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Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.

This Week:
What's the Best Way to Deal with a Painful Breakup?
Thoughts on Marrying Without Meeting?

What's the Best Way to Deal with a Painful Breakup?


Here’s another topic that I need to address in my regular, longer column. It’s one of the most common questions I hear from singles. And, it’s a crucially important subject, because the withdrawal of romantic love can have serious mental health repercussions. A study recently published by Dr. Kenneth Kendler’s research group at the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics revealed that breakups often lead to depression and anxiety. Therefore I advocate for a two-prong assault against the pain of break ups: Education and Action.

On the Education side, take this piece of knowledge to heart – romantic love is more than a powerful feeling; it seems to be an "addictive drug." Research by experts such as Dr. Helen Fisher of Rutgers University Fisher has found that the romantic love "high" that we feel as craving, dependence, personality changes, and a loss of control produces changes in the brain identical to those of addictive drugs like cocaine, opium, and heroin. When we come down off such a "high," our brain chemistry is altered in substantial ways.

Therefore, I concur with Dr. Fisher’s recommendations that painful breakups should be dealt with like coming off of an addiction. This is the Action side of dealing with a breakup. First and foremost, remove all traces of your ex. This is much like quitting a drug cold turkey. So be sure to not return phone calls, take down photos, and throw or pack away love letters. If you’re having a hard time reminiscing fondly about your former partner, then you can even carry a list of his or her faults in your pocket.

Other actions that often help include being realistic when assigning blame for the breakup and focusing on what you learned from this relationship; promote healing brain chemistry by staying busy in your life (even if you have to force yourself); don’t avoid friends or other sources of support and encouragement; and finally, being patient and allowing your feelings to run their natural course.

What do you make of this headline I just saw online: “Two Indonesians in their 50s exchanged wedding vows this week without ever meeting by using the Internet to make up for the oceans that separate them”?!

Uh, yes, I saw that one too. It was a Reuters report (Jan 13, 2006) that talked about a physiotherapist in California who met, proposed to, and married a woman from the Indonesian city of Bandung. A Muslim religious official supervised their exchange of vows, which was done using voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology. I don’t mean this to sound flippant, but my first reaction to this news report was: :-( !

It’s interesting that the couple exchanged photos, chatted online almost daily, and often called each other, but never met in person prior to the marriage. Now, I’m the first person to argue for the powerful potential of online correspondence to promote lasting, genuine relationships (see my Feb editorial on this subject). On the other hand, I’m also quick to point out that online compatibility testing and online communication doesn’t seem to tap into that etheral quality between a couple that we call "chemistry." I mean it can help two people gauge if it’s there, but to me, online correspondence is never a complete substitute for offline meetings. My focus groups and communications with online daters echo these sentiments.

It takes offline interaction, and often more than a brief encounter or simply one or two dates, to really gauge the extent of interpersonal chemistry. According to the Reuters report, this couple will soon have more than a VoIP marriage when they finally come together in person. I certainly wish them well, but I wonder if it’s a little too late for this couple. I doubt their marriage will last. I hope I’m wrong, but I seriously question whether the perception each has of the other is accurate or if the chemistry they apparently felt online graduates to the type of chemistry one can only know from a face-to-face meeting.

I strongly recommend online dating, but at some point, couples that are serious about taking their relationship to the next level need to take the relationship offline. This is especially true before life-changing commitments are made. This approach is not mean to hinder romantic love or passion; it’s simply a way to approach love and passion realistically and cautiously.

Related Links
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