, they’re not quite so adept on the dating front.”
I admit I got a bit skeeved upon reading “human capital officer” in the same breath as “dates” — and McDermott never explains exactly how his group can help — but there is something refreshing in that cool logic. Who can appreciate a nerd as well as a nerd? If highly specialized work is your life, then the physics lab might in fact be the best place to — as the blog puts it — “meet other single engineers (who probably won’t roll their eyes at Star Trek or lectures on reactor cooling systems).” Niche dating in all flavors, especially nerd dating is on the rise thanks to the internet, and as BG points out, many geeky pursuits are inherently social.
And nobody’s being pimped out here. With more gender balance in the work environment, the notion of finding a suitable mate is extended to every engineer being courted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. So far, NRC’s dating scheme, whatever it is — and which McDermott jokingly calls “NRC Harmony,” after eHarmony — has resulted in about eight or nine weddings.
Coda: While some blog commenters think find McDermott’s candor stereotyping and impolitic, NerdyGirl truly gets in the last word:”Who let the Muggles in? They’re the only ones who are whinging about what McDermott said. When your head is full of crunchy data goodness, it’s smart to have someone who understands that you don’t have time to get all ‘socially smooth’ like the Muggles are. There are too many interesting things to research and process…”
Lagniappe: 16 Golden Retrievers Teach You About Atoms! You’re welcome.