- The Washington Times - Friday, February 10, 2006

We might as well face it: We’re addicted to love.

Singer Robert Palmer’s edgy insight aside, scientists are finding that love in fact involves an intricate array of chemicals, hormones and physical and emotional reactions. Both love and lust, they say, come naturally.

As Valentine’s Day looms a few days away, the lovelorn may ask: If love is so “natural” why do so many people end up singing the blues?

The answer boils down to unrealistic expectations.

People have “such mistaken views of romance in our culture,” says Hara Estroff Marano, editor at large of Psychology Today, which this month ran a cover story on “lust for the long haul.”

Many couples think if they hold a big wedding, they will, ergo, have a great marriage, but it’s just not the case, she notes.

“Personal growth is painful,” she says. “You have to negotiate a relationship. You have to lay on the table what your needs are and what your partner’s needs are. And you have to talk about how you are going to meet those needs.”

Psychologist David Schnarch, author of “Passionate Couples: Love, Sex and Intimacy in Emotionally Committed Relationships” said “People still have preconceived notions and distortions about how love and marriage operate,” and anything contrary to those preconceived notions “is hard to get across.”

A popular notion, for instance, is that people should marry their soul mate — someone who is “so compatible, so similar that there’s no cause for friction,” he says.

But too much similarity is a recipe for boredom.

“Marriage is a people-growing machine,” says Mr. Schnarch, who directs the Marriage and Family Health Center in Evergreen, Colo., with his wife, Ruth Morehouse.

A real soul-mate marriage is one in which two people forge a relationship “as broad as their differences, rather than one as narrow as their similarities,” he says.

Psychology Today and Mr. Schnarch are just a few of the many voices trying to educate a lovelorn public about the facts of life.

Evidently the euphoric, I-gotta-have-you feelings of love are sparked not only by the other person’s sex appeal, but by innate chemicals such as adrenaline, dopamine, norepinephrine and phenylethylamine (which is also found in chocolate).

However, this awe-inspiring chemical mixture, which, in brain-imaging looks similar to drug addiction, doesn’t last. Newlywed love reportedly dwindles markedly by 18 months and vanishes by the third year.

Although feelings of besotted love subside, another kind of loving feeling — one designed for the long haul — emerges.

Oxytocin “is really a miracle chemical that is natural and automatically produced with touch and closeness and intimacy,” says Janice Crouse, who recently wrote about “Love Potion Number ‘O’ ” for Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute.

Oxytocin is released during sex and produces feelings of satisfaction and attachment. Another sex-related hormone, vasopressin, aids in attachment while endorphins provide a sense of well-being and security.

Taken together, these hormones encourage bonding, dependency, contentment and the kind of love that says: “I am always here for you.”

They also propel people toward sexual monogamy, said Mrs. Crouse, noting that stress and fright inhibit oxytocin production while a close, regular relationship generates it.

A bit of “self-love” enters in to the equation as well, as researchers have determined that people are attracted to someone of the opposite sex who looks like them.

Psychologist David Perrett of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland “morphed” 30 students’ faces into a digitized version of themselves as the opposite sex. He had each of them look at photos of the opposite sex, including their “morphed” one, and asked them which was the most attractive. The students picked their own faces, even though they didn’t recognize themselves.

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