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May 31, 2005

Finding Out True Love Is Blind

This weekend I was hanging out with my friend G., who is going through a divorce. We were jokingly trolling Match.com and Yahoo Personals, trying to find proper potential love interests for each other. I say "jokingly" because I'm pretty sure I'd never trust G. to pick someone suitable for me, and besides that, trolling for men online is an activity best done in solitude.

(Although the 6'5" bald guy who speaks Urdu was kind of interesting. I saved his profile for later, just in case.)

Before anyone wonders why G. and I just don't focus our sights on each other, let me just say that it's a case of "been there, done that." Plus, he's got Le Baggage.

G. has two kids, ages 10 and 8 (no, they're not the baggage I was referring to), and he was bemoaning the fact that he'd lost what he described as "a lot of good years" because he had resigned himself to staying married for the kids.

Only it didn't work out that way. For a long time, according to him, his marriage was "good enough" - in the sense that it wasn't bad, it wasn't great, it was just ... there. It was the devil he knew versus the (potentially worse) devil he didn't.

Somewhere along the line, despite his intentions, "good enough" was no longer "good" or, really, "enough." He got older. He stopped wanting to settle for something that was merely passable. He became less afraid of taking the steps he thought were necessary to fashion a life for himself where not only was he happy, but his kids were happy, too.

His best friend died suddenly. That was that suckerpunch that snapped his life into clarity.

So we were talking about divorce, and how I was the same age as his oldest child when my parents split up and yet I "managed to be OK" (you-know-who-you-are can stop snickering right now).

My mom had the same intentions that G. did - stay until the kids graduate from high school, even though I'm desperately unhappy in this marriage - but I am thankful every day that fate or life or something like it intervened, and she filed for divorce when I was 10.

So yes, I'm mostly OK despite being a product of a broken home. I had two parents who loved me, even though they weren't together any more, and I think ultimately that was much more important for me than having the traditional two-parent nuclear family household.

However, it's not as if that whole event didn't leave a lasting impression upon my frail pre-adolescent psyche. It did, just not in the way most people would think.

I'm not sorry my parents got divorced. I'm only sorry that they didn't get divorced SOONER. Because here's what I learned during that time, and this is the only thing about the divorce that has affected my adult romantic relationships:

No matter how good things might seem, they might actually be really, really bad without you even knowing it.

My parents never fought. They never really talked, either, and therein lay the problem. I grew up thinking that's just the way things went, and I thought my parents were happy until one day, out of the blue (a 10-year-old never realizes the weeks/months/years that lead up to these kinds of decisions), my mom announced that she and my dad were splitting up.

No warning. No flares shot up over the bow. Just ... an ending.

So there's a part of relationship-me, mostly subconscious, but also mostly silenced, that is simply waiting for the other shoe to drop. Waiting for the piano to fall out of the window and crush me as I nonchalantly traipse down the great sidewalk of life.

Relationships come with their very own Acme anvil, and it's only a matter of time before Wile E. Coyote attempts to drop it - presumably from a very high cliff - onto my head.

(Meep, meep!)

I'm all too willing to get the hell out before things start going awry. That's bad, isn't it?

So then this morning I was reading articles on NYTimes.com, and happened upon one detailing a scientific study about how romantic love is a biological urge. To wit:

New love can look for all the world like mental illness, a blend of mania, dementia and obsession that cuts people off from friends and family and prompts out-of-character behavior - compulsive phone calling, serenades, yelling from rooftops - that could almost be mistaken for psychosis.

It is closer in its neural profile to drives like hunger, thirst or drug craving, the researchers assert, than to emotional states like excitement or affection. As a relationship deepens, the brain scans suggest, the neural activity associated with romantic love alters slightly, and in some cases primes areas deep in the primitive brain that are involved in long-term attachment.

For those keeping score, Crazy Tom Cruise was not mentioned anywhere in the article. Yeah, I was surprised, too.

The article goes on to state that "falling in love is among the most irrational of human behaviors" (no kidding, really?), which makes me feel better about the fact that I've got this irrational fear of having the rug pulled out from under me at any moment EVEN THOUGH everything seems peachy keen and swell and stuff.

If the very nature of falling in love is based on a lack of reason, then there's nothing wrong with the fact that I throw more irrationality upon the newfound fires of passion.

Irrational is as irrational does.

And then I read this:

(T)he researchers found that one particular spot in the (brain), in the caudate nucleus, was especially active in people who scored highly on a questionnaire measuring passionate love.

This passion-related region was on the opposite side of the brain from another area that registers physical attractiveness, the researchers found, and appeared to be involved in longing, desire and the unexplainable tug that people feel toward one person, among many attractive alternative partners.

This distinction, between finding someone attractive and desiring him or her, between liking and wanting, "is all happening in an area of the mammalian brain that takes care of most basic functions, like eating, drinking, eye movements, all at an unconscious level, and I don't think anyone expected this part of the brain to be so specialized," Dr. Brown said.

And no wonder. In a series of studies, researchers have found that, among other processes, new love involves psychologically internalizing a lover, absorbing elements of the other person's opinions, hobbies, expressions, character, as well as sharing one's own.

It's not your sense of humor or your turn of a phrase that make me want you, honey. It's what you do to my caudate nucleus, rrrrowrrrr.

So, apparently, there is a biological urge for finding passionate love that is taking up residence in the lizard part of my brain. It's some sort of global imperative, like having sex, or buying a TiVo. And once the relationship settles into the long-term committment phase, my poor little caudate nucleus will no longer be firing on all cylinders; only new love can do that.

Which means that, really, I should embrace the falling of the anvil, so I can experience the heady joys of new love over and over and over again.

My caudate nucleus will thank me.

Posted by Highwaygirl on May 31, 2005 12:30 PM to the category Stuff About Me
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