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Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Office Hours with Dr. Jim > The Thought of Being in Love

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.

 



In Love with the Thought of Being in Love

Can a person be in love with the thought of being in love?

This question is deeper and more complex than it may seem. Remember, science is still trying to fully grasp all of the different but interrelated elements that have to do with “being in love.” Despite the idea of a universal definition, love is pretty much an experience that is individual to everyone.

In some respects, it’s quite remarkable that humans are so drawn to love, given that passionate love has, at times, been conceptualized as a form of psychopathology.  Yes, you heard that right…. psychopathology or mental illness. Thinkers from centuries past actually rationalized love as a fairly unhealthy, undesirable state (ultimately supporting society’s need for economic-based, versus love-based, marriages), as evidenced by the fact that individuals who are “love struck” displaying increased susceptibility to hypnosis (that is, suggestibility), an addictive-like need for the object of desire and symptoms like preoccupation, obsession, disruption in sleep and eating patterns that often parallel pathological disease.  In the Middle Ages, the French defined love as a “derangement of the mind,” which could be cured by intercourse with a love object or partner who was different from your own. And funny enough, when you think about it, romantic love can be seen as a fleeting, private madness, especially given that electroencephalographic (EEG) technology-based studies on the brain have found that passionate love is a state of mental chaos.

Perhaps the descriptor of being “lovesick” isn’t too far off when we talk about falling head over heels for somebody. Characterized as a fierce, hot longing for union with another, involving intense physical arousal, feelings of ecstasy, and sexual desire, passionate love is an overwhelming, all-consuming state noted by physical reactions like perspiration, a knotted stomach, dry mouth, breathlessness, blushing, and increased heart rate. Bowled over by unbelievably amazing excitement and energy, unlike nothing else, one may have trouble sleeping or eating, or become weak in the knees, turn pale, tremble, stammer, or feel dizzy when around a crush. When in a loved one’s presence, one may feel awkward or become introverted and shy. This roller coaster ride may also include feelings of optimism, cheerfulness, a sense of harmony and unity and an inner glow.  Ironically, for as much as we love falling in love, these aren’t exactly appealing side effects!  Yet many of these reactions, like a quickened heartbeat and feeling flushed, are the same ones humans experience when they’re making love, perhaps even further explaining why we’re, unconsciously, so drawn to this particular state of mind. It is likely, too, no mere coincidence that passionate love and sexual arousal are tightly linked in the brain.

Yet another reason humans love falling in love comes along the lines of what the experience can do for our sense of self and what is offers us as far as self-discovery. Research indicates that, in the short-term, falling in love is a positive experience, bolstering one’s self-confidence and self-concept, as well as possibly contributing to a greater sense of self-worth and the ability to accomplish goals. Let’s face it, people act like they are on “cloud nine” when they start a new relationship. They seem to have more energy, motivation and enthusiasm. With a new partner enamored with us, appreciating things about us like no one else has, it’s only natural for one to experience an increased sense of self-efficacy, self-esteem and even feelings of invincibility. In falling in love with someone else, in many respects, you fall in love with yourself.

Overall, it’s easy to see why someone can become addicted or at least long for, those feelings that accompany being in love. In a very real sense, a brain in love is a brain on drugs. But, falling in love can be a double-edged sword. There are positive and negative consequences to it, which is why I always say, “In matters of the heart, use your head.” For example:

  • On the up side… one thrilling aspect about love is that the supportive environment of a new love relationship may result in you letting loose in the bedroom, willing to try out new activities or overcoming suppressed aspects of yourself. 
  • On the down side… you really need to love yourself before you can love another. One study on self-esteem and romantic love found that people who have had the highest number of falling-in-love experiences are those that have high self-confidence and low defensiveness. Furthermore, having a strong and positive sense of self will help you to develop and sustain an intimate relationship, reaping all of its rewards.

Dr. James Houran's "Office Hours with Dr. Jim" column is published every Monday.


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