The Brain Chemistry of Romantic Attachment – Why It Makes You Unattractive and How To Break It

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I remember the days well from high school. That new girl smiled at me, or I suddenly discovered a girl. If she gave me any attention back, I became a mumbling idiot. There was one girl in particular, let’s just call her Carissa. I saw her while I mowed her dad’s yard. They were new in town and when I walked by from mowing a customer’s yard, her dad put me into service right there. I barely knew her. Yet I was feeling totally lovesick, to the point I wasn’t even hungry for the nachos and salsa I usually devoured when my family visited the local Mexican restaurant. I couldn’t sleep. I became obsessed. I am sure when I went to talk to her for the first time, I seemed needy and nervous. All I remember is when I was at a dance, I mustered up enough courage to ask her for the time. She said “There’s a clock on the wall there…” I guess neither of us were pros back then.

Our brains, thanks to evolution, want us to be “in love” and attracted to others. This ensures your genetics will survive to another generation. Even though in the midst of the experience, we believe something deeply profound and even spiritual is happening (and this may be the case), there are also basic changes happening in the brain that can explain some of our seemingly crazy feelings and behavior.

I should note that brain science is still not very well understood. The mix of chemicals in the brain with hormones in the body create a complicated serum we call feelings. So take the points below as a hypothesis, which can always be tweaked later.

Falling in love seems to bring with it lower testosterone and serotonin levels, paired with higher dopamine. This creates an interesting situation. The low serotonin, a brain chemical associated with relaxation and calmness, keeps you “on edge,” so you are obsessing, over the person you are “in love” with and virtually everything else. Studies show that being “in love” reduces serotonin levels to those found in people with OCD. The low testosterone ensures a degree of fidelity to that partner, but also kills your libido to a degree, and thus strips you of your normal “swag.” The high dopamine means you are feeling good, and since people like to keep high levels of the “happy chemical” dopamine, you may find yourself doing dumb things to keep it flowing (taking risks keeps the level high), which means your “in love” brain state is making you essentially function like a daring and shaky junky.

Women work differently. They seem to release oxytocin any time they interact with you in a romantically meaningful way. Even a hug or cuddle releases oxytocin in the female brain. This is the “bonding” chemical, and makes them want to be with you, and only you. It’s the same chemical released at childbirth, to ensure the mother and baby bond. Women too are a swirling chemical mess when they are in love, but in a different way.

These chemicals can mess us up and cause us to do things we normally wouldn’t do. In short, they make us less attractive as a whole. Ideally, a man has higher testosterone (associated with confidence and calmness, despite stereotypes of being associated with aggression), high serotonin (associated with relaxation, happiness, and leadership), and moderate and consistent dopamine (associated with happiness, but not taking crazy and dumb risks).

This skewed chemical make-up is why people “in love” come across as weird, dopey  and unattractive. It is also why some people who “fall fast” often don’t get a lot of second dates. If you have started the spiral into this “in love” brain chemistry, but the object of your affection has not, you are looking obsessed (low serotonin), insecure (low testosterone), and too much on edge (ramped dopamine)…not exactly attractive. You are probably coming across as needy and over-emotional. You aren’t detached anymore, and you don’t make time for activities that make you excellent (like sports, music, etc), because you can’t get that person out of your mind (low serotonin). In other words, if you fall too quickly, you will cease to think and act in the very way that attracted the girl to you in the first place.

Fortunately, there are ways to increase serotonin and testosterone, to lessen that “in love” puppy-dog attitude.

One way to boost serotonin is to get outside, or at least let sunlight touch your eyes. You can even spend about five minutes a day looking out the window in the direction of the sun (but not at the sun directly) for the same effect. You can close your eyes and look at the sun directly, for the same effect, as deep and warm red light fills the back of your eyelids. Some studies suggest meditation increases serotonin. It is always a good idea to incorporate meditation or prayer into your daily routine, whether you suspect low serotonin levels or not.

There are ways to boost testosterone too. High intensity exercise seems to help, as does ensuring adequate amounts of Vitamin D. One study showed that holding confident poses for a few minutes increased testosterone. These poses include leaning back in a chair, propping up your feet on a desk or table, and placing your hands behind your head with your elbows sticking out. Another pose is standing at a desk or table and spreading your arms out wide, “claiming” the table. I do this regularly when I am feeling a bit low or just seem to be lacking in “swagger.”

As for dopamine, there are ways to get the “lift” without taking risks. Certain B vitamins (like Folic Acid) and exercise may increase dopamine.

So, stop feeling like crap. Stop looking unattractive. You control your brain, not the other way around!

About David Bennett

David Bennett is author of seven self-help books, and an in-demand speaker and consultant. Over a million readers per year read his online content, and his writings have been referenced in many publications and news outlets, including Girls Life, Fox News, the New York Times, Huffington Post, and BBC. He also writes for The Popular Teen, and other sites. Follow him on Twitter.


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